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Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia
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Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia

4.1 8
by Carolyn Spiro, Pamela Spiro Wagner

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Growing up in the fifties, Carolyn Spiro was always in the shadow of her more intellectually dominant and social outgoing twin, Pamela. But as the twins approached adolescence, Pamela began to succumb to schizophrenia, hearing disembodied voices and eventually suffering many breakdowns and hospitalizations.

Divided Minds is a dual memoir of identical


Growing up in the fifties, Carolyn Spiro was always in the shadow of her more intellectually dominant and social outgoing twin, Pamela. But as the twins approached adolescence, Pamela began to succumb to schizophrenia, hearing disembodied voices and eventually suffering many breakdowns and hospitalizations.

Divided Minds is a dual memoir of identical twins, one of whom faces a life sentence of schizophrenia, and the other who becomes a psychiatrist, after entering the spotlight that had for so long been focused on her sister. Told in the alternating voices of the sisters, Divided Minds is a heartbreaking account of the far reaches of madness, as well as the depths of ambivalence and love between twins. It is a true and unusually frank story of identical twins with very different identities and wildly different experiences of the world around them.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This harrowing but arresting memoir—written in alternating voices by identical twins, now in their 50s—reveals how devastating schizophrenia is to both the victim and those who love her” —Publishers Weekly starred review

“[A] riveting memoir . . . Divided Minds does a remarkable job of interpreting [a] hellish realm.” —People, three stars

“[Divided Minds] successfully yields compelling insights on familial bonds and the ravaging effects of mental illness on family.” —Library Journal

“The combination of first-person narratives provides an unusually well-rounded portrait of schizophrenia.” —Kirkus

Publishers Weekly
This harrowing but arresting memoir-written in alternating voices by identical twins, now in their 50s-reveals how devastating schizophrenia is to both the victim and those who love her. The condition, which afflicts Pamela (an award-winning poet), can be controlled with drugs and psychiatry, but never cured. When the twins were young, Pamela always outshone Carolyn. But in junior high, Pamela was beset by fears and began a lifelong pattern of cutting and burning herself. After the two entered Brown University, Pamela's decline into paranoia accelerated until she attempted suicide. During the ensuing years of Pamela's frequent breakdowns and hospitalizations, Carolyn became a psychiatrist, married and had two children. Empathetic and concerned, Carolyn nonetheless conveys her overwhelming frustration. and occasional alienation from her sister, when she is unable to help. Pamela's schizophrenia caused their father to sever his relationship with her. Remarkably descriptive, Pamela's account details how it feels to hear voices and to suspect evil in everyone. Though she struggles with her medications, Pamela remains a committed poet and is now reconciled with her father and close to her twin. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Elizabeth Frost Knappman. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this true story, twin baby boomers convey their unique perspectives on living with mental illness. Pamela and Carolyn's sibling rivalry began early in their prosperous childhood. Carolyn felt inferior to her more creative sister, but that "favored" child also heard voices and experienced odd thought patterns early in life (e.g., feeling she shot JFK). Their chronological narrative follows Carolyn's progress at Harvard Medical School, where she earned a psychiatry degree, and Pamela's setbacks, which include an overdose episode in college and numerous hospitalizations. In adulthood, Pamela develops a writing career, and Carolyn raises two children as a single mother while running a private practice and acting as her sister's advocate. The dual-memoir format successfully yields compelling insights on familial bonds and the ravaging effects of mental illness on family; jargon-filled discussions of "brain disease" and glib advice on how to live with mental illness are avoided. As a lay reader's supplement to the influential twin studies on schizophrenia, this book is recommended for large public libraries and consumer mental health collections.-Antoinette Brinkman, formerly with the Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Joint memoir by a pair of identical twins, one a writer and award-winning poet with an incurable mental disease and the other a practicing psychiatrist. When the Spiro girls were young, Pamela was considered the more creative, brilliant one, but by 1963, when they were in sixth grade, the first inklings of her future disorder appeared: on hearing of President Kennedy's assassination, she believed that she was to blame. With gripping detail, she describes her descent into mental chaos, revealing the frightening nature of schizophrenia and her confusion and helplessness when under its spell. By early adolescence she becomes withdrawn, and by the time she is a freshman at Brown she is tortured by chaotic thoughts, is hearing voices and fears that people are planning to harm her. After overdosing on Sominex, she is taken by Carolyn to the college infirmary, the first of the countless stays in hospitals and sessions with psychiatrists that will mark the rest of her life. The sisters' relationship is an ambiguous one: after that first semester at Brown, they talk on the phone for hours every week, but they never go home to visit their parents at the same time. Pamela's illness permits Carolyn to shine but it does not end their sibling rivalry. Both enter medical school after college, but while Carolyn is studying at Harvard Medical School, Pam is at the University of Connecticut, the only school that would admit her. Within a year, she's back in a mental hospital, catatonic and hearing commanding voices. The sisters alternate in the telling, but this is clearly Pamela's book, for without her schizophrenia, there would be no story. It is she that is the powerful storyteller at its center, shethat alters the Spiro family dynamic, she that suffers and makes demands, embarrasses and frustrates. With the rest of her family uncomfortable around Pamela, Carolyn struggles to be her sister, not her psychiatrist, yet being a psychiatrist makes all the difference in the caretaker relationship that develops over time. The combination of first-person narratives provides an unusually well-rounded portrait of schizophrenia. Includes an eight-page black and-white photo insert (not seen).

