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My daughter with Professor Elyn Saks
Some of you will remember my therapeutic (if not cathartic) diaries about my daughter Trina's mental illness (here and here). Stay tuned for upcoming diaries about her disastrous experience with criminal court probation and her much-more-positive conservatorship and placement, but for now, I will diary a recent lunch that I had with two most unusual women.

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Elyn Saks first started noticing that something was wrong when she was 16. One day, and without reason, she suddenly left her classroom and started walking home. It turned into an agonizing journey in which she believed all the houses in her neighborhood were transmitting hostile and insulting messages directly into her brain. Five years later, while attending law school at Oxford, she experienced her first complete schizophrenic break. Saks struggled over the course of the next decade, but she came through thanks to medication, therapy, and the support of friends and family.

Professor Saks is now the Associate Dean and and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School. She chairs the institute there that bears her name, and is the best-selling author of The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. With a law degree from Yale and an additional Ph.D. in Psychoanalysis, she is truly unique among the world's scholars. Her TED Talk about schizophrenia, embedded below and transcript here, has been viewed almost a million times.

I met Professor Saks about a year ago at a book-signing for this remarkable autobiography. She spoke about her own struggles and, like the pages of her book, described in vivid detail what schizophrenia feels like to the patient. She had captivated the crowd, and we all wanted to know more about how she had accomplished so much.

Afterward, I told her of Trina's struggles, and she told me to call her whenever I thought she was ready to have lunch. Well, when that day came, Professor Saks was true to her word. She invited us to join her on the USC campus for lunch at the University Club. And that's how I came to have lunch with two people who suffer from schizophrenia. (I have adopted Professor Saks's convention of never calling them "schizophrenics.")

A gifted student before the onset of her illness, Trina had had plans to attend Stanford with the goal of studying medicine. A change came over Trina as soon as we arrived at the campus. Maybe I imagined it, but the look in her eye was the first realization in a long time that maybe she, too, could go to college one day.

We walked the scant block from the Law School to the University Club, and Professor Saks wasted no time in quizzing Trina about her illness. It was very matter-of-fact, as though they were discussing the time they had measles as children.

The frank discussion continued on through lunch, with Trina opening up about her illness more than I had ever heard. (This is a young woman who, four months earlier, steadfastly denied even having an illness.) Trina talked about how she felt about the illness, how other people treated her differently now, and how her dearest friends never call any more. That may well have been the first time she was able to share those feelings with someone who understood them.

I made a point to leave them alone on several occasions (the delicious University Club salad bar gave me excellent reason to take leave) so Trina could talk without her father present. I never learned what they talked about while I was gone, and that's okay.

As we walked her back to her office that day, Professor Saks gave Trina her phone number and told her to call her any time. She wanted to have lunch again as Trina continued to get better (no talk of the all-to-common regression of the illness), and she seem genuinely interested in seeing us again.

I'll admit, anyone who takes an interest in helping my daughter will get my vote of approval. But Professor Saks is in a category all to herself. It was a lunch neither my daughter nor I will soon forget.

Originally posted to KosAbility on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 04:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Mental Health Awareness and Community Spotlight.

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