A Life Inside: A Memoir

I found out about the book, A Life Inside: A Memoir by Mindy Lewis, after reading a footnote about it by Thomas Szasz in his book, Words to the Wise. In Words to the Wise, Szasz says:

Upset by her teenage daughter’s rebelliousness, a New York mother commits her to Columbia University’s Psychiatric Institute (P.I.). In her memoir, the “patient” writes: “On my application for admission to P.I., asked to specify the reason for hospitalization, my mother had written: ‘Rebellious behavior.’ All my friends at P.I. were then diagnosed as schizophrenic…. I was never schizophrenic. Not then, not now. How could they possibly have interpreted my rage and confusion as schizophrenia?” The answer is called “standard of care.” Had one of the psychiatrists assigned to treat this young woman asserted that she did not “have schizophrenia” and set her free, and had she then killed herself (or injured her mother), the psychiatrist would have faced an unwinnable malpractice suit.1

In the memoir, Lewis’s mother commits her sixteen year old daughter to a psychiatric ward after some typical teenage rebelliousness, such as smoking marijuana. Her father does not protest. The commitment leaves Lewis confused, and searching for answers for a good portion of her life. Rather than help Lewis, the psychiatric hospital further obfuscates the young woman’s ability to create a meaningful life.

The memoir exemplifies the Szaszian view on mental illness – the idea that it is a guise for conflict in relationships. In Words to the Wise, he says:

Mental illness is a myth whose function is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations. In asserting that there is no such thing as mental illness I do not deny that people have problems coping with life and each other.

As Lewis works through creating a meaningful life, she continually wrestles with her involuntary commitment and her subsequent psychiatric diagnosis. It reminds me of how Szasz describes the matter of psychiatry in his book, Heresies:

The subject matter of psychiatry is neither minds nor mental diseases, but lies-the “patient’s” and the “psy­chiatrist’s.” These lies begin with the names of the par­ticipants in the transaction-the designation of one party as “patient” even though he is not ill and of the other as “therapist” even though he is not treating any illness. They continue with the lies that comprise the subject matter proper of the discipline-the psychiatric “diag­noses,” “prognoses,” “treatments,” and “follow-ups.” And they end with the lies that, like shadows, follow ex-men­tal patients through the rest of their lives-the records of denigrations called “depression,” “schizophrenia,” or whatnot and of imprisonments called “hospitalization.” Accordingly, if we wished to give psychiatry an honest name, we could call it “mendacitology,” or the study of lies.

  1. Szasz, Thomas. Words to the Wise: A Medical-Philosophical Dictionary (p. 200). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition. 

Thomas Szasz: Primary Values and Major Contentions

The above video is an interview with the author and editors of the book, Thomas Szasz: Primary Values and Major Contentions.

The book, Thomas Szasz: Primary Values and Major Contentions is a collection of Thomas Szasz’s best writing during the first three decades of his career as a psychiatrist. It is edited by two admirers of Szasz, Richard Vatz and Lee Weinberg. There is also a section of the book that includes questions from the editors and answers from Szasz. Even though I have read many of Szasz’s books, I found new insights from this one.

Download the first few pages of the book here as PDF.

Thomas Szasz: The Man and His Ideas

May God defend me from my friends: I can defend myself from my enemies. – Voltaire

The book, Thomas Szasz: The Man and His Ideas, is a collection of essays ostensibly put together in remembrance of the psychiatrist-philosopher, Thomas Szasz. Szasz was a fascinating man who wrote and lectured about personal responsibility, freedom, and the myth of mental illness.

Instead of illuminating ideas, the book attempts to point out ways in which Szasz’s ideas were flawed. It is not a book worthy of celebrating the critical thinking, social criticism, and categorical analysis of Thomas Szasz.

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Pharmacracy: Medicine and Politics in America

In his book, Pharmacracy: Medicine and Politics in America, Thomas Szasz argues that medicine has unwittingly become the new de facto religion in America. According to Szasz, health and medicine have superseded religion as a source of values. Medicine has bootlegged values into everyday life through the backdoor of politics.

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Seven Types of Atheism

In the book, Seven Types of Atheism, author John Gray attempts to give an account of the foolishness of various flavors of atheism throughout the ages. Gray is disheartened by the latest flavor atheism of the “new atheists”. Gray shows how the beliefs that the “new atheist” cling to are really just repacked versions of Christianity – only the belief is not in Christ as diety but in the divinity of science or humanity itself.

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My Madness Saved Me: The Madness and Marriage of Virginia Woolf

My Madness Saved Me: The Madness and Marriage of Virginia Woolf, is a retrospective psychoanalysis of the life and death of Virginia Woolf by the iconoclastic psychiatrist Thomas Szasz. Szasz presents his views on Virginia Woolf’s life and suicide as a counterbalance to the prevailing view that she was a genius writer tormented by mental illness. In contrast, Szasz maintains that: “Persons have reasons for their actions, regardless of whether they are said to have or not have mental diseases.”1 It is from this vantage point that Szasz analyses the life and death of Woolf.

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The Happiness Project: Transforming the Three Poisons that Cause the Suffering We Inflict on Ourselves and Others

The book, The Happiness Project, is written by a student of Thomas Szasz, Ron Leifer. I was disappointed in this book. I was interested in the work of Ron Leifer because he studied under Thomas Szasz. I thought that perhaps Ron could offer some insights into the human condition. What I found were some poorly constructed, trite thoughts about about human nature.

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What Do You Do with a Problem? An Existential Approach to Problems in Living

I came across an incredible children’s book called, What Do You Do With A Problem. I found it to be one of the best explanations of the existential approach to problems in life. The story touches on some existential themes such as anxiety, depression, isolation, freedom, and responsibility.

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The book Heresies by Thomas Szasz delivers insights into the human condition. It has a cool cover as well! Reading Heresies was a delight. It is like having a conversation with a wise friend. If you have not delved into Szasz’s aphoristic books, take a look at the many quotes I’ve reproduced in my post of The Second Sin and work your way from there. Szasz’s insightful observations of human psychology never cease to inform.Szasz’s ability to express himself in a poetic and informative way is unknown to me by another author.