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Law Prof Unmasks Her Demons

Outwardly, Elyn R. Saks wears many badges of intellectual achievement: college valedictorian, Oxford scholar, Yale law school and USC law professor. Inwardly, however, she has battled schizophrenia and its demons for 30 years. Now, in a new book, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, and in a Los Angeles Times profile this week, A Secret Life of Madness, Saks, 51, is revealing her secret. Her hope, reports the Times, is "to dash the myths surrounding an illness that affects 3 million people." The newspaper recounts a talk Saks gave this week to psychologists meeting in San Francisco:

"In her worst moments, the TV made fun of her, ashtrays danced and walls collapsed. Sure she was a witch, she burned herself as punishment with cigarettes, lighters and electric heaters. She believed she was single-handedly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. The brains of close associates were taken over by aliens."

The disease began to haunt her when she was still a child, but it would be years before she would understand its true nature. After being hospitalized while at Oxford, she began sporadically taking antidepressants. In law school, after climbing out a window to dance on the law library roof, she was hospitalized again and put on a stricter medication regimen. But it was not until 1999, after she had been teaching law for a decade, that a diagnosis of breast cancer sent her into another spiral and the realization at last that she was schizophrenic. For Saks, that was a turning point.

When she eventually decided to write her book, she knew she might pay a price for her candor, the Times says. But she wanted to tell her story -- and not under a pseudonym. It is quite a story, and when she told it to the group of psychologists in San Francisco last week, it brought her a prolonged standing ovation.

[Hat tip to ABA Journal.]

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 12, 2007 at 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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