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
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First Edition
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.76(d)

Read an Excerpt





I know where Mrs. Jardin keeps the crowns, we all do. They are locked in a cabinet high above the utility sink in which we wash our paintbrushes and the yellow sponge erasers used for clearing the blackboard at the end of each day. Only on very special occasions, like a birthday, does she take a crown out of the cabinet and with great dignity crown the lucky king or queen of the day, a royal blue velvet coronet trimmed with silver foil for girls, a glowing red and gold one for boys.

This day is my day, my birthday, and I've been waiting all semester for the chance to feel the sweet pressure of that blue crown on my head. In the morning, Mrs. Jardin mentions something "extra special" for me that afternoon, and I hope our class mother, responsible for party refreshments, is bringing chocolate cupcakes with fudge icing, mine with six pink-candy-striped candles, one for each year.

Poor Lynnie, I think generously. Her teacher, Mrs. Connelly, who is young and pretty, unlike old Mrs. Jardin with the sticky, prickly porcupine gray hair, doesn't make much of birthdays, not even for first graders.

A published author, Mrs. Jardin is considered the best of the three first-grade teachers. Every year at the spring Book Fair, she sets up a table where she sells autographed copies of her books, which are wildly if locally popular, even though they were printed at her ownexpense. I know that even though she's scary and old, I'm supposed to be proud to be in her class. But my secret, kept from everyone like a picked scab, is that I wish I had Mrs. Connelly, even without the crowns, because her room is neat and clean and calm, not bubbling over with clamor and rickety excitement all the time.

Along with writing, reading, and arithmetic, Mrs. Jardin teaches us "etickette." Which means manners. The girls have learned to tuck needed Kleenex up our sleeves instead of stuffing our pockets with them. "Gentlemen" always open the door for "ladies" and slide out their chairs behind them at the table, slipping them back underneath their fannies just in time. That "patience is a virtue" and it is "better to give than receive" are maxims repeated like the eleventh and twelfth commandments several times a week, as occasions demand.

The morning yawns on through reading groups and arithmetic lessons into lunch, then recess, then art class. Finally, Mrs. Jardin teases me with a stern smile. "Well, this is someone's special day, isn't it?" She draws a footstool over to the utility sink, climbs on, and reaches up with a key to unlock the cabinet. Spellbound, I close my eyes, opening them again only after I hear the clunk of her footsteps back on the floor. She holds the red crown in one hand and the blue crown in the other. Why two crowns? Is there a boy with a November 17 birthday? Then there's a knock at the door, followed by Mrs. Connelly, holding Lynnie by the hand.

"Be good, Lynnie," Mrs. Connelly urges her, after nodding at Mrs. Jardin as if it has been prearranged. "Remember, you're a guest." Then she heads back out the door, leaving Lynnie standing up front, next to the teacher's desk.

"Since you and Lynnie are identical twins," Mrs. Jardin says, "do you two know what identical means?"

"I know! I know!" I wave my hand and jump up and down.

"That's good, Pammy. What about you, Lynnie?"

As usual Lynnie just bites her lower lip and looks at me.

"Lynnie, it means we look just the same, like our dresses!" I match my blue print dress to hers.

"That's right, Pammy." Mrs. Jardin smiles down at me. "We thought it would be nice for you to have your sister join us for the party."

