A Different Type of Normal – Essay

Documentary Research Essay

My Research documentary paper talks about the stigma behind different psychotic diseases, highlighting schizophrenia. To accomplish my goal I decided to embody the whole idea around my great aunt who suffered from schizophrenia. I explain different events in her life along with challenges she had to encounter on her way. She passed away in 2002, so I had to piece together some parts of her life story by listening to others. Her sister, her niece and a psychologist were all helpful people in the process of researching this difficult topic. During this process I was assigned to read a book about my topic. The Center Cannot Hold, a memoir by Elyn Saks was my pick. It is the life story of an intelligent woman describing her life and how it carried out along with her schizophrenia. These four resources along with a lot of other websites and journals allowed me to paint a clearer picture of how to empathize and understand people who suffer from psychotic diseases. With my final essay I was hoping to be able to enlighten others when learning about such an intriguing illness and difficult life stories.


A Different Type of Normal

It was an early March afternoon in Paris, 1980. A slow breeze carried Ari Zetler across the flea market as a chorus of heavy boots clunked upon the cobblestones. She strolled past slick furniture and ornate frames. Zetler gravitated towards the eccentric paintings that were sold in the market. She was particularly interested in one painting; slowly she started drifting into the fantasy of the beautiful item. She inhabited the picture, yet the calmness was only in her mind. Zetler began screaming and moving in bizarre ways, an ambulance was quickly called and rushed Zetler to the hospital. Whispers crept and assumptions flew from people surrounding the scene. Nobody had a clue of what was going on with Zetler. Reaching the hospital, she was strapped up and still exhibiting the same behavior. It was as if she had no clue what was going on; she was lost in her imagination. After months of testing and dozens of medications, Zetler was finally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a type of psychotic disorder in which the person experiences delusions,  hallucinations and erratic behavior. These symptoms may be suppressed with certain medications, yet testing is still being done in the search for a cure to this disease. Although schizophrenia is a common disease, with 3.2 million people diagnosed worldwide (“Schizophrenia Symptoms”), it is still very mysterious. People all over the world are affected by different conditions set aside from the norm. This act of isolation from ‘normal’ people leads to stigmas being formed around certain taboo topics. Schizophrenia needs to be talked about openly and not to be casted away. Psychosis, the category of mental illnesses that schizophrenia is part of, comes with prejudices because of the symptoms of the disease and because of the mystery behind it. In order to understand the disease one must realize all of its complexities and the difficulties in treating it due to the various forms schizophrenia. Welcoming people with mental illness will enrich the perspectives of others. Psychotic diseases like schizophrenia should gain more attention in our modern world, as this is an era of exception.

The Center Cannot Hold, a memoir by Elyn Saks, explores her intriguing life experiences while coping with schizophrenia. Both Saks and Zetler experienced similar challenges during their lifetime: suffering from societal discrimination, coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia and seeing the movement towards a better life for schizophrenics. Through Saks’s experience, we can understand Zetler’s. Sak’s explains in her book what her personal experience was with schizophrenia and some of her visions and delusions. Since Zelter passed over fifteen years ago the only way to understand the symptoms of her disease is to read and analyze her experiences and delusions.

A person’s childhood is the most vital time of life. It’s the time where one retains all of his/her senses and becomes in touch with the world. Trying to fit in is always a struggle and Zetler’s struggle was more difficult as it was subjected to stereotypes. Although on the outside she seemed fine, at around 6 to 8 years old, she began to act differently than other kids due to her underlying disease. Her mother, as well as her sister Ephrat Heyman, began noticing these changes. Heyman describes one instance: “every few steps my sister used to stop and to do some ritual movements, I remember it very well because people were looking and staring at us and I was ashamed, I didn’t know why she was doing it. I asked her, ‘Stop doing it, why are doing it?’ and she said, ‘I can’t, I have to do it.’” The two young girls were shaped to think that certain things are not meant to be done in public, yet this was part of Zetler and she could not control it. Society should be more accepting of all types of diversity in order to make a young girl like her feel included, rather than outcast her due to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

People suffering from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are considered dangerous to themselves and others and perceived as ‘mentally incapable’. However; they are quite the opposite. Ari Zetler was a great artist with amazing skills and was even admitted to the Sorbonne, one of the best universities in the world. Drugs and other medical practices can enhance their capabilities and help schizophrenics become contributing members of society.

Schizophrenia affected every aspect of Ari Zetler’s life, whether it was controlling her behavior or when it was not. From the moment she was diagnosed she was treated less like a human and more as a burden to the people around her. Over time, with her condition slowly deteriorating, she could no longer stay out of the hospital for long periods and because of that her marriage fell apart. She divorced her husband in France and moved back to Israel, so she could live closer to her sister Ephrat Heyman. Her condition isolated her as Liat Koren, her niece, described “she could never hold onto a relationship cause when you always go in and out of a mental hospital you can never really hold on to a relationship. That really broke [Zetler’s] heart as she never had a companion for life”. The people closest to her were severely affected by her actions. Due to her illness, she strongly believed that her relatives and medical experts were after her. However; they were the ones that were trying to cure her. In one instance in the mental hospital, Heyman came to visit her during a schizophrenic attack, but instead of acting positively and greeting her sister she started to attack her. She said some really evil things, yet she could not control the words spewing from her mouth (Heyman).

