Showing 1 - 10 of 380 annotations tagged with the keyword "Mental Illness"

Annotated by:
Perkins, Sam

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Longform journalism

Summary:

Olivia Laing, a British novelist and writer on cultural and social issues, tackles the phenomenon of loneliness as a pervasive condition that is both a symptom and a cause of malaise, dysphoria and depression. The book is thoroughly referenced and has an extensive, useful bibliography. Laing begins by describing her own loneliness when she moved to New York City. Somewhat reclusive by nature, she spent hours in her apartment, connected to  the outside world through social media, email and Skype. This leads her to examine the nature of loneliness, its causes and impact on the individual. She then turns to the lives and works of artists who specifically dealt with their own loneliness -- as inspiration, subject matter and personal burden: Edward Hopper; Andy Warhol and his assailant Valerie Solanas; the artist and AIDS activist, David Wojnarowicz; outsider artist, Henry Darger; singers Klaus Nomi and Billie Holliday; tech entrepreneur, Josh Harris, and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Laing weaves in pertinent research (Klein, Harlow, Bowlby, Ainsworth, Weiss, Turkel) and expertly ties their findings to her subjects’ creative lives. Her section on Josh Harris’ radical social media experiments is a pertinent reminder of technology’s role in fostering loneliness. A recurrent theme is that social isolation “leads to a decline in social sophistication which itself leads to further episodes of rejection.” Among the results, she says, are that lonely people are more susceptible to sickness and more likely to die before their time.  


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The Center Cannot Hold

Wells, Kenneth

Last Updated: Jul-31-2018
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater

Summary:

This is an opera based on Elyn R. Saks’s best-selling book The Center Cannot Hold.  Subtitled “My Journey Through Madness,” the memoir recounts the author’s struggle with schizophrenia.  Here, Saks has collaborated with composer/psychiatrist Kenneth B. Wells on the opera’s libretto.  

The librettists utilize the device of having three different singers portray Elyn.  One manifestation, the “Lady of the Charts,” represents her when psychotic.  The others are Elyn as a law student and the present day Professor Saks as a law professor.  Another dramatic device involves the use of a chorus to embody the protagonist’s schizophrenic delusions.  At the height of her paranoia, as Elyn sings Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in an effort to keep herself together, the chorus recalls the Symphony’s opening notes by singing “Elyn must die.”  

The opera opens with Elyn as Professor Saks reflecting on her childhood. Even then there were signs of the illness that, to quote a famous poem by William Butler Yeats, ensures “the center cannot hold” in Elyn’s life. During the first act, Elyn, a Yale law student, becomes psychotic in front of her friends and is hospitalized. In a Connecticut hospital she is put in restraints and treated by various mental health professionals. She imagines she hears demons threatening to kill her.  Elyn’s diagnosis and condition overwhelm her parents, who have been called by the hospital.  

In the second act, Elyn works to reintegrate her fragmented mind.  She is determined to get back to law school.  She is released from the hospital. She finds an antipsychotic medication, with fewer side effects, that she can live with. She resolves to devote her career to mental health law.  At the conclusion of the opera, Elyn anticipates graduation.  She has been instrumental in winning a class action suit against the use of restraints in psychiatric patients.  Her parents, friends and doctors proclaim their pride in her accomplishments.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Weeks after the birth of her child, the writer receives a phone call informing her that her mother, who has gone missing, has hanged herself.  This memoir, like others written in the aftermath of similar trauma, is an effort to make some sense of the mother’s mental illness and horrifying death. Unlike many others, though, it is the story of a family system—and to some extent a medical system—bewildered by an illness that, even if it carried known diagnostic labels, was hard to treat effectively and meaningfully.  The short chapters alternate three kinds of narrative:  in some the writer addresses her mother; in some she recalls scenes from her own childhood, plagued by a range of symptoms and illness, and her gradual awareness of her gifted mother’s pathological imagination; in some she reproduces the transcript of a video production her mother narrated entitled “The Art of Misdiagnosis” about her own and her daughters’ medical histories. Threaded among memories of her early life are those of her very present life with a husband, older children, a new baby, a beloved sister and a father who has also suffered the effects of the mother’s psychosis at close range.  

