My Dear Reader,
At age thirty, right around my birthday, something significant happened, and I didn’t really understand what it was: I became a schizophrenic.
I can’t show you physically what I have. It is impossible to prove that I have a brain disease using any scientific test based on current medicine and technology. The diagnosis was and could only be based on what I told doctors about my behaviors and experiences. I never felt there was anything wrong with me or my brain. I never saw a big cut with blood gushing out. I did not have a deadly headache that affected how I lived my life.
What I can do is to tell you a story. I want to tell you about what I experienced from my perspective, with vivid description and my most complete memory. I have thought about this part of my life over and over again during the last decade, looking for logical patterns to make sense of it all. With every reflection and every new experience with schizophrenia, I see my brain and myself more clearly.
This is a personal story from the non-clinical perspective of an independent and educated adult woman with schizophrenia. I hope by sharing this, you can get a sense of what schizophrenia has been like for me, so we can all better understand this incredible brain disease.
— Mindy Tsai
First Readers' Impressions
Honest, brave and beautiful written
Becoming Whole is a beautifully written memoir of a woman’s journey with schizophrenia. The author tells the story of her journey in a way that is relatable and well written in its honesty. Schizophrenia is a subject that still to this day is shrouded in shame and mystery. The author talked about Joe, the other within her, with love and compassion. This was my revelation: We’ve long believed that this illness only compels the expression of mental demons and devils, What Ms. Tsai describes is something so much more nuanced and personal. She reminds us through this wonderful memoir that we need to bring a compassion to people with mental differences. This memoir is about the multiple facets of the the human spirit and the struggles to regain ones footing and return to a life. Becoming Whole is about compassion, self empowerment and the complex and messy work of being human.
Entertaining and educational – a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a schizophrenic
I couldn’t put the book down. Genuinely a well-crafted and compelling story about a woman dealing and learning more about her brain and schizophrenia. More needs to be learned about mental illness and we all need a way to talk about it with each other. Becoming Whole is a nice introduction to schizophrenia. While by no means a comprehensive encyclopedia about the illness, the story helps you learn to be more open-minded to learn more about it. Mindy gives you a glimpse into her brain and her journey to understand her illness. This book is not clinical nor research oriented so it’s also very entertaining and a fun read, even if you have little interest in schizophrenia. Highly recommend you read it one Sunday morning in a coffee shop or on the beach!
We all know people with mental illness whether we acknowledge it or not
I found this book to be insightful, disturbing, uplifting and very well written. The first hand account of both how few of “us” know how to deal with or help people with mental illness and the lack of available top flight medical/mental help was highly troubling. The long road, that took years, that Ms. Tsai traveled to get to a much better place was inspiring and gave hope that everyone can move forward.We all know people with mental illness whether we acknowledge it or not.
Get it at your local library!
Did you know you could ask your library to buy copies of the book at no cost to you?
Call your local library and request they purchase copies of the book, and include it in your next book club rotation!
And if you’re in the Boston area, you can find my book at Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Back Bay or Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner.
And THANK YOU to those who are reading it for your bookclubs already!
About the Cover
The book cover was designed by my good friend Frederikke Tu, a Danish American artist. She drew inspiration from my story and the Swedish artist Hilma of Klint. Frederikke combined the idea of the brain with scientific and mathematical, beautiful and calm images. When I saw her design, the cover immediately resonated with me.Here is how I interpret the cover art: In the middle is my brain. The white sparkles around the brain are synapses that fire in the brain. I have lots of them and sometimes extra ones. The black dot in the yellow circle could be Joe, my first voice and a voice that I thought about often. The yellow circle is everything that happened around Joe. Then the purple circle is everything that happened with voices of my friends and family. All of these experiences light up in my brain. Other experiences are depicted by the black circles. The bottom part is my normal brain, which let me live and work. My brain is split apart.
Many people have helped me in finding my voice and putting thoughts on paper. I want to thank Benjamin Yosua-Davis who worked with me through early drafts while I was still puzzling different pieces of my memory into something readable. I want to thank Beth Brinsfield who ensured that I had a strong voice and purpose and connected the dots, so I could say what I wanted to say more clearly. To Bernard Chen and Margery Hauser, as my first readers and collaborators of writing, thank you for encouraging me when I first started searching for ideas and reasons to put words down on paper and share. To my family and friends, Dr. Freudenreich and Deborah, and other caregivers, thank you for reading the countless versions of drafts, starting from the first shitty and fragmented draft and for boosting my confidence to continue my writing journey. Most of all, thank you for being part of my life.
