A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness
by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett
When Lori Schiller was in highschool, she started hearing voices. Her moods became erratic, swinging from ecstatic highs to depression so severe she wouldn't leave her bed for days. Suspicion and fear of other people eroded her friendships. Eventually, driven by the voices in her head which screamed insults, curses and constant criticism, Lori started using cocaine, and then attempted suicide. Even then her parents denied that she was seriously ill, so it was some time before Lori got an actual diagnoses, and admitted to a hospital for the mentally ill. For years Lori was in and out of hospitals, institutions and halfway houses, while doctors struggled to find out what was wrong. They tried every combination of drugs on her. At first they thought she had bipolar disease, then schizophrenia. Most of the early places she was in saw her wild behavior as a deliberate lashing out, and tried using medication to control her mood swings, without really delving into why she behaved that way. It was a long time before she was able to confide in a psychiatrist what the voices were actually saying to her, to find a drug that would calm her emotions, to learn that the voices really were just inside her head and she could learn to cope with them instead of trying to escape by running away or hurting herself and others. In the end, she improves enough to live on her own and hold down a job. The book wraps up with Lori discussing what things remain difficult and the everday challenges she faces in living with schizo-affective disorder.
What was really interesting about this book is that it wasn't all told from Lori's perspective. Her college roommates, parents, siblings and doctors all shared their views on what was going on, so the reader sees not only what Lori experienced but how her illness affected her family and friends, and the opinion of her doctors. I've read a few firsthand accounts of mental illness before, so the "quiet room", cold packs, heavy medications, use of force and even electroshock therapy in the mental hospitals did not surprise me. I was surprised at how long her family denied the true nature of her illness, especially as her father was a psychologist. And I was shocked to read about how, in between stays at mental institutions, Lori applied for and actually held a few jobs working in mental facilities, caring for and counseling other mental patients. The Quiet Room is a very interesting and personal story, showing how one person managed to overcome her illness against all odds (at one point she was afraid of that her case was considered hopeless, and she would be locked up in a state institution for the rest of her life. Luckily that didn't happen).
Rating: 3/5 ........ 270 pages, 1994
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