Joint memoir by a pair of identical twins, one a writer and award-winning poet with an incurable mental disease and the other a practicing psychiatrist.
When the Spiro girls were young, Pamela was considered the more creative, brilliant one, but by 1963, when they were in sixth grade, the first inklings of her future disorder appeared: on hearing of President Kennedy’s assassination, she believed that she was to blame. With gripping detail, she describes her descent into mental chaos, revealing the frightening nature of schizophrenia and her confusion and helplessness when under its spell. By early adolescence she becomes withdrawn, and by the time she is a freshman at Brown she is tortured by chaotic thoughts, is hearing voices and fears that people are planning to harm her. After overdosing on Sominex, she is taken by Carolyn to the college infirmary, the first of the countless stays in hospitals and sessions with psychiatrists that will mark the rest of her life. The sisters’ relationship is an ambiguous one: after that first semester at Brown, they talk on the phone for hours every week, but they never go home to visit their parents at the same time. Pamela’s illness permits Carolyn to shine but it does not end their sibling rivalry. Both enter medical school after college, but while Carolyn is studying at Harvard Medical School, Pam is at the University of Connecticut, the only school that would admit her. Within a year, she’s back in a mental hospital, catatonic and hearing commanding voices. The sisters alternate in the telling, but this is clearly Pamela’s book, for without her schizophrenia, there would be no story. It is she that is the powerful storyteller at its center, she that alters the Spiro family dynamic, she that suffers and makes demands, embarrasses and frustrates. With the rest of her family uncomfortable around Pamela, Carolyn struggles to be her sister, not her psychiatrist, yet being a psychiatrist makes all the difference in the caretaker relationship that develops over time.
The combination of first-person narratives provides an unusually well-rounded portrait of schizophrenia. Includes an eight-page black and-white photo insert (not seen).