Q: How long did you work on Becoming Whole?
I worked on Becoming Whole before it was that for at least eight years. I started trying to write in 2004. Technically, the book idea didn’t come until 2012 after I was hospitalized and after I read Glass Castle. But I could say that I wrote about schizophrenia on and off for 16 years. It was always in the back of my mind.
Q: Why did you want to write Becoming Whole for so many years?
At the very beginning, I wrote it for myself. It was not unlike what I sometimes saw in movies. Because the thoughts were so jumbled up, I made lists. I went through what I remembered repeatedly. Then I shared my notes with my friends because I wanted them to know. This was part of me. One day, I thought to myself, I could write a memoir! It might help others. I want to show you what it was like! If you were me, what would you do? Even if I helped or connected with just one person. I am very aware that not everyone who has schizophrenia ends up as lucky as I am. Because I am privileged to be able to tell my story, I should, even if it’s just one voice in this world of 7.5 billion people. With this target, wanting to share my story, during breaks between work, I wrote and edited, slowly and steadily.
I am happy to say that I was contacted by a mother who was looking for books on schizophrenia because of her son who was recently diagnosed. She told me that my book gave her hope. I was trembly slightly when I read her message to me! I know at least I made a difference in one person’s life.
Q: Are you still in touch with your friends in the book? What about Dan and Chris?
Yes, I am still in touch with almost everyone in the book. These are friends who have been with me through all kinds of ups and downs in life. I have been to many of their weddings and birthday parties for their kids. However, I was never in touch with Dan and am no longer in touch with Chris
Q: Did you use real names?
I have spoken to individuals in the book and ask for their preferences and permission to include their real names. So some are real names.
Q: Where is Dr. Han?
I am not sure where he is. Last I heard, he was retired. I feel no need to find him. At one point, I wish I could get hold of a copy of my medical records of those early years though. I have no record of those earlier times except what I remember which is not perfect. However, since the book is published and I have told my story, I feel less the need to get hold of some evidence that shows this all really happened.
Q: Dr. Carole Lieberman asked me during her chat with me, “You went to Cornell. How come you could not figure out that you had schizophrenia?”
I had been trusting my brain and ears for thirty years. When I heard something, I believed that I heard it. I didn’t question my own ears. I definitely didn’t question my own brain. For me, it was hard to realize that my brain was broken all of a sudden. When facing something abnormal, I had to react in a way that has never been done before even when I tried to be very logical!
I am one of the lucky ones. Now that I am 45. I think schizophrenia in full force might have taken up about one year of my life in total. This is how I did the math. Before triggering schizophrenia, I had 28 years of life without it. Between the age of 29 to 39, so in ten years, I had two major episodes, plus minor flare-ups in between them. Then I have been fine. I don’t want to downplay or overstate schizophrenia in my life. It is for sure a strong force. But it’s not all my life. For the rest of my life, it’s been wonderful. I have a full life and feel very blessed.
Q: When was the last time you had a relapse?
The last time I heard a low level of voices was in 2015 for about one week. I believe that was triggered by a spike of work stress while being on a very low dosage of medication. The time before that, which I described in the book, I ended up in the hospital. Overall, I had two major psychotic events with full-on talking and imagining: the first one in early 2004 and then in early 2011. Between 2004 and 2011, there were small relapses and it’s hard to say exactly how many. Not every day, week, or month though. Some were hearing voices. Sometimes it was delusional or confused thinking. So, since 2011, it’s been almost nine years without any major issue. I am blessed to be doing well.
Q: What do you say to help others
Of course, everyone’s schizophrenia experience is different. I don’t think I can make a blank statement that would help everyone. For me, I just wanted to work everything out in my head. So I just kept trying to understand my problems and find solutions. I would say to everyone: be open and listen to each other. Learn the warning signs. Don’t give up. Luckily, I have great, caring, and smart friends. I have great access to good care. It all worked out for me at the end.
Q: Do you have ideas for what to write next?
Yes, I have three book ideas right now! A second memoir and two novels. Let’s hope it does not take me another 16 years to finish my thoughts!