Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is there No Place on Earth for Me?

I bought this book as part of a necessary read for one of my courses. It was to understand what it was like to have schizophrenia. It's a pretty old book, but the relevance of it does not fade with time.

Sylvia Frumkin was a highly intelligent girl whose mental condition began when she was a teen as a result of her parents’ high expectations and denial, and possibly misdiagnosis and mistreatment at several junctures.

A keen admirer of actors who was acutely aware of her surroundings when she was feeling well, Frumkin's thoughts were lucid, which make people sigh at how mental illness can torment a person to such an extent. As visitors of other patients in the book noted, they had forgotten for a while that they were in a mental institution and “had wondered where [Sylvia’s] brilliance might have led her if her illness had not led her there.” She constantly heard voices and responded by changing religion fervently, as fervently as changing her mental institutions and running away from the institutions.

Sylvia tried hard to find a place in society but her mental condition prevented her from doing so. To quote her, “mental illness is worse than cancer, the suffering doesn’t have an endpoint.” It wasn’t as if she did not want a normal life. She wanted it so badly and remarked to a friend that, “when you know all those things exist for other people but not for you, sometimes it’s very hard to endure the not having”.

The author, a journalist, chronicled the life of Sylvia Frumkin, by following her and observing and talking to her, to note down her monologue. Normally gibberish, one could not follow Sylvia’s train of thought when she was engaged in a monologue.

Susan Sheehan also spent a period of time with Sylvia in the mental institution, in the bed next to her, so that she could write about Sylvia’s life. Her dedication and extraordinary level of journalism had led to the book winning the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. Her writing style is direct and clear, although towards the end it became almost too predictable what Sylvia was going to do that it was almost repetitive. Nonetheless, the author wrote with great precision and has given the reader a clear insight to the life of a schizophrenic and the emotional upheavals that her family and those around her experience.


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