mental illness

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George Trow’s Within the Context of No Context was a brilliant, scary vision of a cultural end-time. Then, having described it, he lived it, spiraling into madness.

Hear Ariel Levy discuss this article and more on the Longform Podcast.

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A murder involving the late actor leaves unanswered questions.

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A professor of mathematics "disconnects" from his work and broods on his past.

"As a child, he never figured out how to explain himself. A hurricane of questions whenever he’d taken an aimless walk, just over that way to see the neighbors’ dog or the flock of parakeets that came around in the late afternoon, I just went overthatway, that’s all. They’d say: why? What for? What dog? At this hour? To see what about the dog, what parakeet? I’d respond: Over that way because they’re pretty. He’d blush saying the words over that way because they’re pretty. Later, he’d get furious, when they’d ask him about feelings."

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“More than a café, the shop is a carpentered-together, ingenious mechanism—a specialized tool—designed to keep Carrelli tethered to herself.”

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For centuries, a little town in Belgium has been treating the mentally ill. Why are its medieval methods so successful?

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”I’ve tried therapy, drugs, and booze. Here’s what helps.”

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A mental disorder in which the protagonist believes he is a tree.

"There are a lot of things though that one doesn’t experience as a tree. For example music. Maybe trees feel the vibrations, but I don’t remember anymore. When I was young my mom put me in piano lessons. I begged to go to them actually, but I was horrible. Before the lesson I used to have to sit and wait in the hallway of the music school and from the different rooms you could hear the different instruments being played badly, but from my position in the hallway, it sounded like they were all coming from the same room. A cello screeching as syncopation to an out of tune violin with a piano clank-clanking along. It was beautiful and what I enjoyed more than anything else. Music is one thing that I’ll miss, when I become a tree again."

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After a beloved teacher is murdered by his schizophrenic son, his colleagues and students pay him the ultimate tribute.

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Nine Inch Nails guitarist Aaron North’s descent into madness and obscurity.

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In which a narrator reflects, obsessively, about performance, surveillance, and secrecy.

"In art there is one condition that takes precedent over all others: to do things well. Which means I’ve got to be a good actor in a good drama: if I don’t do it well, there will be no effect, the show will fall into nothingness."

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A relationship is explored via memories and lists; a mental breakdown ensues.

"I thought the standard things like dates and flowers could keep us normal. But it was the subtle derision in your smile that made me want to smother you in your sleep after I said things like: It aches sometimes—how life seems so long. You thought therapy could keep us sane so you made it an ultimatum and flushed my Seroquel down the toilet."

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A young widow deals with attraction, ghosts, and patients while working in a mental facility.

"Gail refrained from telling her mother about Willem, maybe out of defiance if nothing else. When you live in your childhood home, jobless, for three years, it’s hard not to become something like a teenager again. Gail would be happy to report on her regained self-sufficiency, to tell her mother that she’d received crisis intervention training to defend herself against and restrain these 'crazies.' But her mother wanted to picture Gail dating people, not putting them in headlocks."

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A man struggles to deal with his depressed, suicidal wife.

"And Helen? Helen takes care of the basics. Then she cries in the mornings in the kitchen while the coffee brews. She leans against the counter with her face in her hands. And Phil finds this behavior sexy, which is possibly messed up and weird."

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“It’s insanity to kill your father with a kitchen knife. It’s also insanity to close hospitals, fire therapists, and leave families to face mental illness on their own.”

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A grieving writer, a jealous actor, and sudden eruptions of [mock?] violence.

"Alvin Lightman, though I did not yet know his name, was sitting in the front parlor, designated the 'lounge,' his long legs stretched out across a wicker ottoman. As he later told me, he watched my arrival circumspectly, from behind the traditional screen of an open newspaper. He thought I looked 'ghastly' but 'possibly interesting.'"

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A woman struggles with her faith while caring for her addicted husband.

"She stood up, brushing off the back of her jeans. She would choose to believe the anointing had worked. That there would be some change. That she and Mitch would embrace and begin the path toward healing. God would never give her more than she could handle. It said that in the Bible. Nothing beyond what you can bear. She and Mitch were only being tested, refined like silver."

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A couple's marital problems stem from the wife's inability to fall asleep with her husband.

"She tells me I’m a lunatic, it’s not like she’s having an affair. I think that’s probably true. She’s never been good at subtlety or deception. When we were first married, she came to bed with me every night, settled her naked body on top of mine, settled her face in my neck. I could tell she liked it, but she wasn’t romantic in the least."

