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  • Writer's pictureSandra Yuen

My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Released in 2010, still going strong. An inspiring true story about the onset of schizophrenia, delusions and hallucinations, facing stigma and barriers, overcoming and finding success as an artist and writer. After diagnosis at 15, I went on to receive a Fine Arts Diploma from Langara College and a degree in art history from the University of British Columbia. I received many favourable reviews on the book.

Available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

Foreword in the book:

What a timely and inspiring publication; an easy to read book that will attract those who know about mental illness and those who don’t. It is easy enough for kids to understand, and is inspiring enough to engage experienced gurus. It certainly is a book not to be missed. Toward Recovery and Well-Being: A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canadians is one of the important publications that will shape mental wellness of Canadians in the 2010s’. It speaks to two very important areas that our society has to face, promotes recovery for people living with mental illness, and reduces the stigma on mental illness. My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness provides real life illustrations about recovery from mental illness and a candid understanding of mental illness which de-mythicizes the stigma that goes with the illness.

This book beautifully captures Sandra’s experiences and reflections along her journey to who she is today. In addition to narrating her personal story, Sandra also provides readers a comprehensive view of what mental illness is. Not hiding anything about mental illness and how the illness influences her daily life, Sandra powerfully speaks to the importance of hope and the recovery of mental illness. Her sharing also casts light on the importance of self, family, society and community in fostering hope and enabling recovery. It gives perspective to all of us on how we all should embrace such illness.

One of the advantages of writing a foreword is being one of the few people who can enjoy the book before everybody else does. I enjoyed reading Sandra’s journey, her style of writing, and her courage to live daily life to the fullest. So dig in, and welcome to Sandra’s journey of her heart, the term coined by Patricia Deegan. I hope you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Michael Lee, Occupational Therapist, Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner, Clinical Associate Professor, University of British Columbia.

Reviews for My Schizophrenic Life

This short captivating book describes the personal journey of Sandra MacKay diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 14 who is now in her forties. She shares her history with us, describing the onset of illness and her symptoms and explaining how she was able to continue to "function" despite these symptoms for a while. But at one point, the symptoms became unbearable, she could not hide them anymore and she was hospitalized. She talks about her hospitalization and how she resented her family during this period of her life. She also realizes how difficult that was for her family.

We follow Sandra through adolescence and adulthood; from high school to college and from college to the workforce. She talks about her different struggles with medication throughout her life and the different programs/therapies that helped her. She talks about her family and how supportive they were and how helpful and important this was to her.

Sandra's story is particularly interesting because it conveys hope. It is also inspiring as she was able to live a rather "normal" life, to work most of her life, and to have a happy marriage. Although her life was not always easy and required many adaptations, it depicts a positive story. I recommend this book to students, novice therapists, clients, and care givers as it not only helps us understand how schizophrenia may affect the lives of clients and their families but also because it is inspirational and fosters some hope for recovery.

Paulette Guitard, The Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy

This is a profound true story, told by a remarkable woman. Sandra Yuen MacKay bravely steps forward and shares her experience as a person living with schizophrenia. Her journey is both heartbreaking and inspiring. She shows us the truth of this mental illness and reminds us that a person is not defined by the illness he/she lives with.

There is so much good in this book. Sandra finds hope in a difficult world. She finds love and acceptance. And she openly shares those gifts with us all.

Darcia Helle, writer, 5 star review on Amazon and Goodreads

This book is alive with Sandra's feelings and experiences documented in words that are genuine and heartfelt-- filled with love and hope for others who are still suffering from mental illness. But it transcends the world of mental illness as well by giving us all hope that no matter what we might have to deal with in life, we too, can learn to cope and not merely survive but learn to thrive! Kudos to Sandra for writing this wonderful book that is insightful and profound!

Laura Schultz, psychotherapist, author, US, 5 star review on Amazon.