That's when the terrible realization comes to me: The two crowns are for us, for Lynnie and me. But there is only one blue one, only one to crown a girl. Lynnie is already fingering it, tipping it on its side, preparing to pick it up and put it on her head.

I leap forward. "That's my crown!" I cry. "I've got dibs on the girls' crown!"

Swiftly, almost without moving, Lynnie ducks her head and eases the crown on top.

"No!" I wail. "This is my party! That's my crown. Tell her, Mrs. Jardin. She has to wear the boys' crown. She doesn't even belong here, she's just a visitor!"

"Now, hush, Pammy," Mrs. Jardin scolds. "She's your sister and a guest. A good hostess offers her guest the choice of crowns, doesn't she?"

Lynnie is smiling now, with a look of open triumph, her eyes sneering "nyah, nyah, nyah!" The beautiful blue crown matches the blue pattern in her dress so perfectly it almost seems she's planned it.

I lose my fight to keep my tears at bay.

"Come, come, Pammy. Have you forgotten your manners? You have a perfectly good crown right here. What's wrong with red? Now, be a big girl. What's gotten into you?" Mrs. Jardin's words cut into my heart like broken glass. I sniffle miserably and shake my head.

"Good, then put on your crown and let's have no more of this. Sometimes we learn from our disappointments."

I obey, my face pink, with both shame and anger.

Then someone laughs. I hear a muffled snigger. "Look, she's wearing the boys'crown—"

"Maybe she's not Pammy but Sammy!" someone whispers savagely.

I bite my lips to keep from yelling back. And I fight my desire to rip the crown from Lynnie's head, make her suffer the humiliation of wearing the boys' crown. How I hate her! I hate her more than I can remember hating anyone. I swallow and swallow and swallow: tears, bile, fury. I swallow the terrible injustice of life with a twin who steals your crown, and I swallow the injustice of being Pammy in the red crown instead of Lynnie in the blue.


In the morning I dread the bus ride from our house to the elementary school. Every time we pick up kids, the bus farts black stinky clouds. I hold my breath, but the smell still makes me sick. I stare out the window to keep from throwing up.

Finally we pull up to the school ramp. The bus shudders and dies. I grab my things, slide over the vinyl seat, and squeeze my feet into the aisle.

"Ow! Lynnie, stop pushing!" says Pammy, who is directly in my way. "C'mon, it's not nice!"

I ignore her. Right now being first is more important to me than being nice. Using my red plaid lunch box like a snowplow, I give her a shove, and when she stumbles I quickly wedge myself in front of her. Pammy was born five minutes ahead of me and because of that she gets to go first in everything. I'm always second. Today's our birthday, November 17—today we're six. Pammy's in Mrs. Jardin's class. Because of that I think I have a right to push ahead of her.

I wish we didn't have to go to school at all today. All Pammy can do is talk about the crown, and I don't want to hear it.

Mommy says I should be happy for her, but I'm not. I hate thinking about Pammy getting to wear that beautiful crown. My teacher, Mrs. Connelly, doesn't do anything really special for birthdays.

Mrs. Connelly is very nice and very pretty and she's not strict at all, except she wants things arranged just so. She puts our artwork and papers neatly on the bulletin boards with thumbtacks in all four corners, and she has stuck letters above the blackboard to help us remember the alphabet. Everything is neat. Mrs. Connelly makes us put things away where they belong before we go on to something else.

Mrs. Jardin has stuff everywhere and everybody knows she is the best teacher in first grade and only the smartest kids are in her class.

What I hate the most about not having Mrs. Jardin is the birthday crowns. I saw them once when I passed by in the hall and Mrs. Jardin had them out on her desk. They were carved of real gold—not silly tinsel or painted cardboard—and covered with diamonds and rubies. They sparkled like Christmas lights in December. Pammy says each crown has a center pillow of soft real velvet with nap so thick when you brush it in the right direction it's as smooth and silky as rabbit fur. The queen's crown is a bright royal blue and the king's crown is fire engine red. Today Pammy is going to wear the blue crown and I'm trying to pretend I don't care, but I do. I wish it was me who had Mrs. Jardin, not Pammy.




"Lynnie? Are you listening?"

I look around. My teacher hates it when I daydream instead of pay attention. I'm in for a scolding. But when my eyes find her, Mrs. Connelly is smiling.

"Lynnie, would you come up here please."

