Mental Health Support System

Book Review: Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and their Journey through Schizophrenia – Part 2

Brief Synopsis

“If I Am Not Touching A life, I am Not Touching Life.” Craig D. Lounsbrough

“My good fortune is not that I’ve recovered from mental illness. I have not, nor will I ever. My good fortune lies in having found my life”. Elyn R. Saks

The Sunshine Of The Spiro Household – Daddy’s Little Girl

Divided Minds is a joint memoir by a pair of identical twins, Pamela and Carolyn. Pamela is a writer, and award-winning poet with an incurable mental disease (schizophrenia), and Carolyn is a practicing psychiatrist, wife, and a mother of two. When the Spiro girls were young, Pamela, known as Pammy, was seen as the intelligent one, who had a great future ahead of her. She was daddy’s girl, and her dad loved having challenging conversations with her due to her intellectual ability. She outshined her twin sister in almost everything.

A Turn Of Events – The Beginning Of A New Character …

In 1963, Pammy’s life started to take another turn. That was the year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Pammy experienced the first symptoms of mental disorder (psychotic episodes – hallucination and delusion). Pammy and her twin sister were both in sixth grade by then and reacted differently after they heard of the death of JFK. Pammy believed that she was the cause of the death of JFK  and should be blamed for it. “The whispering people, the bits of music, the sound of footsteps, and President Kenndy, shot dead, dead, dead! It’s obvious, isn’t it? I killed him! I killed him! I’m to blame isn’t that what its all about?” (Wagner & Spiro, 2005, p.32)

 Pammy narrated her experience with a mental disorder with mesmerizing specifics.  She described her initial descent into mental pandemonium by narrating the fearsome and terrifying nature of schizophrenia and how she was unable to make sense of the illness and why she had it. She described the hopelessness and helplessness that usually occurs whenever she was under its spell.

When Things Intensified

 During the beginning of adolescence, Pammy was a completely different person. She became withdrawn and avoided social contact while experiencing difficulties in school with both her performance and her relationships with her teachers. Pammy graduated high school and was accepted to Brown University with her sister.  Pammy’s nightmares of being hunted and tortured by chaotic thoughts began during her freshman year. As she stated, “Rumination and involuntary wordplay going on full tilt in my head for most of my waking hours” (Wagner & Spiro, 2005, p.105). Constant hallucinations and delusional episodes became her normal,  Pammy kept hearing voices and having suspicions that someone was out to get her. She was first hospitalized for schizophrenia after she took more than the required dose of Sominex, and smoked marijuana.

Breakthrough Despite The Mounting Obstacles …

Despite all that was going on in her life, she and her sister were admitted to different medical schools. Pammy was hospitalized again while at the University of Connecticut as a medical student. She was hearing voices (Command hallucination is a form of auditory or visual hallucination where the individual believes that they are being given specific instructions). These “commands” can range from the benign (a harmless action such as picking flowers) all the way to suicide or homicide. ADC) and experienced catatonic episodes (A behavior marked decrease in reactivity to the environment. DSM-5) for the first time.

Unfortunately, as the symptoms became more persistent, Pammy dropped out of medical school.  She only mentioned one relationship encounter, and she was not really a fan of intimacy.  Pammy’s relationship with family, except for her twin sister, deteriorated. Pammy was not in contact with her father for most of the book. Her father only visited her during her first hospitalization and later reconciled toward the end of the book.

Carolyn – Becoming The Sunshine Of The Household

Carolyn, on the hand, started to turn her life around with the emergence of Pammy’s illness. Carolyn was constantly jealous of her sister and seized the opportunity to excel during her freshman year at Brown University and later was admitted at Harvard Medical School. Carolyn was the main supporter of her sister and helped her maintain a normal life. She had her first boyfriend in college and later got married and had two children.

Carolyn also narrated the difficulties of caring for a sibling with a severe mental health disorder. Her frustrations, her pains, and constant denial of what her sister was going through gave a realistic view of the whole situation. Carolyn became a psychiatrist but did not talk much about her work. Carolyn was the sole supporter of her sister, but the twins never lived close, so most of their interactions were done through phone conversations.

End Of Synopsis

I made the synopsis short because of how I wanted to approach this book review. Many of the other details will be covered in the other sections to come. The story is very compelling and touching as we see how the lives of the twin sisters and the rest of the family all evolve as a result of Pamela’s illness. Stay tuned for the next post in this series.

Food For Thought

  • Pressing Through Life’s Most Difficult Moments

Like Pamela, giving in is not the solution. Life may knock you down over and over again, but you should never stop getting up again and again. ‘For greater is he that is in you than the life challenges.’

  • When Going Through A Major Life Crisis Life Is Never The Same Again

Pamela, who was once the ‘Sunshine’ and most precious daughter of her dad with great future aspirations, became the controversial one because no one understood what she was going through at that moment. Her family, except her twin sister, believed she was just acting up. Take time to understand the struggles and troubles of your loved ones. Sometimes the best you can do for them is to ‘Just Be Present’ or ‘Just Be There.’

  • “If I Am Not Touching A life, I am Not Touching Life.” Craig D. Lounsbrough

Be a support system to those around you, remember you have two hands; one is to reach out to others and the other to receive from God.

Coping Strategies Voice Hearing – (Kingdon & Turkington, 2005)

􀁹 Behavioral control (e.g., taking a warm bath)

􀁹 Socialization (e.g., talking to a friend)

􀁹 Mental healthcare (e.g., taking meds)

􀁹 Symptomatic behavior (e.g., shouting at voices)

􀁹 Cognitive control

􀁹 Distraction (e.g., listening to music)

􀁹 Focusing (e.g., letting the voice be)

􀁹 Rational responding (e.g., making an appt. to listen to

voices, normalizing explanations, being assertive

References

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Arlington, VA: American

Psychiatric Association.

Wagner, P. S., & Spiro, C. S. (2006). Divided minds: Twin sisters and their journey through schizophrenia. New York: St. Martins Griffin.

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I am a food lover, and cooking is therapeutic for me; it relaxes me and transports me to a quieter universe away from the noisy, busy modern world. I am a Counseling Mental Health & Wellness graduate student, wife, and stepmother. I love connecting with people from different cultural backgrounds through food, fashion, wisdom, and lifestyle in general. To be continued because I am still in the process of discovering who I am as I continue this journey called life. I promise to keep you all posted in the meantime.

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