“Some people dislike diagnoses, disagreeably calling them boxes and labels,” writes Esmé Weijun Wang in the first essay of her new book, The Collected Schizophrenias.” [B]ut I’ve always found comfort in preexisting conditions. I like to know that I’m not pioneering an inexplicable condition.”
One of the more frightening things about any painful experience that isn’t outwardly obvious to the people around us — like some mental and physical illnesses or disabilities — is how difficult it is to communicate what it feels like to those around us. Writers like Wang, however, give us a gift in their ability to convey the indescribable through language.
In 13 tightly organized essays, The Collected Schizophrenias, winner of the 2016 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, reveals different aspects of Wang’s diagnoses — schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type and late-stage Lyme disease — through simply-conveyed research, powerful metaphor, and personal experiences. Starting with the science in “Diagnosis” and “Toward a Pathology of the Possessed,” and ending with the spiritual and mystical (or at least a door left open for them) in “Chimayó” and “Beyond the Hedge,” Wang provides a series of lenses through which to observe the schizophrenic disorders and, by extension, our (mis)understanding of them.