In Your Head: Why Nothing Terrifies Like Schizophrenia

Photo by Jacquelyn Tierney

Talking with Esmé Weijun Wang about her new book, 'The Collected Schizophrenias'

If there's one song lyric I've referenced over and over to just about every person I know—and certainly every person I've ever dated—it's this, from Fiona Apple's "Paper Bag": "He said, it's all in your head/ and I said, so's everything/ but he didn't get it." It is the perfect encapsulation of the way in which perception is reality, yes, but, also, the way in which the things in our heads are weaponized against us; our prioritization of them is wielded as evidence that we don't live in reality, we just live in our minds. And then too, Apple's lyric is a demonstration of the way that women, specifically, are told by men that what happens in our heads isn't important, because our perception will never align fully with the shared reality, the one dictated by those in control.

This lyric was also one I was thinking about quite a bit when I read Esmeé Weijun Wang's new book, The Collected Schizophrenias, which combines Wang's own experience living with schizoaffective disorder with a larger analysis of what it means to live with mental illness in a society that is all too quick to stigmatize anyone who doesn't fit with the common definition of "normal." So, it felt almost preordained when Wang referenced this same lyric in our interview, continuing on to say: "Perceptions are reality, which becomes painfully tricky when your senses are easily kidnapped, or when your brain likes to convince you of things that aren't true."

Wang's clear-eyed look into her own mental health reality, as well as a wide-ranging exploration of the ways in which the mentally ill are othered out of fear and ignorance, is filled with compassion and insight, and offers people who are unfamiliar with schizophrenia a way into understanding and empathizing the disorder. Below, I speak with Wang about why schizophrenia is so terrifying, what it's like to live with a stigmatized illness, and what she learned about herself through writing the book.

This essay collection opens with a powerful two-word sentence: "Schizophrenia terrifies." You did not, at all, bury the lede, and instead confront head-on the truth that, for so many of the people reading this book (and just so many people, in general), there is no mental illness as threatening—and as stigmatized—as schizophrenia. Do you hope that this book helps lead toward a destigmatization of schizophrenia?
I do deeply hope that this book helps to lead toward a destigmatization of the schizophrenias. So much of the stigma surrounding those disorders has to do with ignorance, as is the case with many marginalized identifiers—schizophrenia is feared, absolutely, but it's also a disorder that many people simply don't understand, which is why the first essay in the book, "Diagnosis," defines schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. I wanted to kick off the book with an exploration of what it even means to refer to these conditions. The rest of the collection, hopefully, offers a look at what it's like to be a person living with schizoaffective disorder.

One thing that kept running through my head while reading this book is the idea of "perception being reality." Obviously, this is something that is talked about a lot when it comes to mental health, but it's also deeply embedded in so many areas of our society, which you touch upon within this book; from our style of dress to the college we attend, it affects people's views of who we are. How does your experience having to question your intuitive perceptions of your reality affect the way you perceive other people?
I talk about this in "Perdition Days," which is about my experience with a rare delusion in which I believe that I'm dead, with the famous line, "Cogito, ergo sum." I'd originally wanted to quote a Fiona Apple lyric: "He said it's all in your head/ and I said so's everything/ but he didn't get it." Perceptions are reality, which becomes painfully tricky when your senses are easily kidnapped, or when your brain likes to convince you of things that aren't true. I tend to move around in the world with a bit of caution because of that confusion.

Dealing with illness can lead people to be, understandably, inward-facing, and even circumspect. There can be a defensiveness, because few people can understand your experience, but also, perhaps, a new inclination toward extreme empathy for the problems of others. How has this manifested for you?
I try to be kind. There's a line in Sarah Manguso's The Two Kinds of Decay that goes something like, and I'm badly paraphrasing here, "When you get really sick, you either become a huge asshole or incredibly compassionate." I think I tended toward the latter—which is not to say that I'm an angel, or that I never have mean thoughts, but I used to be quite a cynical, sarcastic person, and I try to tend more toward active compassion now.

The balance in this book of personal anecdotes with reported and researched material is striking, because it never loses its intimacy while also offering other insight into your situation. How was the process of researching? And what was it like to combine the two techniques? Did it feel easier, in some ways, to be able to write objectively and not always from your personal perspective?
What a perfect way of phrasing my experience! In a word: yes. I'm often asked whether I wanted to write a memoir, and the answer is no. I never wanted to write a memoir, and it felt so much easier to be able to write objectively—to be able to report and research in addition to including my own experience. I loved being able to research because it felt like a completely different kind of writing than writing my first novel. I have a system of nonfiction writing that involves hundreds of index cards in a tin box, separated by small folders. By the time I finished this book, though, I wanted nothing more than to write another novel.

What were some things you learned about yourself through writing this?
Writing this book helped to put all kinds of amorphous experiences into a concrete shape, but I'm not sure that I could say that I learned x or y about myself. What the book did was open up all kinds of new questions for me and begin what I hope are new discussions.

Chronic conditions are a medical subject that many people are afraid of talking about, because we like to think of illness as something that can be defeated—cured. And yet living with illness is something that so many people need to do. Do you think writing about chronic illness helps shift the common narrative away from the idea of illness as a battle that must be won? How do you think this can be helpful for people dealing with illness?
I do really hope that writing about chronic illness can show that life with "no cure" is more common than one might think. If one person who is dealing with the "no cure" declaration feels a little less alone because of this book, it will have been worth it for me.

Beyond schizoaffective disorder, you also write about dealing with late-stage Lyme, a controversial diagnosis, whose controversy you address within the book. How has it been seeking treatment for that? It seems analogous in some ways to needing treatment for mental illness, in that there's a lot of stigma surrounding both.
It's been interesting seeking treatment for that. In some ways, it feels like going into back alleys because I've been getting all kinds of weird IVs and injections and taking hundreds of odd supplements. I am more well than I was in 2013, but if I were asked which treatment made me more well, I wouldn't be able to tell you.

The Collected Schizophrenias is available for purchase here.

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Photo by Imani Givertz

Premiering today via NYLON

Small Talks, aka Cayley Spivey, has come a long way since starting a band, then becoming the entire band herself and forging her own fan base from the ground up. On her recent album A Conversation Between Us, she began to unpack any lingering baggage with one particular song: "Teeth." Today, she premieres the accompanying music video exclusively via NYLON.

"'Teeth' is about my personal battle with letting go of the past," Spivey tells NYLON, admitting that it's easily her favorite song off of A Conversation Between Us.

Watch the video for "Teeth" below.

Small Talks - Teeth (Official Music Video) - YouTube

Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale

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These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video)

Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.