A schizophrenic’s autobiographical manuscript serves as a creative-nonfiction project for his niece.
As a graduate student in creative nonfiction at the University of Iowa, former BuzzFeed editor Allen received a large envelope from the man she had affectionately known as “my crazy uncle Bob.” Her mother’s brother hadn’t been in much contact with the rest of the family outside of phone calls and an occasional cassette of the music he made and that obsessed him. The author set it aside because it disturbed her. However, she eventually not only read it, but began devoting much of her scholastic energy to it, sharing it with fellow students and writing an essay about it. Once she had brought herself to reading it, “what surprised me was how much I liked it—his word choices and style.” Allen alternates between her edit of the manuscript she received, preserving the style and substance but cleaning it up some (it had been in all capital letters with irregular punctuation), and her own interpretation of what happened to her uncle: her attempts to corroborate what he had written with his parents and friends and her views on his treatment and psychiatry in general. The result is a patchwork, with the reader not sure what to believe and why it should be significant. Family members disagreed over Bob’s diagnosis and his recollections, and Allen’s own attempts to find perspective lack authority. “In my experience,” she writes, “people who’ve been psychiatrically diagnosed feel a variety of ways about their diagnosis and about the field of psychiatry itself.” She elaborates, “no two people I’ve interviewed or resources I’ve read about mental health care in America have felt the same way about what the right treatment should look like. But almost everyone who follows these issues agrees that the situation at present is quite grim.” Bob may not have managed to fit inside society, but he found a measure of peace outside it.
A glimpse of how schizophrenia looks and feels from the inside.