75 pages • 2 hours readLori Schiller, Amanda Bennett
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The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness is a 1994 memoir that chronicles the years-long struggle of Lori Schilling, a bright, promising, high-achieving Jewish woman, born to affluent parents and afflicted with schizophrenia. Ultimately, Schilling will emerge triumphant from her journey, which includes many stints, both voluntarily and involuntarily, in mental hospitals, several suicide attempts, and a constant battle with hallucinated voices that viciously assail Lori and bid her to kill herself.
Lori begins hearing the Voices at the age of 16, when she is working as a camp counselor at the summer camp to which she used to go as a child. One night, the sudden appearance of the Voices, which taunt Lori and invite her to kill herself, and which feel as real as anything in Lori’s outside and internal world, utterly and totally transform her life. Whereas she is a golden child prior to the onset of her illness—the oldest daughter and child at-large of her family who is admired and respected for her beauty, spunk, intelligence, and achievements—she quickly becomes a frayed and burdened sufferer of a disease which she tasks herself with hiding (as completely as she can) from others. Lori foes so partially as a response to the expectations that her family and society at-large have placed on her—standards that she, wrenchingly, had no problem meeting and exceeding prior to her illness.
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In a testament to Lori’s grit and intellectual strength, she completes a degree from Tufts University while actively struggling with her disease. However, her close friends and peers do detect signs of Lori’s illness, as she often falls ill and must withdraw from their company when the Voices become overwhelming, and engages in odd and unexplainable behavior, such as intense and misplaced bouts of extreme anger and vitriol with others, and reckless skydiving.
After Lori’s graduation, we quickly see that Lori’s denial and inability to see the full scope and gravity of her illness serves as an impediment to her psychiatric treatment. Without the paramount ability to fully account for the seriousness of her illness, her delusions take control of her life, leading her to undertake in dangerous behavior such as reckless driving (which is ultimately a bid to end her own life), cocaine abuse, and other attempts at suicide. During this time, Lori is pushed in and out of various mental health facilities, including her initial hospitalization in Payne Whitney Clinic in New York, the White Plains branch of New York Hospital, and the 3 South ward of New York Hospital, where she ultimately meets two doctors—Drs. Jane Doller and Diane Fischer—who are able, with their empathic yet strict approach, to connect with Lori and capitalize on her growing awareness that she needs serious psychiatric help. Too, Lori enrolls in an experimental trial of the psychiatric drug clozapine, which was then reserved for the most serious psychiatric patients and carried with it the threat of death. It is the convergence of Lori’s own self-awareness and self-responsibility, the unique therapeutic approach of the doctors and staff at 3 South, and the way that clozapine works to successfully silence the Voices (in a way none of the other numerous medications that Lori tries throughout the course of her treatment have) that ultimately leads to Lori’s successful discharge from the hospital and subsequent ability to secure a semi-normal and functioning adult life. While Lori will never be the person that she was prior to the onset of her illness, we follow her into the dark depths of her illness and see her emerge victorious from it.