Now that I’ve finished writing my own book, I’ve got time to catch up on what I haven’t been reading. The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness, by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett, wasn’t on my “must read” list because I had heard that Schiller credits her recovery largely to clozapine, and that didn’t set well with my understanding of what a “good” recovery should be attributed to. (I’ve become less hardline on recoveries since then.) So, looking for a good read, I purchased the book on Kindle.
As an aside, just about all my reviews gets four or five stars for the simple reason that the memoirs come highly recommended by other readers. I don’t finish books that I don’t enjoy.
So, five stars for The Quiet Room. The story is rather unique because it’s not only from the author’s perspective, but also from the candid perspective of each of her parents, her brothers, her psychiatrist. What I find interesting about this 1994 book is that it was published in a decade that saw the biomedical model of mental illness take off. There was talk in the book along the lines of “getting the chemistry right,” “finding the right drug and drug combinations” and how the newer antipsychotics were changing the treatment landscape. Lori Schiller wasn’t responding to the first generation antipsychotic medication that had been tried and she was facing, after several hospitalizations, the prospect of life as a chronic mental patient. If clozapine helped her, who am I to judge?
I was dumbfounded, however, at the end of the book, when the author writes that she is taking 26 medications daily. I could barely believe what I was seeing on the page. She’s on not “just” clozapine, she’s loaded up on medication for moods, medication for anxiety, and medication for the side effects that those drugs produce (e.g. tardive dyskinesia). This was the 1990s, the beginning of two decades of freewheeling overprescribing. Ask yourself: Is this a “good” recovery? If clozapine is the drug credited with the voices retreating in her head (not gone, just muffled), then why does she end up relying on all these other drugs to get her through her day?
In an postscript to the original book, written in 2009, Schiller explains that Sandoz, the original manufacturer of clozapine, found her book and put her and her mother on the speaking circuit to tell their story, or, in other words to promote clozapine as a miracle drug. (That’s my take on this, not hers.) She is now on 31 drugs! 31 drugs! Where’s the miracle in clozapine?
If proof is needed that the 1990s and 2000s were the decade of polypharmacy and corporate sponsorship that expanded the number of drugs in people’s systems, The Quiet Room is anecdotal proof.
Those were the real good ole’ days for pharma. Not so much for Ms Schiller, who writes that she struggles to get out of bed most days, despite leading a life she finds meaningful and full of joy. Good for her! I wish her the best and I hope she got “weller” post 2009 by rolling with the times and greatly reducing her drug regime.