My Schizophrenic Life' is a memoir about Sandra Yuen MacKay's experience of living with schizoaffective disorder. It is ultimately a book about how Sandra has coped with the illness and more importantly the lessons she has learnt from it and how she has been able to recover, although the author does still suffer from symptoms but has now been able to find a way to almost control the effects. The book is a fascinating and compelling story giving valuable insight of the view of the world from the perspective of someone with a mental illness. Sandra's story will definitely benefit anyone who may be currently living with a diagnosis or suffering from any type of mental illness, as Sandra has described how she was able to seek help and find different techniques to stop or reduce the severity of some of her symptoms. This book will also help anyone living with or caring for a relative or friend who may be suffering from schizoaffective disorder.

Maria Savva, solicitor, UK, author of Second Chances, 5 star review on Amazon

and Goodreads

Sandra Yuen MacKay’s memoir, ‘My Schizophrenic Life’ is a courageous and moving story of living with the (seldom written about) mental illness schizophrenia. The author does a wonderful job of sweeping the reader into her world, beginning with the confusion as a teenager when the illness entered her life, through the many challengers of trying to cope while living in the anomalous world of schizophrenia.Having experienced psychosis as a direct result from epileptic seizures, I was personally drawn into the content. I found the story easy to follow and informative. For anyone who would like to know what it’s like to live each day with a metal illness, I highly recommend, Sandra Yuen Mackay’s brave and ultimately uplifting story.

Stuart Ross McCallum, Australia, author of Beyond my Control: One Man's Struggle with Epilepsy, Seizure Surgery and Beyond, 5 star review on Amazon and Goodreads

This is a very straightforward, honest and personal account of one woman's battle with schizophrenia.As a person who has seen what this illness has done to people I love, I was particularly drawn-in by the subject matter, and I am therefore probably extremely biased. That said, there's no denying that MacKay wrote a very enduring and important book about the topic, one will strike an emotional cord and open the eyes of those of us who are currently not afflicted with the disease. A memoir that raises empathy and tells a good story always has my support. 

Jen Knox, US, author of Musical Chairs, 5 star review on Amazon and Goodreads

In My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness, MacKay details the thought processes that made life hell, and the work involved in recovering. Mood-stabilizing and anti-psychotic drugs certainly played a big part in her recovery (as well as her distress), however accepting the label “mentally ill” was not easy. MacKay was also blessed to have a supportive family who loved her unconditionally and a community that offered a variety of options to persons with mental illness.

Readers will feel her frustration as doctors and treatment team members spout platitudes, some of which seemed nothing more than “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” or “grow up.” Being familiar with her disease, we don’t know if she is remembering exactly what those helping her said, or her interpretation. That doesn’t matter — it’s her perceptions that formed her reality.

My Schizophrenic Life is not an explanation or definition of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. It is a chronicle of one patient’s experiences and how she was able to structure her life around the disease after many attempts. Some of the episodes she details are common to many paranoid schizophrenics; others are unique to her. MacKay’s writing reveals so much about her experience, not only in the stories she tells, but how she chooses to tell them.

Anyone interested in mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, can learn from My Schizophrenic Life. Its value is in its candid look into what is going on in the mind of the sufferer.

Bottom Line: Would I buy My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness? Yes.

Bob Etier,

Remarkably compelling. The book takes on a life of its own as MacKay relates her lifelong struggles with severe mental illness. In particular, she illuminates the ways in which schizophrenic delusions can hijack one's life. MacKay vividly re-creates her world of schizophrenia, introducing readers to a whole new stratum of perception. Significantly, MacKay finds her salvation through art and writing, as she learns to capitalize on creative insights gleaned from her bouts with mental illness. Verdict MacKay's enlightening portrayal of her illness, hospitalizations, relationships, therapeutic activities, and quest for recovery will hold readers captive despite the elementary language and disjointed structure of the memoir. Like Kay Redfield Jamison's more eloquent An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, this slight piece provides a surprisingly gripping narrative that will appeal to Jamison aficionados.