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One Crimson Thread

O’Siadhail, Micheal

Last Updated: Apr-19-2018
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

This collection of 150 sonnets takes us through the journey from the writer’s wife’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s, eventually complicated by dementia and overmedication, to her death and his early days of grieving.  Married for over 40 years and close companions, their successive separations deal new blows as they happen: She goes into skilled nursing care, gets lost in delusions, and becomes more frail and erratic, finally succumbs after a fall and a short period in a coma.  The writer draws on biblical metaphors and threads memories of their earlier life together in fleeting images so that the reader is left to infer from glimpses a rich and happy marriage that, he reflects, prepared them—but not enough—for this going.  

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Farinelli and The King

van Kampen, Claire

Last Updated: Mar-21-2018
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater

Summary:

Anyone walking through a theater district over the past several decades and even centuries ago would likely run into a mad king—Lear, Richard III, George III, Scar. As of 2015, there’s a new mad king to be found in theater districts—King Philippe of Spain in Farinelli and the King.  

The play opens with King Philippe of Spain sitting up in his bed talking to a goldfish swimming around in its bowl trying to avoid the hook at the end of the King’s little fishing pole: 


I was touched by the confidence with which you speak to me of your affairs; the cordiality of your offer to redress mine; the tender anxiety for my health—but I should tell you in the strictest confidence you understand…shh…here the body cares very little for the affairs of the mind. (Act 1, Scene 1)   

As the King’s mental illness progresses from this point and becomes a concern of his court, his wife, Queen Isabella is sent away so that the King cannot physically harm her as he had before. But, what’s to be done for him? It’s the year 1737. While attending an opera in London, the Queen thinks she may have discovered just what the King needs—the renowned castrato Farinelli: 


Then…he began. A long note, held; I must think it was beyond a minute. A swooping, soaring sound and the notes were above the tree-tops, bird-like, unimaginable. When the aria finished just now I couldn’t help my tears; I was unable to move; I just stared at the stage, where he had been…I couldn’t believe what I had seen and heard…I felt something had profoundly changed within me. …and then, —I knew…That I must hope somehow to bring Farinelli to Spain with me. (Act 1, Scene 3)    


The Queen finds a way to bring Farinelli back to Spain, and Farinelli begins to sooth the mad King with his voice from the heavens. The King becomes calmer yet when he moves with the Queen and Farinelli to a house in the forest, where he cuts a hole in the trees so he can hear the “hidden notes” of the spheres above. The King tells Farinelli, “you must sing to me; in the long hours of dark, when my mind is screaming in the silence, then that is when I need you to sing to me.” (Act 2, Scene 5)  

The Queen was sure Farinelli’s singing was effective:

And they say it was Farinelli that helped to restore the health of the King of Spain—just by hearing this wonderful singing voice the King rose out of his depression and wanted to live again! It was the only thing the King could bear in the end. The sound of Farinelli’s voice. (Act 2, Scene 5)  

In Farinelli’s own and immodest assessment: “He is decidedly better because of me, and in his lonely life I have become a song he now depends on.” (Act 2, Scene 1) And, in making his clinical assessment, the King’s doctor was “of the opinion that the King’s illness has turned." (Act 1, Scene 4)  

The utopian existence comes to an end when the King is called back to Madrid to take on an impending English invasion. He would not be seen again.  

This fanciful tale is not so fanciful; it’s drawn from the historical King Philippe of Spain. His grandfather, King Louis XIV of France placed him there, and there he reigned for almost 50 years. Indeed he was mad, and indeed his wife the Queen brought the renowned castrato Farinelli back to Spain where he served the King for 9 years and then the son who succeeded him until this son’s death. From there Farinelli retired to the Italian countryside instead of returning to the public stages in Europe.  

The current NY production  could not replicate Farinelli’s voice exactly now that castrati are not to be found anymore; however, a countertenor was able to produce a swooping and soaring sound. Though Farinelli’s voice could not be replicated perfectly, the staging of the play was replicated as the audience of the day would have seen it in the mid 1700s. The lighting was supplied by candlelight from chandeliers and sconces that were part of the sets. The musicians supporting Farinelli’s performances were also situated on the stage with him. And, as the theaters were arranged then, seats for the audience were available on both sides of the stage. 

