“I’m really bad at dying.” This is what Kristina Morgan, author of Mind Without a Home: A Memoir of Schizophrenia, tells us during a phone interview. It’s quite a thing to say. But when you’ve survived “10 to 16 suicide attempts” — she’s not sure of the total number as she doesn’t trust her memory — think about that for a moment — that seems like a logical conclusion. What she is good at is writing. It’s therapeutic to her, and keeps her rooted in reality and able to manage her mental health challenges. To be sure, it can take effort to follow her work. Her writing, like her mind, isn’t linear. It jumps around. There are bursts of images shot-gunned out. Her book, which was published last year by Hazelden, is strange and thrilling, sometimes terrifying, often funny. She writes about how the Steve McQueen movie The Blob creeped her out as a kid. (It creeped us out, too.) She describes spirituality as “living with the whisper of owls,” a phrase that we love. She writes adoringly and often about pancakes. We’re so glad she writes. And we’re so glad she agreed to speak with us. The conversation was as fascinating as her book, which is saying a lot.
TP: You were in and out of the hospital for suicide attempts so often in the book that I lost count. How many attempts have you made?
KM: I’m not sure. Between 10 and 16. I’m really bad at dying.
TP: You don’t remember how many exactly?
KM: I really don’t. My memory isn’t great for parts of my life.
TP: You write about how you didn’t have coping strategies as a young person and you heard negative voices telling you to harm yourself. I think of that scene where you were scheduled to go a modeling job but didn’t want to go so you tried to break your arm.
KM: Yeah, that happened. I didn’t know how to tell them I needed another day. I was 16.
TP: How has the reaction been in the mental health community to the book?
KM: Pretty good, although I don’t know that many people with schizophrenia who have read the book.
TP: Can you tell us what works for you in terms of managing your health?
KM: It’s a lot of things. Sleep is important. Meds. Therapy. Exercise. And having something to do during the day, a sense of purpose, so I don’t lie in bed all day, which I used to do. It took me a long time to find the right combination of things that would get me motivated and out of bed and moving in the world, and I had a lot of help from the psychiatric system here in Arizona.
TP: How do you start your day so you don’t lie around all day?
KM: In the mornings I go to the gym and do cardio, much to my chagrin because I don’t like it. But it helps me. Then I come home and try to get a little writing done before I go to work.
TP: And you work at a library?
KM: I do. Part-time, 20 hours a week. I love it.
TP: In the book you describe the voices in your head as a constant hum. And having read your book I know that that hum has had the potential to be a roar. Do you still have the hum?
KM: I do, but it’s not severe enough to send me back to the hospital, and hasn’t for a while.
TP: When you wrote your book, did you refer back to a journal?
KM: I don’t. I don’t journal, actually. I should. It probably would be good for me.
TP: Do you use meditation to focus your brain?
KM: A bit. I read A Year of Miracles by Marianne Williamson every day. It’s a book of daily devotions and reflections. I really love it.
TP: I appreciate how you don’t romanticize your illness or say that it contributes in a healthy way to your writing. I think that’s a temptation for young artists, to think suffering is in some way helpful or even glamorous.
KM: To me it’s common sense. When I’m really psychotic I don’t have any great thoughts or insights. My brain is just really sick.
TP: Have your current medications maintained their effectiveness for a while?
KM: They have, although it took me 15 years to find the right medications.
TP: Can you tell us which medications work for you?
KM: Clorazil is a huge component of my health. It was the last anti-psychotic that I tried, I hadn’t wanted to go on it, but it became apparent that it was either that or live in and out of hospitals for the rest of my life. It works for me. I’ve been really fortunate that when I have hard days they don’t stay hard, not to the point where I’d need to change up my cocktail of medications. I hope that should I ever need to be hospitalized again that I’d be open to that. Or if I would ever need my medications to change that I’d be open to that. But it’s been a great run. I consider it miraculous what is happening in my life.
TP: And you see a psychiatrist regularly?
TP: How often?
KM: Every two or three months. Pretty much just to get my prescriptions written.
TP: Do you see other counselors?
KM: Sure, I have a case manager, and a spiritual mentor, who I see once a week, and a huge network of friends I can have see for support. I’m lucky that way.
TP: And your sobriety is hugely important.
KM: Hugely important.
TP: How did you get sober?
KM: It took a while. Alcohol played the role of medicine in my life for a long time. I think it saved my life for a while. But then it stopped working. I lost the ability to not give a damn.
TP: And you went into treatment?
KM: I did. The 12-step program works for me. It’s difficult when you have both addiction and mental illness on your plate. I see people in the 12-step program who come in and they also have a mental illness and they seem to not be able to get sober. It’s hard. When I got to the program my mental illness was so inflamed I wasn’t able to get sober. I’ve been sober now for many years and I continue to do the program, and it’s changed my life. I haven’t had any serious challenges for a while. I’ve had moments where I’ve wondered if my brain is getting sick again but those are just moments. They’re fleeting. It never lasts more than a day.
TP: That’s such a hopeful message for those who struggle.
KM: I hope so. I lead a very happy life today.
TP: And are you working on another book? Please say yes.
KM: I am. I’m about 275 pages in. It’s a continuation of the first book. I even wrote a prologue because when I wrote Mind Without a Home a lot of the time my mind wasn’t healthy. But now I’ve been well for so long it almost seems like I’ve been removed from the illness and I’m no longer ill. I’ve just been so fortunate. Writing the second book is a much different experience. In this one I interview my friends. My friends come from all kinds of different backgrounds, whether Jewish or Muslim or Atheist or Buddhist. I interviewed all of my friends who are of different religious persuasions than me, as I wanted to believe more in what they believe and how it relates to religion and spirituality. That was a lot of fun to do.
TP: We can’t wait to read it. And we thank you for writing Mind Without a Home.
KM: Thank you for reading it.
— This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.