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Divided Minds Paperback – 29 Sep 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Saint Martin's Griffin,U.S.; 1st St. Martin's Griffin Ed edition (29 Sept. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312320655
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312320652
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2 x 21.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,038,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"This harrowing but arresting memoir - written in alternating voices by identical twins - reveals how devastating schizophrenia is to both the victim and those who love her." - Publishers Weekly starred review."

About the Author

PAMELA SPIRO WAGNER is a writer and poet living in Wethersfield, Connecticut. CAROLYN S. SPIRO, M.D., is a private practice psychiatrist living in Wilton, Connecticut.

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Spider Woman on 25 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Divided Minds provides some insight into schizophrenia, but its premise - that identical sisters, one with schizophrenia and one without, would give special insight into the disease - was frustrated by an undefined repetitive image (Gray Crinkled Paper) and the denial of Carolyn, the nonschizophrenic psychiatrist twin.

The source of Pamela's schizophrenia is obvious from the tale of the two sisters, as each was subjected to a mentally abusive father in different ways. Pamela was assumed to be capable, so excess pressure was placed on her to succeed. Carolyn was assumed to be incapable, so she was always treated as second-best and incapable. Pamela retreats into schizophrenia. Carolyn retreats into psychiatry, a failed attempt at normalcy, and denial.

In the end, Carolyn hides behind her profession's official stance that schizophrenia's cause is unknown, a biologically-based disease, not caused by events in one's life or inability to deal with circumstances. But the story itself shows that's not true. Had the book's intention been to point this out, I'd have enthusiastically granted it five stars.

Pamela's harrowing descent into schizophrenia, along with horrific treatment by the psychiatric profession, makes for interesting and revealing reading. It's rather frustrating, though, that the central symbol of the book - Gray Crinkled Paper - is never defined. It likely has something to do with being caught in a world that is twisted on itself, but that is merely my interpretation. It's Pamela's personal symbol, so only she can tell us what it means, assuming that she herself knows.

Divided Minds tells a tale of schizophrenia without hope.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 83 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
I learned much about mental illness - Amazing first hand account 26 Oct. 2005
By Suzanne Amara - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I feel like I know much more about schizophrenia after reading this book, mainly from the parts of the book written by the twin sister who has that diagnosis, Pamela Spiro Wagner. She is an amazing writer, and is able to bring the reader into her often hellish world. She sounds like a brilliant person, and it is so sad that the disease has robbed her of so much, but astonishing all she has still been able to do.

The book doesn't quite do as well for me in showing how being a twin affect either sister. I don't think Carolyn is ready to reveal much about her life, which I can understand, and for many parts of their lives they were very seperate. Their lives did take very different paths, but I don't feel like I know much at all about Carolyn's path, or perhaps she is just not as compelling an author as her sister. It's not her field, after all, as it is Pamela's.

I also wish there was a little more perspective and information on schizophrenia in general here, and more about how it specifically affected this family. It sounded like Pamela started being affected quite young---I had always thought it usually hit more like college age, but she seems to start showing signs around 6th grade. It seems hard to believe it took so long for her to be diagnosed, also, and I wish I knew more about why this took so long---was hers a unique case with unusual features?

With all that said, I still do highly recommend this book. I know I feel I understand much more about the plight of the mentally ill in our society after my reading of this fine book.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I Would Have Liked A Broader View 15 Feb. 2008
By Barbarino - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
How fascinating...identical twins; one with schizophrenia and the other a psychiatrist, how unusual. This is a memoir written by Carolyn and Pamela Spiro. Each describes what is was like to deal with Pamela's mental illness throughout their lives.

I expected amazing insights into how this horrible mental illness shaped both sister's lives but I finished this memoir feeling like there was so much left unsaid that I never got a clear image of what was going on in the Spiro family.

I felt like Carolyn and Pamela's honesty about their feelings toward each other was just beginning to emerge at the end of the book and then the book was finished.

I would have liked to have heard more about how the other family members dealt with their feelings toward Pamela's illness and how that effected Pamela. The rest of the family, their parents and two siblings, one who also becomes a psychiatrist, seemed to be almost completely left out of the book, which seemed awkward and strange to me. Their father barely speaks to Pamela for years and not much is said about it beyond that fact.

I was deeply saddened to follow the constant crisis of Pamela's existence, it was/is just horror after horror. The illness itself, the lack of consistent health care providers, the harsh and sometimes cruel treatment received from hospital staff, the side effects of the medications... It was all very sad.

Overall I felt like there was more left untold than told in this memoir and because of that it was not a satisfying reading experience for me.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
NAMI recommends 24 Jan. 2006
By yeti - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
August 23, 2005 [...] The Nation's Voice on Mental Illness

Traditionally, twin studies have been important statistically for understanding genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, but a new book, authored by twins, provides a unique exposition of the illness.

Divided Minds: Twins Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia is a memoir by Pamela Spiro Wagner, now in her 50s, who began hearing voices in 6th grade. Her chapters alternate with ones by her sister, Carolyn Spiro, M.D., a psychiatrist, who even with her medical training, did not recognize her sister's illness for years. Neither did their father, a professor at Yale Medical School.

They also are scheduled to speak at NAMI state conferences in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania in October, as well as to NAMI Westchester County, N.Y.

This is not the first time Pamela has shared her perspective as a person living with mental illness. As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week in 1993, NAMI Connecticut and others honored her with a media award for an article she published in the local newspaper, entitled "Mentally Ill People Deserve Equal Health Insurance Coverage." It also was carried on the newspaper's national wire service.