I get up so fast my pencil goes flying and I knock my chair over with a loud clatter. She grimaces. Tears spring to my eyes as I right the chair and walk carefully to the teacher's desk at the back of the classroom. I'm expecting her to be angry. Instead, her eyes twinkle and she's pursing her lips so tight I think she's swallowed some secret that's trying to come back up. She stoops a bit to my level the wayteachers do when they are trying to be friendly and puts a hand on my shoulder.

"I want to show you something, Lynnie," she says with a smile that dimples her cheek. She writes some numbers or letters on a piece of paper and puts it in front of me.

"Do you know what it says?"

I squint and concentrate, but I can't pretend I know. I shake my head and feel tears gathering. I won't be the crybaby! Not today.

"I'll give you a hint, Lynnie. It's a date." She points to each number with her finger and says it out loud. "Eleven, seventeen, nineteen fifty-two. Eleven means the month, November. Seventeen is—"

"It's our birthday today! Pammy and me!" I blurt out, my chest suddenly expanding with happiness. Maybe Mrs. Connelly decided to copy Mrs. Jardin and give me a party too. I can barely keep still. I can't stop my feet and knees from doing an excited little jig.

"Mrs. Jardin has invited you to join Pammy for her birthday celebration," says Mrs. Connelly.

Oh, no! And have to watch Pammy show off? Before I can say anything, she takes my hand, walks me two doors down to Pammy's classroom, plunks me in front of the class, and there I stand, alone and grinning like an idiot.

Mrs. Jardin tells Pammy to come up and join me. Perfect as always, Pammy closes her workbook, puts her papers in a neat stack, and places them carefully in her desk. She stands and pats smooth the front of her dress before she pushes her chair under the desk where it belongs and walks to where I stand. Pammy gives me a wan smile and turns toward the teacher. I see her staring at the two crowns Mrs. Jardin has taken out of their hiding place. A shiver of excitement makes me forget I'm not getting to wear one, and I rush over to see them up close. At first I don't believe what I see.

Those are the crowns? They can't be. On the teacher's desk, close up, these crowns are shabby and old, not shiny or grand at all. There isn't a single jewel and even the glitter doesn't sparkle. Thegirls' crown isn't gold, but cardboard covered with ordinary tinfoil. The blue velvet is thin and wearing away completely in places. Somebody's playing a trick—these aren't the real birthday crowns, are they?

Before I can say anything, Mrs. Jardin asks which one I want and I tell her. It all happens so fast it doesn't cross my mind to pick the red one just to be nice to Pammy. Of course I put on the blue one. I'm a girl. The red is for boys.

DIVIDED MINDS. Copyright © 2005 by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn S. Spiro, M.D. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Meet 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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Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A gripping and harrowing story, told from the alternating perspectives of both the sufferer and her twin sister. I had never read any first-hand accounts of what it is like to live with schizophrenia, and found this story to be both compelling and educational. Highly recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book several years ago. I am mentally ill myself and find this book to be a great insight into what it is like to have this type of mental illness.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a true life story of twin sisters, one of whom lives with chronic, severe, paranoid schizophrenia. The twin sister is a psychiatrist. The lives of these women are described in the first person starting from childhood, before mental illness broke through. The delay between becoming ill and getting a diagnosis and problems with treatment compliance seem true to life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An eloquent chronicle of the lives of two sisters. This is a tenderly written book, heartbreaking at times but also triumphant.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Better than any other first person account written on schizophrenia. Facinating and definitely a page turner. Sad and upsetting in places and yet inspiring to the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is about twin sisters, one who has Schizophrenia in their own words. The book talks about what's its like for one to have schizophrenia and the other twin's reaction towards the sister having Schizophrenia. Also what's it's like for a schisophrenic to not take her medicine and wound up in psychiatric hospitals.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An interesting read, though the writing is ponderous and repetitive. The disturbed twin is clearly disturbed it's hard to tell what illness she has--bipolar? Borderline personality? Doesn't seem to be classic schizophrenia. My Mother's Keeper is a better, clearer, and more compelling account of schizophrenia as is Nathaniel Lachenmeyer's The Outsider.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is about as good as it gets in terms of understanding the inner life of someone suffering with schizophrenia. It is also a fabulous description of the tolls taken on families in their efforts to assist the schizophrenic family member. This book 'tells it like it is.' Highly recommended.