Book reviews, Mental health

Book Review: The Collected Schizophrenias

book cover: The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weiijun Wang

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang gives insights into her life with schizoaffective disorder and some of the major issues she’s faced as a result.

Want uses the term schizophrenias to refer to primary psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.  Her initial diagnosis was bipolar disorder, and it took 9 years to get a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis, as the doctors seemed reluctant to make the schizoaffective diagnosis.

She writes that was diagnosed while in university, and was asked to leave school after having two hospitalizations in a year.  She was offered the non-choice of leaving voluntarily or having an involuntary medical level recorded permanently on her file.  I suspect that kind of thing happens more than people realize.  I’ve heard of multiple instances of students getting evicted from residence because of suicide attempts.

The book addresses the issue of involuntary hospitalization, and the author gives an overview of some of the various stances on it.  She wrote:

“Rarely did I experience such a radical and visceral imbalance of power as I did as a psychiatric inpatient amid clinicians who knew me only as illness in human form.”

She didn’t think any of her three involuntary hospitalizations had helped her, and explained “I believe that being held in a psychiatric ward against my will remains among the most scarring of my traumas.”

The book addressed various issues including a “psychiatric hierarchy” around who could be seen as “high functioning”; lack of communication, like decompensating because no one did anything about her mood stabilizer levels being low; dealing with chronic Lyme disease and the dismissive specialist she saw; and making the choice not to have children.

Discussing issues around identity and person-first and illness-first language, Wang wrote, “When the self has been swallowed by illness, isn’t it cruel to insist on a self that is not illness?”  I thought that was a very interesting way of putting it, and I’d say that I agree.

The book is written from a sort of curious observer perspective, and offers reflections and insights rather than trying to draw the reader in emotionally to the events as they were described.  As a result, it’s less about what it’s like to experience schizoaffective disorder internally and more about what it’s like to experience people’s reactions to it.  The book is fairly chronological, but the chapters focus on particular issues rather than periods of time in the author’s life.

The book won two awards and was a New York Times bestseller.  It’s written in such a way that I can see it being appealing to literary audiences without a mental health background, but readers with mental illness will likely identify with many of the issues that she raises.  Overall, I thought this book was very done.

The Collected Schizophrenias is available from Amazon.

You can find my other book reviews here.


Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis breaks down the different categories of DSM-5 diagnoses, explaining the diagnostic criteria and providing first-hand stories of the various illnesses.  It’s available on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as the MH@H Store.


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23 thoughts on “Book Review: The Collected Schizophrenias”

  1. That is an interesting angle, how people react to mental illness. It sounds like a good book! Where do you find the energy to read all those books? Lol! I’m glad you can enjoy reading from time to time.

      1. I find I bump back and forth with my reading-abilities. That brain of mine isn’t easily refueled!
        I enjoy your reviews and you always give me good info and tips to read. Thanks!

  2. Okay, I’m insanely jealous. This person wrote about having schizoaffective disorder and won all these book awards?! AAAUGH, and yet my books never sell!! AAAUGH!!

    Meg, geez, calm yourself.

    I’m not sure I got enough sleepytime last night!! 😀

    I’m not sure I like her attitude. I don’t think being hospitalized in and of itself is traumatic. Something traumatic would have to happen within that context. I’m not saying it can’t be traumatic, but people who are hospitalized with cancer don’t whine about how traumatic it is. Did she give anymore info about why it was traumatic? Were the staff horrible to her? (I sincerely apologize if my views on this are offensive to anyone. In all honesty, I think I might have slept poorly.)

      1. thanks for sharing!! 🙂 I seriously must be braindead today!! I can see how it would be traumatic now that I’m five minutes more awake! No kidding!!

          1. I used to have massively off-kilter sleep schedules, and I hated it!! UGH. It was hard. I’d be up all night like you said and then I’d sleep all day. Oh how I hated it. I’m just so glad I have meds now so that I can fall asleep and wake up at normal hours. I’m not sure, but I think my large doggie might’ve interrupted my sleep too early this morning by climbing all over me!! Bad doggie.

      1. I hear ya!! I swear, I feel like I’m in a fog today!! Here’s hoping I can wake up already, because I’ve got plans with Ash in a few hours!!

  3. Thanks for the review, Ashley. I plan to read this one eventually – it’s on my list.

    As for hospitalizations, I wouldn’t say mine have been traumatic, but I’ve had a lot of negative experiences, too. Going inpatient is always a last resort for me – it usually doesn’t help much, costs a lot. I look at going inpatient as when I need to be kept safe from myself.

    In early 2019, I did an outpatient program and that was a much better decision at that time. However, I know if I’m seriously suicidal or having a very hard time, inpatient can save my life, no matter how crappy it is in there.

  4. This sounds like such a good read and there seems to be a few issues mentioned that I think I’d relate with – definitely will keep an eye out for this one! x

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