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The River of Consciousness

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Mar-01-2018

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Two weeks before his death in 2015, Sacks oversaw this collection of essays and charged Kate Edgar, Daniel Frank, and Bill Hayes to arrange its publication. The essays touch on various fields—evolution, botany, chemistry, medicine, neuroscience, and the arts, and focus on major figures such as Darwin, Freud, and William James. The major theme—as indicated by the volume’s title—is how minds (of humans, chimps, even jellyfish) interpret and remember what the senses perceive in normal and in limited states. While we read in the Foreword that “a number” of the pieces originally appeared in The New York Review of Books, there are no citations for dates and places.  

“Darwin and the Meaning of Flowers”: Sacks describes Darwin’s research with flowers that support evolution; flowing plants display qualities of sensitivity to “contact, pressure moisture, chemical gradients, etc” (p. 19). Sacks recalls the pleasures of investigating flowers as a youth in his London garden.  

“Speed” : Drawing on personal experience and a wide variety of anecdotes (including his encephalitic patients described in Awakenings), Sacks muses about mental perceptions, slow and fast, normal and drug-enhanced, dreams, and our ability to imagine “all speeds, all time” (p. 59).  

“Sentience: The Mental Lives of Plants and Worms”: Starting with Darwin and coming forward, Sacks discuss how worms, jellyfish, and even trees may be considered to exhibit “mind.” Near the end, we read, “if one allows that a dog may have consciousness of a significant and individual sort, one has to allow it for an octopus too” (p. 76).  
   
“The Other Road: Freud as Neurologist”: The opening paragraph ably sums up the essay. “Everyone knows Freud as the father of psychoanalysis, but relatively few know about the twenty years (from 1876 to 1896) when he was primarily a neurologist and anatomist; Freud himself rarely referred to them in later life. Yet his neurological life was the precursor to his psychoanalytic one, and perhaps an essential key to it (p. 79).   
   
The next three may be considered as a group because they deal with lapses or outright failures in perception, memory, or health. Because Sacks reports on his own life experience, these are the most personal.
“The Fallibility of Memory” describes Sacks’s memories of the bombing of London in the winter of 1940-41. It turns out that one memory, according to family members, is right, but the other is actually a version of a letter describing a bombing.

The essay continues to discuss such topics as false memories, auto-plagiarism, unconscious plagiarism, and fabulation. He concludes, “Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine” (p. 121). In a short piece, “Mishearings,” Sacks reports how his increasing deafness makes new (and sometimes hilarious) perceptions of spoken words.  

Surely the last written—and in many ways the most poignant—“A General Feeling of Disorder” discusses feelings of being ill. Sacks, at age 81, describes his metastatic liver cancer and, in detail, an arduous treatment. Although warned of weakness and pain, he writes of “a sort of negative orgasm of pain” and other disturbing side effects (pp. 155-59) in vivid detail.  

“The Creative Self” discusses forms of creativity including play, scholarship, unconscious borrowing, and subconscious insight. Sacks is less interested in a Freudian model than an evocation of “an entire hidden, creative self” (p. 144).            

The final two, “The River of Consciousness” and “Scotoma: Forgetting and Neglect in Science” deal with theories of how the mind works and, more collectively, how scientific breakthroughs occur. The former essay explores cinematic models for perception in James and Bergson and much later models of the 100 billion neurons of the brain working on networks, coalitions, or populations. He finds that a specific mechanism is unlikely to be found and, “Even the highest powers of art—whether in film or theater, or literary narrative—can only convey the faintest intimation of what human consciousness is really like” (p. 174).

In “Scotoma” (or “memory hole”), he looks at discoveries that were over-looked for many years . Later they were rediscovered as important for understanding various phenomena: Tourette’s syndrome, phantom limbs, and, his specialty, migraines.

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The Black Monk

Tibaldo-Bongiorno, Marylou

Last Updated: Feb-20-2018
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As the film opens, George Anderson tells us he has been advised to treat his anxiety by going “to some island to rest.” We see him arrive by ferry in Staten Island where he has arranged to spend several weeks at the beautiful home of his father’s best friend.  There, he renews his friendship with the friend’s daughter, Maggie.  We discover that George, a filmmaker, dropped out of medical school, and that Maggie is now a doctor.  We learn from the start that, though they have not seen each other for ten years, there is a longstanding mutual romantic attraction.   