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A story of strange actions and potential love for a one-armed misanthrope.

" The next day it wasn't raining so hard, just a drizzle that faded in and out like bad reception. After lunch I did a little work on my fake arm. They need a lot more upkeep than you'd think—I had to oil the elbow cam, replace a couple of grommets, and adjust the socket to keep it from rubbing my stub raw. That rubbing wasn't much fun, but it was cupcakes compared to the phantom aches I got every so often. You've probably heard about them on television: just because you've lost a limb doesn't mean it can't hurt like a bitch where the limb used to be. I couldn't say which was worse—the pain itself or the way it reminds you of what you aren't anymore."

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An encounter with a rat sends a young mother back into the world of mental institutions from which she had only recently emerged.

"When she woke again she heard a nurse speak loudly into the phone, describing another patient: "She has a history, multiple hospitalizations." The nurse who was speaking had silver hair. Her tone was less clinical than dismissive. A history. Lizzie didn't imagine, not until much later, that the nurse was talking about her."

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Andre Thomas cut out his children’s hearts and removed his own eyes. Texas considers him sane.

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Royce White’s theories of mental illness.

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A woman imagines herself to be in an inappropriate relationship with a young boy.

"In the store Del and Simon race to the drinking fountains, Simon gets a mouthful and gleeks it at my slacks, says Oh hey, pisspants, Del points and laughs. In the magazines they say men are sometimes cruel because they are testing your emotional boundaries, I want Del to know I am boundless, I am a universe, I grit out a smile and follow them to the toys, they arm themselves with swords and commence to stabbing me, Simon saying Lop off her tiddies, Simon saying I wish these blades were real, and I wish you were dying like old ladies are supposed to, Del chops me in half. A woman smiles at me, says Boys, I want to tell her Del is my man, tell her he is not a boy, but she is wearing a pink hairclip and a wooden necklace and this convinces me she would not understand."

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A one-sided interview about a one night stand and a detailed, harrowing story about a sexual assault.

"That it was a titanic struggle, she said, in the Cutlass, heading deeper into the secluded area, because whenever for a moment her terror bested her or she for any reason lost her intense focus on the mulatto, even for a moment, the effect on the connection was obvious—his profile smiled and his right eye again went empty and dead as he recrudesced and began once again to singsong psychotically about the implements in his trunk and what he had in store for her once he found the ideal secluded spot, and she could tell that in the wavering of the soul-connection he was automatically reverting to resolving his connectionary conflict in the only way he knew. And I clearly remember her saying that by this time, whenever she succumbed and lost her focus for a moment and his eye and face reverted to creepy psychotic unconflicted relaxation, she was surprised to find herself feeling no longer paralyzing terror for herself but a nearly heartbreaking sadness for him, for the psychotic mulatto. And I’ll say that it was at roughly this point of listening to the story, still nude in bed, that I began to admit to myself that not only was it a remarkable postcoital anecdote but that this was, in certain ways, rather a remarkable woman, and that I felt a bit sad or wistful that I had not noticed this level of remarkability when I had first been attracted to her in the park."

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A trio of addicts--a man, a woman, and a prostitute--venture into Las Vegas to find a dealer.

"At the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard, we are swallowed by a cheery, comforting crowd of good mothers from Wisconsin and fathers from Minnesota, out as late as they ever have been. It is a sea of gaping purses. Flip-phones are holstered to belts, tucked under big bellies. Half-drunk gallon-sized tubes of ruby-red beverage crowd the trashcans and I have no qualms about picking one for myself and gulping it down. The liquid is warm and syrupy, but under it all there is the low burn of rum, a small relief. Deborah has powdered her nose and is eyeballing the frat boys on the periphery. Only Shelly is looking lost, still sweating around her underarms, her eyes bugging and the space under her chin, dipping up and down, swallowing nothing."

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A woman eking out a meagre existence takes a younger woman in from the cold.

"Inside, I make her tea and give her slices of cake until she is full. She holds big bites inside her mouth and pours tea over them, so each chunk soaks in a hot pool until she swallows it down like it hurts her. She eats four slices this way and does not seem to find happiness in any of them."

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A man and his mysterious companion wander through a town and along a highway.

"The wind was with much snow, and harsh, for it did build a tall height all upon the road. And the cars moved slow, and we were at even pace, and we all struggled against the wind and its snow and its heft and the water upon our face which made everything worse. He told me to look into the cars, and he asked could I see their faces and what I thought of them, do I see them truly for what they are."

