Updated: Mar 4
I consider it a privilege to write about this book and its author, Tracey Higgins.
It’s not about treatment; it’s not just about Schizophrenia. It’s about one person’s experiences with schizophrenia and her subsequent recovery. It’s also an exquisite, sensitive, and painful rendition of a struggle against almost impossible odds. It says very much about the human spirit and how a person with determination can overcome what we commonly refer to as ‘an incurable brain disease’.
In my forty-six years of practice, as a psychologist, psychotherapist, and researcher dealing with this difficult disorder daily, I have never ever heard such a unique story of full recovery from schizophrenia without medication.
This is not a book about psychotherapy or medication or psychosocial rehabilitation. This is about courage, determination and an attitude that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tracey Higgins did it all by herself. Research that has been replicated in several countries around the world shows that patients with long histories of this condition can make good social recoveries, given the opportunity. Why is then, that treatment is very poor? Is it because it is so difficult to treat this population? Certainly, it is difficult. Is it true that everyone has some madness in them they are afraid of discovering and therefore reject the treatment as being a useless alternative? In order to be effective, therapists need to overcome their own insanity. There is no question in my mind that everyone has the seeds of craziness, and if there is a lack of synthesis and integration, that certainly stirs up the fear of madness.
To understand schizophrenia, we need to know about the process rather than the result, the environment and culture that surround them and to have some understanding of the professionals who treat them. To quote Thomas McGlashan, the well-regarded psychiatrist and researcher, “Current treatment modalities for schizophrenia are extracting diminishing returns.” And, to quote from the eminent Karl Menninger, who wrote in 1957, “The psychology of schizophrenia is as much in the minds of the observers as in the patient's mind. We must change before he can change. He has long been incurable because we have been hopeless.”
Tracey Higgins did not receive medication, she did not undergo psychotherapy, and she was not in a psychosocial rehabilitation program. She wandered the world as it was, her world frightened, even terrified, and concerned with her very survival every minute of every day. She had completely lost her identity and did not, for many years, have any idea what direction to take. Yet she recovered completely. However, many people, professionals, and laypersons alike will doubt the accuracy of her diagnosis simply because they have no faith in an individual’s capacity to overcome the most difficult condition alone. When you read her book and see through her eyes, the pain of her everyday existence, you know she was a schizophrenic? Yet, there are professionals in the mental health field, whose perception of schizophrenia is so totally negative, that they will deny the possibility that anyone can recover from it and, therefore, will claim that the patient was simply misdiagnosed. And there are many who have recovered from schizophrenia that is unwilling to present their selves because few will accept their recovery as a result.
CRINGE is unique in that Tracey Higgins has recovered without the aid of drugs or any kind of therapy. She was deprived of such treatment, and it appears to her benefit. What she had in her favor was an incredible will to conquer an illness without help. One can only imagine what a monumental battle it was.
Tracey Higgins was schizophrenic. She no longer is. This vividly points out that we do not know enough about the human condition to limit a person’s potential, even under the worst of circumstances. She not only is a stimulus for our need to review our efforts, but also encourages those individuals who feel so very hopeless.
I think it is critically important to ask ourselves this question. What is schizophrenia? There are many myths about this condition that should be dispelled in order for us to have a better understanding of this human process. Schizophrenia is a brain disease, which is a myth. There are no psychological causes of schizophrenia, which is a myth. Schizophrenia is a virus, which is a myth. Schizophrenia is caused by a genetic factor which is a myth. But, what is schizophrenia? Can we understand it as a delusional system? Do we understand it as being those afflicted with auditory hallucinations? Can we understand it as a paranoid system? Can we understand it as weird thoughts? Is this what schizophrenia is? In the DMS codes of the American Psychiatric Association, the symptoms and characteristics are classified. But nowhere do you see anything about the human process. Schizophrenia, its early onset of the acute phase, is a state of terror. These human beings whose great fear makes them suffer a loss of identity and there is a disintegration of the self. People undergoing this terrifying experience feel like they hang between life and death and there has in some way of reaching a state of survival in the face of this enormous fear. When they are treated in this acute phase, they are treated primarily with medication that pushes them back to a pre-morbid state, which in its self is a very disturbing condition, Tragically, this form of treatment is woefully inadequate and is very often followed by repeated acute exacerbations that often ends up to be a terminal condition. To treat the individual successfully, we also need to understand the logic and language of this disorder.
Tracey Higgins suffered an acute onset. Her life was like a nightmare for many years. She had fantasies of annihilation and destruction. There was no great sense of relief from these fears. She did not make peace with her condition. It never did, in fact, become a survival system. It never did, in fact, become and remain her identity. With whatever tools she had at her disposal, she struggled, incredibly, to find a solution to this intolerably painful condition. Gradually the recovery process began to emerge, which gave her the encouragement that she required to go further and to conquer her enemy that controlled her life for such a long time.
Currently, she is free of schizophrenia, her life is normal. The future is good for her. Today, her search for herself has turned into a deep desire to educate both professionals and the lay public to realize that there is hope for this condition we call schizophrenia. We must continue our struggles to develop better treatment methods and alternative treatment centers that will offer to those individuals with the opportunity to recover. This need for her to discover this has become her mission, and we must come to believe that her successful efforts at recovery will influence many people to help them understand there is no one beyond hope.