"NAMI is probably the most active and helpful group around and the award I won...remains one of my proudest moments," Pamela says. "I had barely heard of NAMI before that time, but I knew then I'd have to find out more. What I learned was that NAMI has single-handedly worked to curb stigma and fear of psychiatric patients, and to treat families and friends as allies in the struggle."

"A few decades ago biological brain diseases like depression, bipolar disorder, OCD and schizophrenia were still taboo subjects," Carolyn adds. "NAMI has helped bring them into household conversation. The Alliance has done extraordinary work in combating stigma and prejudice by educating the public about these illnesses."

Today, Pamela is an accomplished writer and poet. She was the winner of the 2002 BBC International Poetry Award, and her work has appeared in the Midwest Poetry Review, Tikkun and the Trinity Review. Although hospitalized several times for what was diagnosed as depression, Pamela graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1975. She made it through two years of medical school -- her rivalry with Carolyn playing out even as her life came apart. They walked different paths, but remained intertwined.

In the 1980s, one psychiatrist finally gets the diagnosis right -- telling Pamela that her struggle is with schizophrenia. For the first time, she is able to "tell another person everything: about the voices and the Strangeness, about my experience of the other dimensions and alternate reality."

"I know I'm evil," Pamela told the doctor. "I'm Hitler's spawn, that's what the voices say. I think I may have killed JFK. I know that Gray Crinkled Paper is the secret to the universe and I know no one understands."

"Pammy psychotic?" Carolyn recalls reacting. "Oh, come off it...No way! Schizophrenia happens to other people. I'm a psychiatrist for God's sake...I know schizophrenia and I know my sister doesn't have it...Don't say anything I don't want to hear."

NAMI families will identify with the push and pull of emotions between the sisters, and the tumultuous events in their lives. The illness affects both of them. At the same time, their relationship is as ordinary as that between any siblings. Following a divorce, Carolyn recalls that Pamela was unable to attend her wedding because she was hospitalized. "Oh, Pammy, would you have sensed the way you used to that I was taking the wrong road? Once upon a time you thought what I thought and felt what I felt. What happened to us?"

"Divided Minds is an important contribution to our understanding of the experience of severe mental illness for families. It is rare in the literature of psychotic illness to have the experience of hallucinations, delusions, and the struggle for health and acceptance so beautifully written by the ill family member," said Virginia Holman, author of Rescuing Patty Hearst, a memoir of her mother's untreated schizophrenia, which won a NAMI National literary award in 2003.

"Pam Wagner shows her valor on every page."

The book deserves to be publicized broadly, beyond the mental health community, to educate others about the realities of mental illness and its human dimensions. In 2005, Pam's and Carolyn's journey has not ended and they are not naïve about difficulties that still lie ahead.

"I can never really know the hell in which Pammy lives," Carolyn writes. "When I hang up the phone, hell disappears. But she knows nothing else. Hell is her life."

For her part, Pamela closes with the observation: "Life has a will of its own...I can live only the now, happy to be well for the time being, and alive -- not overly attached to the possibilities of tomorrow."

To inquire about possible speaking engagements, NAMI leaders and others may contact Diane Lewis at Common Sense
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Amazing, page turner 21 Jan. 2006
By Jill S. Iskiyan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book was fascinating. This illness has always interested me- to know learn about it. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in psychology, schizophrenia, of course, and/or twins. It was a page turner!

BTW, here is Pam's blog if anyone who has read it wants updates. She seems to post pretty regularly.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating tale of twins and mental illness 30 Aug. 2006
By J. Hawkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Because I have an identical twin sister, I was drawn to this book because of its reflection of the unique and special relationship that twins share, one that can span the spectrum from flashes of guilt and envy to moments of deep devotion and pride. The alternating voices of Carolyn and Pamela reflect this as they impart their struggle to become individuals and be seen as unique from each other as they develop through adolescence while also staying true to the innate devotion twins share. This is all turned on its head when Pamela, the smart, outgoing achiever, begins to hear voices....

Carolyn struggles with her will to be successful in her own right while feeling guilty that she is somehow betraying her sister. Pamela, battling the demons that keep getting louder, tries desperately to hang on to the achievement that once came so easily but finds it increasingly difficult as she succumbs to the nightmare of her disease. Their relationship as twins changes as they evolve into young women and this role-reversal occurs.

The twin bond is extraordinary and I believe that that bond, shared mentally and relationally, often overshadows relationships with other people, even other family members. The exclusivity of this deep bond is illustrated in the twins' siblings' and parents' isolation and denial throughout this ordeal. It is as if Pamela and Carolyn are an entity apart from others. Carolyn's relationship with her own husband and children even takes second priority when Pamela is in crisis.

Pamela's first-person account of the manifestations of her illness, the roller-coaster uncertainty of treatments, and the struggles with side effects and compliance issues is heartbreaking, but makes for a fascinating, page-turning read, while the issues that Carolyn is conflicted with are at times shocking but thought-provoking. (This reader was forced to examine the "what ifs?") At times she uses avoidance to cope and seems neglectful and uncaring, but paradoxically, she, true to her 'twin-dom', is also the steady rescuer who comes when Pamela is on the edge of madness.

It is an eye-opener not only to the issues of mental illness and the stigma surrounding it, but also to the challenges these diseases present for the families of those affected.

I recommend this book because it not only illuminates the world of schizophrenia and mental illness and the real issues regarding mental health and the attitudes these issues invoke, but it is a fascinating account of a relationship with its many facets and many seasons that culminates in a picture of acceptance, love and devotion.
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