Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett. Specifically it will discuss the author's life and how mental illness affected her family and herself. Lori Schiller suffered from schizophrenia since she was a teenager, and this is a true account of her struggles with the disease.
This book, written by the patient and a writer, is the real story of Lori Schiller, a schizophrenia patient who managed to conquer, or manage, her disease. She writes powerfully of how the illness affected her and her family, and what how it affected her life. Her experiences began with hearing "Voices" in her head and these voices rarely disappear from her mind. She writes, "Sometimes those Voices have been dormant. Sometimes they have been overwhelming. At times over the years they have nearly destroyed me. Many times over the years I was ready to give up, believing they had won" (Schiller and Bennett 7). She began hearing these voices when she was 17 and working in a summer camp. Initially, she heard the voices in her head at night, when she was trying to sleep. To escape them, she jumped all night on a trampoline, and then tried to act "normal" during the day. The camp owner recognized something was wrong, and sent her home, and that was the moment that changed her life, and the lives of her family, as well.
She makes it very clear that the illness affected her quality of life, and the normalcy of her life. She writes, "Along the way I have lost many things: the career I might have pursued, the husband I might have married, the children I might have had" (Schiller and Bennett 7). She has managed the disease in later life, and has even managed to begin working and dating, but she lost eighteen years of her life to the disease, and that changed her as a person, and it changed her family, too.
The first symptoms were voices in her head, then she began having dreams of situations that had never happened, (such as beating a dog to death), and becoming afraid of things or sounds, like the telephone ringing or Walter Cronkite reading the nightly news. The voices made her anxious, and although they seemed to recede when she entered college, they became worse as she continued through school. She became depressed, saw a counselor and then a psychiatrist, but she could not confide about the voices, so they did not help her. As her symptoms progressed, she began to see visions, like the state trooper turning into a monster, and she had violent mood swings. She would stay in her room for hours or days, and she would be brutally honest (or rude) to people she hardly knew. She becomes increasingly depressed, and when her psychiatrist will not see her, she overdoses on pills. By the time she is committed to a psych ward, her symptoms have become much worse. She lives in a fantasy world, cannot cope with reality, and has fantasies such as believing she can fly, and she has violent hallucinations. These symptoms get progressively worse in the hospital, where she is often violent, depressed, and still suffers hallucinations and hears voices constantly. She also has memory loss, even after her release from the hospital, and she is often antsy and unable to concentrate for long periods of time, such as when she tried to go back to school to become a nurse.
She was admitted to Payne Whitney because of her second suicide attempt in three months. Her father convinced her to commit herself, because he saw her symptoms and realized she was far more ill than he had previously admitted. In September 1982, Lori transfers to the Westchester Division of the New York Hospital, a long-term psychiatric facility. She came out of the hospital in April 1983, mostly because she was on a series of drugs (not noted in the text), which helped her appear "normal," at least normal enough to try to live outside the hospital.
Her first attempt at suicide is after she has graduated from college and is living in New York with Lori Winters. She takes a whole bottle of pills, and ends up in Bellevue, where they want to admit her for psych evaluation, but her parents will not allow it. Three months later, she attempts suicide again, and her father sees that she is seriously ill. It is after this suicide attempt that she is committed to the Payne Whitney Clinic in New York, and her family begins to see how ill she really is. Even after her release, and her return to the working world, she still thinks about suicide. She writes, "Killing myself was my job, my responsibility. I mentally punished myself each day for not having done it yet" (Schiller and Bennett 132). She makes other semi-suicidal attempts, such as cutting herself on rose bushes, that lead to her confinement in yet another mental hospital.
The illness has a terrible effect on her family and friends. Most of her friends move on with their lives while she is sick, and they are not there when she returns. She forms new friendships with the wrong kind of people, like drug dealers and users, and heads down a different path. This affects her family, too. Mostly, the family is supportive, but her parents both question their own role in her illness, especially her mother, who finally realizes that her mother and aunt suffered from the same disease. Her father feels responsible, that he drove her too hard, and their marriage suffers. The father writes, "Nancy and I continued to support each other emotionally, but our lives these days were far from the carefree frolic that I had expected when our three little ones had left the nest. Life for me these days largely boiled down to work, Lori and sleep" (Schiller and Bennett 117). Her brothers, especially her youngest brother, feel neglected because their parents are spending so much time with Lori, and the family's friends all feel sorry for them or pity them. Her brothers are a little fearful of her illness. They wonder if it will occur in them, and they also "run" from their sister. Mark writes, "For this time, Sally was about to meet Lori. And I realized that for a long time one of the things I had been running away from was Lori" (Schiller and Bennett 176). Clearly, her illness affected all aspects of her life, and affected her family in numerous ways, too.
In Payne Whitney, Lori received Thorazine and Haldol (genetic Chlorpromazine and Haloperidol), in increasing doses. They also gave her lithium (generic Eskalith, Lithobid). After several months, she is finally diagnosed with "schizo-effective disorder," and the family is urged to transfer her to a long-term facility, because they feel her illness may not get better. Even after leaving the hospital, she is on a variety of medications (not mentioned), including lithium. She does mention Mellaril in her third suicide attempt, after she is back home and working at the psychiatric hospital (generic Thioridazine). She switches from Mellaril back to Thorazine after the suicide attempt. When she stops taking the Thorazine, her symptoms return. She also begins taking Nardil (generic Phenelzine) that acts on her depression symptoms. She also receives sodium amytal (generic Amobarbital sodium) to sedate her when she goes to the Quiet Room after an outburst. At the halfway house, she takes Xanax (generic Alprazolam). Finally, in 1989, they try her on a new drug, generic clozapine (real name Clozaril), and take her off the other drugs. She begins to feel better, and the new drug reduces her symptoms. She writes, "Even I could not ignore it. The most striking thing I felt was a new sense of calm. For the first time in years, I slept" (Schiller and Bennett 250). The clozapine allows her to finally leave the hospital, gain a career, and live on her own, living a very "normal" life.
The author also received twenty electroshock treatments at Payne Whitney, but they did not help her. After her release from New York Hospital, she saw a psychiatrist three times a week. In 1984, she visited a drug treatment program in Connecticut, where she managed to rid herself of her cocaine addiction. In 1985, she returns to New York Hospital as a patient, and spends several months there. During this stay, she was often sent to the Quiet Room because she was out of control. The Quiet Room was supposed to calm her down, but it did not, so she sometimes received cold-wet-packing, where she is wrapped in sheets that had been soaking in ice water, and wrapped like a mummy for two hours. That usually calmed her down enough that she could be unwrapped and allowed to return to her room.
In 1986, she goes to St. Vincent's Hospital, and goes to live at a…