A lifetime of social and emotional experiences by individuals with schizophrenia often takes a heavy toll on the relationships with his or her relatives. A psychology teacher at Los Altos High school, Chelsea Doiguchi, describes that “it may be difficult for someone to form a relationship with someone who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The patient might have a lot of jumbled thoughts and experience delusions from time to time or hallucinations so being able to form and keep relationships may be difficult.” Failure in forming relationships usually comes from lack the ability of the schizophrenic patients to express their emotions. Miscommunication is the most common factor caused by having delusions and hallucinations and being unable to express tangible problems. In general, in both cases and many others like Zetler’s and Saks’s, schizophrenia was the end to many of their social relations. Ephrat Heyman was young when she married her husband and the fact that her sister was suffering from schizophrenia through the whole time affected her marriage as well. Most family members of the mentally disabled are left with no significant others. Yet, Heyman was happily married. Heyman started to attend an anonymous group for family members of the mentally ill. She was the only one in the group with a spouse and strong marriage. The life of all the members of the group were dramatically and badly affected by the mental illness in their families. Overall, that enlightened Ephrat Heyman to how “normal” people view others with mental illnesses. Most people’s mentality is to stay away from anyone and anything that has to do with mental disorders. Ephrat Heyman was also being affected in various ways, as it drove her away from other commitments in her life. For example, her daughter lacked a parental figure due to her parents always needing to leave her to care her aunt. Her daughter, Liat Koren, expresses her feelings of the way she grew up with schizophrenia conquering and shaping her life. Liat understood from a young age what had been occurring with her aunt and because of that, she had to learn how to stand up for herself. Her parents would always leave her with her younger brothers, she says “we would get a phone call and my parents had to leave everything in the middle, to leave their 3 children […] I remember my mother coming back with scratches on her face, as my aunt became very violent in her attacks”. Nowadays, Ephrat Heyman, at the age of sixty-seven, states how she always regretted spending twenty-four years tending her older sister and to some extent neglecting her own children who were still young at the time.

Schizophrenia is very unpredictable. There is still a lot of controversies among psychiatrists and psychologists as to when and why attacks occur. Yet some came up with a few valid theories. The first theory is that the hippocampus, a region in the brain has lots of effects on a person’s stress levels and connect with schizophrenia and its erratic nature. In one study done on monkeys, in which they were put in a cramped cage, to see how they would be affected by the shear stress. In the study, it was found that their brain cells began to apoptosis, which is programmed cell death (Corcoran, et al.). Most monkeys died due to the stress, however; the monkeys that still lived showed signs of psychotic diseases. Other theories arose because of the parallel found between heredity put as a factor or even some kinds of drugs. Chelsea Doiguchi expresses her findings from a study she read, “the onset of schizophrenia can strike young people that are merging into adulthood it can be a sudden relapse and a reaction to stress […] with those that have a long history lowered school performance […] schizophrenia can also relate to biochemical performance the mad hatter example they were the hat makes used to make mercury to make their felt hats and these people started to develop symptoms of schizophrenia and were likely more prone to it to see people that abuse drugs like LSD also are linked to developing schizophrenia” (Doiguchi). Stress, heredity, and drugs all affect schizophrenics in different ways and might be the cause of their disease. David Mechanic a researcher stated that “While the effects on the patient’s’ symptoms are attenuated to a considerable degree when patients are maintained on psychotropic medications, emotional involvement affects medicated patients as well. It seems that schizophrenics cannot tolerate high levels of stress and that psychotropic drugs in part blunt the effects of stress. Patients who have less face-to-face contact with over-involved relatives are also less likely to relapse.” So while schizophrenia is caused by many different factors, allegedly, human interaction with loved ones may help them gain more control over the illness. Overall, schizophrenia is a highly researchable topic today because of its mysterious nature.

While many believe schizophrenia is a hereditary disease that can be passed down, looking into the molecular level and the basis of the disease it beholds a lot of new testing material. In recent research, done by the National Institute on Mental Health in February of 2019, it was found that psychosis can be photographed in an MRI. NM-MRI signal was found to be a marker of dopamine function in people with schizophrenia and an indicator of the severity of psychotic symptoms in people with this mental illness. This discovery can lead to earlier life diagnostics, which can then help people take action earlier in their life and be prepared for later symptoms of the disease as it develops.


Works Cited

Cole, Claire. “Neuromelanin-Sensitive MRI Identified as a Potential Biomarker for Psychosis.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 20 Feb. 2019.

Corcoran, Cheryl, et al. “Could Stress Cause Psychosis in Individuals Vulnerable to

Schizophrenia?” CNS Spectrums, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2002.

Doiguchi, Chelsea. Personal Interview. 29 March 2019.

“Everything You Need to Know About Schizophrenia.” Nationcom, 22 May 2019.

Heyman, Ephrat. Personal Interview. 12 March 2019.

—. Personal Interview. 20 March 2019.

Koren, Liat. Personal Interview. 28 February 2019.

McCain, Brady. “Living with Schizophrenia: A Family Perspective.” Living with Schizophrenia: A Family Perspective, Jan. 2005.

Mechanic, David. Mental Health and Social Policy: Initiatives for the 1980s, 2018.

Nemade, Rashami, and Mark Dombeck. “Schizophrenia Symptoms, Patterns And Statistics And Patterns.” Mental Help Schizophrenia Symptoms Patterns and Statistics and Patterns Comments, 2019.

Olson, Ann. “The Family of Schizophrenia.” Psychology Today, 17 Nov. 2014.

Saks, Elyn R. The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness. Hachette Books, 2015.