Lynne F. Maxwell, Villanova Univ. Sch. of Law Lib., PA, Library Journal Review

There are precious few people who have experienced psychosis and can convey it accurately, clearly, and concisely. Sandra MacKay's story is an important one for all of us in the mental health field - doctors, patients, and their families. It is imperative that we take in the lessons she is imparting to us all, on how to manage, and in many ways, triumph over chronic mental illness.

Julie Holland, MD, author, Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER, New York City, NY

“She writes very well and with a great deal of insight and accuracy … She puts the reader nicely in her shoes experiencing the paranoia, misinterpretations, hallucinations” 

David Laing Dawson, MD, FRCP (C), former professor of psychiatry, McMaster University Faculty of Health Sciences, former psychiatrist in chief, Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital, author of Schizophrenia in Focus, Relationship Management and The Adolescents Owner's Manual.

Sandra's autobiography offers a rare and sustained look into the challenges of living with schizophrenia. She lets us travel with her from the first early intrusions of paranoid delusions into her young teenage years to the long periods when the chaos of her illness dominated her life. She openly explores the ongoing challenges of coping with a mental illness and lets us witness her  courageous and creative rebuilding of her life. Sandra's appreciation of the contributions of her steadfast family and many dedicated mental health workers are refreshing; seeing how much these efforts matter can help sustain families, friends and professionals during the painful ordeals that these disorders inflict on people. Sandra learns that, imperfect as they are, medications provide the foundation of her well being; this is a valuable lesson that may save many others unnecessary anguish.

This important book should be read by anyone wanting to understand how someone can recover from schizophrenia.

Susan Inman, author of After Her Brain Broke, Helping My Daughter Recover Her Sanity

What a fascinating perspective of growing up and developing a mental illness early in life, courageously told!  Sandra MacKay has written a fast-paced, interesting and readable experience of learning to live with a complex mental illness; the more so with the dual aspects of a psychotic and mood disorder.  She writes with keen insight so that the reader is part of the experience and learns from it simultaneously. The ongoing dialogue between Sandra, her family and her caregivers offers the reader a sense of the rollercoaster ride in dealing with the mental health system and shows also her transition to the road of recovery. This is an authentic and honest journey through an illness experience that teaches us the value of individual effort and the recovery process. 

Sarah Sinanan, BA, BSc. OT

Coordinator, The Art Studios

A compelling and immensely interesting story of the author’s journey to recovery after being diagnosed as a teenager with a serious mental illness. Sandra’s insight and intelligence shines through in this well written exploration of the impact psychosis has had on her life. She recounts her experience in a way that allows the reader to understand and grasp the challenges of mental illness on an individual, family members, and friends. Sandra’s story is articulate, honest, inspiring, and engaging - a ‘must read’ as it helps us to understand that people with mental illness are more than their diagnosis - they are people who, with tremendous courage, tackle the challenges and stigma of mental illness and show us that there is a path to recovery, to hope, and to realizing the meaning and purpose of one’s own life. 

Linda Proudfoot, B.Ed, Regional Coordinator for Vancouver/Richmond, BC Schizophrenia Society

Society is indebted to people who are willing to talk about the experience of mental illness. I salute Sandra’s story of her life so far. A life that includes recovery of herself, her purpose, creativity and voice. By listening to these lived stories we can understand the chaos and confusion of mental illness. It is through understanding that people can and do regain their health from mental illness that stigma can be reduced and eliminated.  I admire and respect the honesty Sandra demonstrates to tell her story. She helps us to understand what has so long been misunderstood. I look forward to reading more chapters in her life. 

Sandra Hale, Occupational Therapist, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of British Columbia

“My Schizophrenic Life” is a moving, powerful and informative story. Sandra MacKay sheds a brilliant ray of light on a subject that has long been kept in the dark. She promises and delivers hope and vitality – something that all too often eludes those who battle profound mental illness. I was very touched by this book and I commend the author for the brave soul that she is.

Merle Ginsburg, Program Coordinator, Consumer Initiative Fund, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority

Review on PsychCentral from Greg Tyzzer.


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