Esme Weijun Wang
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- Glass, Guy
Esmé Weijun Wang is a novelist who has been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. The Collected Schizophrenias is a book of personal essays that was the 2016 winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize.
A precocious young person on a track to success, Wang experiences a manic episode at Yale that leads to her first hospitalization. After a second hospitalization, her college washes its hands of her. Hitting roadblocks time and time again requires her to rebuild her life over and over. This is not a conventional chronological autobiography but rather essays that provide different approaches to the author’s experience of mental illness. The plural “schizophrenias” of the title encompasses the whole schizophrenic spectrum of disorders. As Wang explains, her own diagnosis is “the fucked-up offspring of manic depression and schizophrenia” (p. 10).
In an essay entitled “High-Functioning” we learn how the author, having been a fashion editor, knows how to pass for normal: “My makeup routine is minimal and consistent. I can dress and daub when psychotic and when not psychotic. I do it with zeal when manic. If I’m depressed, I skip everything but the lipstick. If I skip the lipstick, that means I haven’t even made it to the bathroom mirror” (p.44).
Later, in “The Choice of Children,” volunteering at a camp for bipolar children makes Wang think about what it would be like to inflict her diagnosis on her own offspring. In “Reality, On-Screen” she attempts to convey the sensation of decompensating to psychosis. And in “Yale Will Not Save You” she considers the failure of universities to accommodate mentally ill students.