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An immigrant girl compulsively hides food in an intense state of depression.

"They couldn't get her to stop doing it. Crusts of bread, leaves of boiled cabbage, twenty-six grapes, flour in small plastic bags choked with red twist ties. They couldn't get her to stop doing it until she stopped doing everything, and after that it wasn't long until the end. Half bananas browning in their peels, dollops of sour cream in drawers, potatoes in slippers under the bed, red beets bleeding through the pockets of her pale yellow bathrobe."

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47 tiny vignettes detailing life in a mental hospital. From the author of Promising Young Women.

"She hasn't been outside for weeks but can see that the weather is changing, the air cooler. A doctor wears a jacket; a nurse, a sweater."

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She lives in a world called Calalini with an invisible companion named 400-the-Cat; inside the life of a six-year-old with schizophrenia.

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On being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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A family’s struggle with mental illness and the criminal justice system.

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The story of Edward Deeds, a state mental hospital patient and artistic genius.

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Two brothers dreamed of baseball stardom. One would end up killing the other.

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A woman makes a companion from spoiled soup in this weird tale from the "Queen of Russian horror," Anna Starobinets.

"I moved, but a week later I'd already started fretting. After all, I did have a responsibility. I was constantly wondering how it was getting on there without me. Completely alone. In the plastic bags."

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An alternate take on Memento's amnesiac-detective concept, written by Christopher Nolan's brother.

"He is caught at the door to his room, one hand on the knob. Two pictures are taped to the wall by the door. Earl's attention is caught first by the MRI, a shiny black frame for four windows into someone's skull. In marker, the picture is labeled YOUR BRAIN. Earl stares at it. Concentric circles in different colors. He can make out the big orbs of his eyes and, behind these, the twin lobes of his brain. Smooth wrinkles, circles, semicircles. But right there in the middle of his head, circled in marker, tunneled in from the back of his neck like a maggot into an apricot, is something different. Deformed, broken, but unmistakable. A dark smudge, the shape of a flower, right there in the middle of his brain."

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On caring for a bipolar parent amidst a broken mental health care system.

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A woman goes to unexpected extremes to determine why her body has been invaded by microorganisms.

"There are microscopic organisms in my body. They’re not killing me, but I can feel them all the time. They hold impromptu line-dancing sessions in my abdomen when I am trying to eat. They think my lymph nodes are snooker balls. They climb out of my bellybutton while I am sleeping, and do an Irish jig atop my knee caps."

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A single father and his children examine and hypothesize the actions of his felonious, unstable ex-wife.

"They wanted possession of facts. And they each wanted in their own distinct ways that fit their own distinct lives, now forming and shaping in this new old-house, a clear and logical understanding of why she was the way she was, why she did those things, what sinister motives propelled her through those jagged movements that in turn transported her into legend."

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An imaginative, unpopular boy and a depressed older man face the dangers of winter.

"Something was wrong here. A person needed a coat. Even if the person was a grownup. The pond was frozen. The duck thermometer said ten. If the person was mental, all the more reason to come to his aid, as had not Jesus said, Blessed are those who help those who cannot help themselves, but are too mental, doddering, or have a disability?"

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Lovecraft's classic story. Terrifying cosmic revelations await you herein.

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

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In 1959, a social psychologist in Michigan brought together three institutionalized patients for an experiment:

[W]hat would happen, he wondered, if he made three men meet and live closely side by side over a period of time, each of whom believed himself to be the one and only Jesus Christ?

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From the author of Winter's Bone: A Vietnam War veteran grapples with the aftermath of killing a home intruder.

" A year after his return Pelham ceased to mention Vietnam to new acquaintances, dropped it from the biography of himself he’d give if asked. Only those who knew him before he went were certain that he’d gone. Jill was a second wife, fifteen years his junior, a lovely, patient blond, and remembered Vietnam as a tiresome old television show that’d finally been canceled about the time she left third grade. "

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A schizophrenic man kills his counselor at a group home in Massachusetts:

Many people wondered aloud whether the system had failed both the suspect and the victim. How had Ms. Moulton ended up alone in a home with a psychotic man who had a history of violence and was off his medication? How had Mr. Chappell been allowed to deteriorate without setting off alarms?

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The story of a high school quarterback’s descent into madness, and its tragic end.

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Today, Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with clinical depression would make him “unfit for office.” Back then, it was the key to his presidency.