Ted Talks Elyn Saks on Seeing Mental Illness

1 Like

Elyn said she saw someone standing there with a knife.

I know what she means.

They were ■■■■■■■ with her pretty good weren’t they.

She described it as terror, pure and true and deep terror.

Yeah, I’ve known terror!


1 Like

Yes, me as well.

It was horrible.

And still is.

1 Like

Click on ‘Interactive Transcript’ if you would rather read then listen to the posted video.

So I’m a woman with chronic schizophrenia. I’ve spent hundreds of days in psychiatric hospitals. I might have ended up spending most of my life on the back ward of a hospital, but that isn’t how my life turned out. In fact, I’ve managed to stay clear of hospitals for almost three decades, perhaps my proudest accomplishment. That’s not to say that I’ve remained clear of all psychiatric struggles. After I graduated from the Yale Law School and got my first law job, my New Haven analyst, Dr. White, announced to me that he was going to close his practice in three months, several years before I had planned to leave New Haven. White had been enormously helpful to me, and the thought of his leaving shattered me.
My best friend Steve, sensing that something was terribly wrong, flew out to New Haven to be with me. Now I’m going to quote from some of my writings: “I opened the door to my studio apartment. Steve would later tell me that, for all the times he had seen me psychotic, nothing could have prepared him for what he saw that day. For a week or more, I had barely eaten. I was gaunt. I walked as though my legs were wooden. My face looked and felt like a mask. I had closed all the curtains in the apartment, so in the middle of the day the apartment was in near total darkness. The air was fetid, the room a shambles. Steve, both a lawyer and a psychologist, has treated many patients with severe mental illness, and to this day he’ll say I was as bad as any he had ever seen. ‘Hi,’ I said, and then I returned to the couch, where I sat in silence for several moments. ‘Thank you for coming, Steve. Crumbling world, word, voice. Tell the clocks to stop. Time is. Time has come.’ ‘White is leaving,’ Steve said somberly. ‘I’m being pushed into a grave. The situation is grave,’ I moan. ‘Gravity is pulling me down. I’m scared. Tell them to get away.’”
As a young woman, I was in a psychiatric hospital on three different occasions for lengthy periods. My doctors diagnosed me with chronic schizophrenia, and gave me a prognosis of “grave.” That is, at best, I was expected to live in a board and care, and work at menial jobs. Fortunately, I did not actually enact that grave prognosis. Instead, I’m a chaired Professor of Law, Psychology and Psychiatry at the USC Gould School of Law, I have many close friends and I have a beloved husband, Will, who’s here with us today.
(Applause) Thank you. He’s definitely the star of my show.
I’d like to share with you how that happened, and also describe my experience of being psychotic. I hasten to add that it’s my experience, because everyone becomes psychotic in his or her own way.