USC law professor Elyn Saks is one of the recipients this year of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grants” of $500,000 — no strings attached. You may remember her as the author of the book, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, her story of living with schizophrenia which was published in 2007. She’s led an extraordinary life and career, demonstrating that even serious mental illness doesn’t have to be a handicap:
Saks, 53, suffered from schizophrenia all her life, but kept it hidden while excelling in her academic studies, receiving a philosophy degree from Oxford University and a law degree from Yale University before joining the faculty at USC. She is also an adjunct professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, where she does research about society’s rejection of the mentally ill and how high-functioning schizophrenics cope.
Saks came out of the mental health closet with her 2007 memoir, “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.” The book described the night terrors she had suffered throughout her life, her earlier beliefs that she had mentally caused the deaths of thousands of people, and the often-inhumane treatment she had received at mental health facilities.
She said that she will use some of the prize money to continue writing about schizophrenia, including interviewing others with schizophrenia to get their stories and share them with the world. She believes that there are thousands of untold success stories, especially with schizophrenia, that she would like more people to know about.
Indeed, I know that there are.
Even serious mental health concerns — such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression — are not pronouncements of limitations on one’s abilities. Instead, they offer us challenges in our life — challenges we can choose to meet, or cower from. Saks is an inspiration because she’s led the difficult life that anyone with schizophrenia knows all too well, and still has had a successful, rich and fulfilling life.
Saks has that rare gift of being able to unravel her story much as a novelist would when writing a great work of fiction. If you haven’t read her book, it’s well worth your time and consideration.
We extend our hearty congratulations to Elyn Saks; her life’s difficult journey is an inspiration to many others and shows the value of hope.
Read the full article: Artist Mark Bradford, USC’s Elyn Saks win MacArthur grants