Think piece

USC professor on being both successful and schizophrenic

elyn-saks-usc.jpgUSC law professor Elyn R. Saks, author of the memoir, “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness,” writes in Sunday's New York Times from her perspective that "the seeds of creative thinking may sometimes be found in mental illness." Her experience as a sufferer of schizophrenia is that while she needs medication and professional care, she and others like her need to work. "My mind, I have come to say, is both my worst enemy and my best friend."


Thirty years ago, I was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. My prognosis was “grave”: I would never live independently, hold a job, find a loving partner, get married. My home would be a board-and-care facility, my days spent watching TV in a day room with other people debilitated by mental illness. I would work at menial jobs when my symptoms were quiet. Following my last psychiatric hospitalization at the age of 28, I was encouraged by a doctor to work as a cashier making change. If I could handle that, I was told, we would reassess my ability to hold a more demanding position, perhaps even something full-time.

Then I made a decision. I would write the narrative of my life. Today I am a chaired professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. I have an adjunct appointment in the department of psychiatry at the medical school of the University of California, San Diego, and am on the faculty of the New Center for Psychoanalysis. The MacArthur Foundation gave me a genius grant.

Although I fought my diagnosis for many years, I came to accept that I have schizophrenia and will be in treatment the rest of my life. Indeed, excellent psychoanalytic treatment and medication have been critical to my success. What I refused to accept was my prognosis.

Saks photo: USC

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