One day, while walking around the house’s lush gardens, George suddenly and improbably sees a monk.  We are made to understand this is not the first time this has occurred, although at this stage George still recognizes it as a “mirage.” However, when the monk foretells a “grand brilliant future” for George and entrusts him with a divine mission, George is inspired.  He becomes obsessed with attending church, and we learn he has not been sleeping.  In his religious fervor he calls Maggie “disgusting” because she performs abortions.
 

Maggie becomes aware that something is not quite right.  We learn too that George enlisted in the army and resigned under suspicious circumstances. Other details about his past are mysterious.  The relationship between George and Maggie intensifies. Meanwhile, a friend warns Maggie that she has witnessed George saying peculiar things about a monk and smiling inappropriately.  Finally, in Maggie’s bedroom, George has a full-fledged psychotic episode as he hallucinates the monk in front of her.  She accuses him of “becoming schizophrenic,” and begs him to see a psychiatrist.  He responds by accusing her of trying to drain him of his inspiration, packs up his belongings, and, despite her entreaties, leaves.    

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

The narrator tracks a hypothetical week in the life and work of a psychiatrist in a major Canadian hospital through the stories of individual patients, some of whom were willing to be identified by name.   

The book opens with “they are us” and the shocking discovery that a patient whose life has been ruined by mental illness is a medical school classmate.  

Other patients have been followed for many years—a woman with eating disorder, a man with bipolar disease, another with schizophrenia. A new patient with intractable depression finally agrees to electroshock therapy, and the first treatment is described. The painful duty of making an involuntary admission pales in contrast to the devastation of losing a patient to suicide.  

Goldbloom’s personal life, opinions, and worries are woven throughout with frank honesty. His mother’s metastatic brain tumor sparks the associated intimations of his own advancing age and mortality.  His genuine fascination with and appreciation of the effective modalities now available are matched by his frustration over how they are beyond reach of far too many because of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness and the lack of resources and political will to make them available.

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Letters from Limbo

Beaumont, Jeanne Marie

Last Updated: Jan-02-2018
Annotated by:
Clark, Mark

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

This collection of poems is a memoir in verse: it is a lyric and epistolary exploration of what it is to live in the limbo of an emotional and psychological ambiguity whose genesis lies in maternal loss, mourning, depression, and despair.  The poems are arranged in three sections:  “Crossing,” “Asylum Song,” and “Holding.” 

The “Crossing section generally conveys to readers the nature of life in this limbo, even as it discloses some of the familial anguish that has brought about a repressive silence in the poet’s mother, as well as a depression that wreaked its havoc on the poet’s growing up.  The family mysteries and the suffering of the poet prompt her to research the death of her maternal grandmother, and we learn many details of that loss in the poems of the “Asylum Song” section. 

A Czech immigrant, the woman had, in the old country, lost her parents and sister, and she’d apparently abandoned—for reasons unknown—her illegitimate child.  She’d married an older man and moved to the States.  After giving birth to another child, she suffered a postpartum depression, for which she was placed in an asylum, and was heavily and inappropriately medicated.  She died within three weeks, at age 34.  Her daughter, the poet’s mother, grew up in her absence and, in turn, lost her own child—the poet’s sister—in infancy, prior to Baptism. 

According to widely held beliefs of Catholics at the time, the infant would thus be relegated to Limbo for eternity: she would be barred from union with God, this is to say, though kept free from any punishment or any suffering, other than the longing for a bliss she could never attain.  Such a belief would clearly exacerbate the feelings of failure and guilt that a mother might feel in losing her infant.  The poet’s mother’s depression resulted, unsurprisingly, in a bewildering absence of maternal care in the poet’s life: she is stuck in her own “asylum” or Limbo—a state of emotional confinement where she maintains some vision of “beatific” maternal love, but feels it forever beyond her reach to experience.  The poems of the final section, “Holding,” convey the struggle and surprising joy of inhabiting this Limbo.

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Stitches

Small, David

Last Updated: Dec-28-2017
Annotated by:
Natter, Michael

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

Stitches is a beautifully crafted graphic novel by award winning writer and illustrator David Small. The memoir chronicles Smalls’ life with chronic illness, focusing on his experience as a child and adolescent with cancer in the setting of an abusive upbringing. We learn through the eyes of a child what being a patient is like, and how, despite all odds Small was able to use art as a way to make a normal life for himself. 

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