The Collected Schizophrenias
Esmé Weijun Wang
Graywolf Press, $16.00
Poet and mental health advocate Kelsey Hoff dives into the nonfiction genre through her review of Esmé Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias.
The Collected Schizophrenias, a series of distinct essays by Esmé Weijun Wang, traces her experience with a rare condition beginning right before starting college at Yale and moves throughout her adulthood as she tries to find the language to articulate her subjective experience with illness. For instance, “Diagnosis” and “Toward a Pathology of the Possessed” illuminate clinical frameworks for understanding schizophrenia and its variations within the systems of medical research and practice in the United States, whereas other essays such as “High Functioning” and “Perdition Days” sketch out her specific symptoms alongside their various medical explanations and treatments.
Wang’s research crosses all kinds of boundaries, as mental illness does—an individual shard of reality piercing through all kinds of media and documentation—to take into account the sum and the parts of her own mental health while also accounting for other diagnoses of schizophrenia. Specifically, Wang’s primary diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, which is just one of the many variations of schizophrenia alluded to by the title. As she explains, “the schizophrenias encompass a range of psychotic disorders, and it is a genus that I choose to identify with as a woman whose diagnosis is unfamiliar to most—the shaggy, sharp-toothed thing, and not the wolf” (12). Wang’s creative skill shines through in passages like this one to bridge gaps in understanding and bring untidy concepts to life while expressing the emotional pain of living with these cognitive dissonances. In one deft metaphor, she expresses the loneliness of being so misunderstood as an individual while reaching out to embrace others who have experienced this kind of misidentification.