Exploring the Subjective Experience of Mental Illness in The Quiet Room: A Book Review
A review by Jacques Fleury

Imagine a world where darkness swallows darkness and swallows more darkness. Picture a world of shadows and obscurity where dogs look like wolves and a world seemingly crumbling around you waiting to be rebuilt. The world of which I speak is that of Lori Schiller’s in her ghastly and chilling book The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torments of Madness. The book details Lori’s gruesome tale of the illness experience of the disease of schizophrenia. The illness experience differs from the disease in that it focuses more on the day-to-day effects of the disease, how it permeates over all aspects of one’s life. By this I mean how it can affect family relationships, friendships, career and general interaction with the inner and outer world. In the following article, I will focus on Lori’s resiliency and using aspects of the analogous theories of Carl Rogers, Alfred Adler and Carl Jung and existential ideologies to illustrate the point that in the midst of immense strife, how an individual manage to strive for purpose and meaning in their lives.

At the beginning of the book, Lori wrote “I hear something you can’t hear…” She went on to write about how in the brevity before the darkness, how bright and beautiful the world seemed. She explained that during her seventieth year at summer camp, how “The Lake seemed more blue…the trees of the Catskill Mountains that tinged our camp took on a deeper green than I remembered…” She goes on to say that she was “…overwhelmed by what life had to offer.” And that she “could not run fast enough, could not swim far enough, could not stay up late enough…”

She described herself as “…energetic…happy…bubbly [and] a friend to everyone.” However, things soon changed for Lori. She mentioned a sense of doom “…settled around [her].” The camp that she once defined as beautiful became a thing of disgust, “…a thingof evil…” So began her tragic journey on the hard and often satanic and precarious road to mental health recovery. Lori stated that during one of her episodes, she did not slept, stayed in her room and declined to go to class. She was engulfed in “…the blackness of [her] depression.” Lori’s father, Marvin Schiller, refused to accept the fact that she was gravely ill. Something very common in the afflicted persons themselves and their families as well. The issue of stigma is of course one of the major motivators in this scenario. Lori’s dad wrote, “I didn’t want my daughter to be stigmatized by some temporary rash act.” Mr. Shiller thought that it was his fault that Lori was sick.

He wrote that when he was studying psychology back in the 1950’s, the cause of mental illness was determined to be “…a faulty upbringing.” Of course, as he stated, there were other theories. For example, the Freudian model which focused on the intrapersonal (within oneself) ideologies that the id, ego and superego were the root causes of everything. Carl Jung’s concepts of unconscious myths were also considered, but most of the population believed that “…early life experiences…were behind mental disorders” Marvin Schiller wrote. Today most of us know the root causes of mental illness operates under a more holistic framework in that it has both a biological (nature) and environmental (nurture) origins. As Lori strived to survive her illness, some of her actions made it painfully obvious that she had a defiant need to transcend her “voices” or demons that threatened her very being. She struggles to grab some remnants of sanity in the midst of the insanity of her ailment. She felt that she was only a shadow of who she once was and thought that she would never return to a normal life again. However, she was determined to keep trying. Resiliency is one of the core coping strategies people often use during intense periods of trauma and strife.

Lori has hoped for something more than just being given a raw deal in the diagnosis of a disease. She foresaw a future decorated with options and opportunities. The following theories directly coincide with these innate needs and desires in the social context. Unlike Freud, who focuses on the “intrapersonal” or “within oneself” concepts, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung and Carl Rogers all offer the more practical, I think, approach in looking at the individual in relation to a more “holistic” context of their lives, particularly Jung and Adler’s ideology involving spirituality which I will refer to later. Adler proposes a “holistic wholeness” ideology. One of the major life tasks he purports is finding where one fits in society, which includes vocation, contribution and spirituality.

Jung proposes a similar concept of “individuation”. He describes it as “…developing wholeness through integrating all the various parts of the psyche. However, Yung “…ignored the negative, maladaptive side of human nature.” Nonetheless, in modern times, an increased interest in “human consciousness and human potential” has catapulted a resurrection of curiosity in Jung’s ideas.

Carl Rogers also makes a similar point in that he sees the individual as heading in the path of “…wholeness, integration, [essentially] and a unified life.” He believes that consciousness is engaging in the broader “…creative, formative tendency.” By this he means a “directional” or “actualizing tendency”, a tendency on the way to achievement, on the way to actualization that entails not only the preservation but also the improvement of the individual.

Lori made many repeated unsuccessful attempts to find and keep employment in her community. She persevered until she was able to stabilize and made small steps to getting back to the work force and feeling like a contributing member of her community and essentially her world. She found some solace in the use of prayer. Both Jung and Adler promote the idea of “spirituality” as a way to mental health recovery, and I completely agree. I know that the power of prayer, patience and perseverance have helped many on the path of recovery from mental illness.

Existentialist ideations dictate “life is meaningless or meaningful as one experiences it.” Furthermore, it defines “…regret in existentialist terms, is grief and loss over a life not lived. The best way to deal with …regret is to discover what is worth dying for is that is worth living for.” So by Lori risking her life to try the then new drug Clozapine, she decided to risk dying so that she could live a fruitful life. She found meaning in suffering in that it has broadened her perspectives and enhanced her as a human being. For some, 90% of recovery can be attributed to the integration of spirituality (i.e. activities in their communities) and 10% medicinal (drug therapy). In the “Quiet Room”, Lori Shiller wrote that her successful recovery process was due to the love and support that she received from family, friends and her general community; which have essentially put her on the track back from
mental hell to mental health.


Jacques Fleury’s book Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe. It’s Always Sunrise Somewhere and Other Stories is a collection of short fictional stories spanning the pervasive human condition and his latest book Chain Letter to America: The One Thing You Can Do to End Racism, is a Collection of Essays, fiction and Poetry Celebrating Multiculturalism. Their topics range from politics to romantics, from sex to spirituality, from religion to dissension. His CD as a lyricist with Folk group Sweet Wednesday is available on ITunes & Spotify.