Title: The Quiet Room: A Journey out of The Torment of Madness
Author: Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett
Again I seem to have reverted to yet another book on mental illness. This one is written by Lori Schiller and documents in pedantic detail her first realization that she was “not well”, all through to her current life living with her schizophrenia.
Schiller describes herself as outgoing, athletic, smart and popular prior to her illness. Essentially the perfect child from an affluent family. She first starts hearing voices during a Summer camp when she is seventeen. Knowing the reaction, from having seen people’s reactions to even minor signs of any “mental” behaviour, she disguises the extent of her problem to family and friends. From then on, until her graduation from college, she learns to live with the voices in her head, yet functioning fairly well.
Unlike other books I have read on schizophrenia the feelings of helplessness in this one were more palpable because of the author’s acute understanding – even without any prior knowledge of the nature of her mental illness – of her problem. It is only in college that the voices she hears begin to truly intrude into her life, making it more difficult for her to ignore them. Reading her description of the increasingly sinister nature of the voices, which could range from the “You must Die”, to the more insulting made me wonder how she was able to fake normalcy for as long as she did. Along with the voices, Lori begins to experience the manic behaviour of extreme highs and even lower lows. Paranoia also becomes a constant in her interactions with people. Despite the pressure of having to keep her secret from family and friends and dealing with a mind that is slowly unraveling, Lori graduates from college without incidence and moves to New York with one of her friends.
It is in New York that her behaviour becomes more erratic, enough so that her friends begin to notice. Seven years after she first heard the voices in her head, she attempts suicide. From then on, now with her family’s knowledge of the full extent of her illness, she begins what will be years of admissions and re-admissions into hospitals, therapy, and medication that do not work.
The sad part about the book was the reaction of both her parents, who even after years of seeing their daughter go through various drugs that do not work, being admitted to hospitals, witnessing her inability to function outside the confines of a hospital, more re-admission and so on, fail to accept that she had a mental illness. It reads as if admitting to her illness would somehow be a blemish on the family’s image of their perfect lives. It is hard to comprehend if there could have been any other way to respond to such a plight without the wealth of information that is now available on the disease.
The book has chapters written by the people who were in Lori’s life during her gradual regression, from her roommate in New York, her parents, her brothers, to her counsellor. All lend their perspective of what they witnessed and their helplessness in dealing with an illness they did not fully understand. What further exacerbates Lori’s situation is that in the initial years, she is able to manipulate everyone into thinking she is either getting better or managing her illness. This, in part, is because she is aware of the inability of people around her to fully grasp the debilitating nature of her moods swings or of the voices in her head. It is heartbreaking to read of the torment she lived with, in trying to appear normal, yet constantly trying to mute the voices which were getting louder and more menacing.
The Quite Room to which the title refers is a room at the Hospital where Lori was readmitted over the many years of her illness. It was meant to be a place where mental patients could have some quiet time. A ‘safe and tranquil place for them to relax and calm themselves’. To be sent to the Quiet Room was more a punishment than the safe place of solitude it was meant to be. For Lori, it was hell. It was in this room where she felt the most overwhelmed by the voices in her head. Being sent to the Quiet room escalated Lori’s psychotic breaks to greater extremes, forcing the hospital staff to apply greater restraints on her as the drugs proved ineffective.
It is only when Lori, now in her thirtieth birthday, is put on a new experimental anti-psychotic drug called clozapine, which not only mutes the voices she has been living with for hers but for the first times enables her to leave the institution where she had spent much of her adult life, and slowly re-integrate into a normal life.
This is an easy read in as far as its narrative style of writing, but it is an emotional one. Lori Schiller’s journey through her schizophrenia is a trying one. The book does not gloss over the torment felt by her family, the emotional roller-coaster she goes through for thirteen years before she is finally put on medication that works or the effects of the various medications on both her fragile emotional state and her physical well-being. It is a harsh depiction of the low depths experienced by mental health patients when faced with a lack of understanding of the extent of their illness and limited medical options.