email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAll That You Leave BehindAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNever EnoughNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaTen Years a NomadThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
A memoir that reminds us not to take sanity for granted, Divided Minds is a haunting testimony to the horrors of mental illness. Pamela Wagner and Carolyn Spiro, in this joint-autobiography, take turns recapturing the most significant moments in their lives as twin sisters. Not surprisingly, the majority of these moments involve each other. However, the cold irony of the story lies in the way that a minute genetic difference between the two sisters causes them to view shared events in drastically different ways.
The book begins with an account of childhood that one would expect from the lives of identical twins. Pamela and Carolyn describe both the joys and the hardships that come from sharing such an intimate sibling relationship. Chronologically experiencing the world at exactly the same age, and stage of development, provides them with a symbiotic dependence that lessens the impact of childhood difficulties and enhances the bliss of youthful triumphs. However, Pamela and Carolyn are simultaneously confronted with minor deviations in facticity (in the existential sense), which generate an acute form of sibling-rivalry. This almost assured rivalry is only briefly conveyed--but is still an important foundation of the story.
On November 22, 1963, Pamela's life changed forever. After being informed that President Kennedy had been assassinated Pamela heard the voices for the first time. Exerting immediate control over her adolescent mind, the voices convinced her that she was responsible for the President's death. On that fateful day, Pamela was to begin a new, even more intimate, relationship with a disease of which she was totally unaware. While schizophrenia was not diagnosed until later, these delusions were a by-product that she would have to deal with for the rest of her life.
For the remainder of the book, the reader is given a poignant and vivid description of the debilitating nature of schizophrenia. Although it is interesting to read Carolyn's description of Pamela's trials, the enthralling portrayal comes from Pamela herself. Throughout her life, Pamela experiences the torments of paranoia, narcolepsy, catatonia, mania, depression, and self-mutilation. Still, the worst, most prevalent effect of her schizophrenia consistently remains the taunting, ruthless voices emanating from her own mind. Pamela tries to convey her experience to her sister: "[Carolyn], you have no idea what it's like! This is how [the voices] torture people--on and on, they never stop. They want me dead, and they'll keep talking until they have their way...I know you want me to live, but--(p.263)."
Schizophrenia is a vicious cycle. Its effects emaciate the normalcy of life, and this deterioration of normalcy, in turn, increases the intensity of the illness. Exhausted by the endless struggle, Pamela often engages in suicidal, and otherwise self-destructive, behavior. This behavior leads to countless stays in mental institutions and a plethora of anti-psychotic medications, which lead to numerous other problems.
Of course, a parallel theme of the book is how Pamela's schizophrenia affects the people in her life--most importantly, her twin sister. In a way, Carolyn's account of her own struggles, rooted in Pamela's illness, is much more emotional in nature. While Pamela's time was spent either in a state of acute anxiety, fending off the voices or in a state of lethargic numbness produced by the medication, Carolyn was stricken with a life-long ambivalence toward her sister. Carolyn perfectly articulates her attachment-avoidance relationship with Pamela. On the one hand, Pamela is Carolyn's best friend, sister, and confidant. On the other hand, Carolyn has the urge to flee the relationship, afraid if she doesn't, it will ruin her life as well. She even recounts a dream, without interpreting it, in which she and Pamela were in a boat speeding toward the shore, and their imminent death. In Carolyn's dream, Pamela was trapped under the tiller of the boat. Although she tried to help her sister, Carolyn eventually jumped out of the boat, saving herself.
An underlying idea that is never fully elaborated in the narrative is the obvious guilt that Carolyn feels about her sister's illness. Carolyn alludes to, but never quite explicates, the fact that she could have turned out to be exactly what she sees in Pamela. As a psychiatrist, Carolyn has to be aware that schizophrenia is a disorder largely determined by genetics. With this in mind, it was an arbitrary--but no less malevolent--twist of fate that Pamela was inflicted with this mental disorder while Carolyn was spared. This, too, could be a reason why Carolyn often kept her distance from her sister. This guilt, whether repressed or not, is a difficult burden to bear. To see what she could have been, what she would have been, had she been the unlucky one, caused Carolyn to agonize with culpability almost as if she had chosen Pamela's destiny. Never was the literary phrase more suited: in a mirror, darkly.
Divided Minds is so smoothly written that it is easy to forget that one is reading the story and not watching it unfold firsthand. However, one of its scarce deficiencies lies in its phenomenological precision. Both Pamela and Carolyn, probably by design, fail to ever enumerate the details of schizophrenia when these details could enhance the story. They choose instead to leave the reader in the dark about even the most basic facts of the illness--focusing, instead, almost entirely on their subjective interpretation of its effects. While this is a unique approach, having finished the book, inquisitive readers will find themselves somewhat unsatisfied in this regard. Perhaps this is to entice the reader to pursue some answers even after the book is finished.
Something else that readers might interpret as a flaw is the fact that the book dwells at times on Pamela. Not only is two-thirds of the book written from the perspective of Pamela, it also tends to become repetitive about her countless hospital stays. These visits become predictable, and can seem superfluous to the progression of the story. While I would empathize with such an interpretation, I am not entirely convinced that this isn't the most ingenious aspect of the book. The repetitiveness of Pamela's testimony seems perfectly metaphorical of the ceaseless nightmare that a schizophrenic experiences. While they are inculcated by the voices in their head, minutes can seem like days--and even when they recognize their plight, the same effects envelop them over and over again. They are passive observers of their own torment--a torment that comes from within them.
The only readers to which I would not recommend this book are those that lack concern for the suffering of others; or, those who are not interested in the perseverance of the human will over the sadistic nature of fate. During the most torturous moments of Pamela's story, one is forced to constantly reflect on the fact that she survived--because one is reading her eloquent narration of those very events. This book also leaves one with an unsettling realization that packed away in many psychiatric institutions are people who appear to be detached, even barely human, but underneath are wonderful people, like Pamela, pleading for help.
© 2007 Michael David Cesal
Michael David Cesal received his undergraduate degree in Psychology (with a focus on Social and Abnormal Psychology). He is currently finishing his Master's Degree in philosophy--in which he concentrated on social, moral, and political philosophy. In the fall, he will begin a second Master's degree in political theory and international relations.