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By Khaos

ISBN: 978-1-84991-220-4
Published: 2010
Pages: 111
Key Themes: psychosis, non-fiction, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder



Styx is a book of narrative non-fiction. It is a very personal story. The subject matter is the stigma associated with mental illness. The style is poetic, confessional, memoir, and documentary. The narrative reflects on mental illness through the metaphors of passage, crossing, and travel. The author explores what it means to suffer the trauma of hospitalization including restraints and forced medication. The book is inspired by Greek mythology of the passage into the underworld as well as the innocence of childhood rhymes teaching children not to be hurt by name-calling when, ironically, that is what medical diagnosis does. The title refers to the river Styx in Greek mythology, which many attempted to cross into Hades. Of those who made it across into the underworld, few returned. The author’s name, Khaos, refers to the gender-neutral Greek god, who created the universe from the miasma of nothingness that preceded creation. Shifting between the past, present, and future, the narrative reflects the mechanisms the body has to deal with trauma. While this book is non-fiction, memoir, and poetry, it is inspired by Toni Morrison’s development of her protagonist, Sethe, in Beloved. The illness described in the book and the author’s professional pursuit of medicine are often at odds with each other due to the taboo nature of the illness and specifically the taboo way in which the author’s family and society treat mental illness. As such, the book is a coming-out project with regard to the illness.

About the Author

Categorized as psychotic over ten years ago, Khaos has undergone the shame and stigmatization of being referred to as mentally ill. The diagnoses used to describe this condition have included schizophrenia, paranoid-delusional, bi-polar, and depressed. The author has refused the categories and pursued a Ph.D. in Anthropology at Stanford University. Khaos graduated from Harvard University with an A.B. in History and Literature and the University of Chicago with a masters in Social Science. She is currently applying to medical school. Born in 1972 and writing all her life, the author has never before attempted to document what is considered so taboo in her family and society at large: psychosis.

Book Extract

My favorite trip to India was the one prior to pre-dissertation research. Because I met Sameera’s family; witnessed a Hindu wedding (decorated for it as well); was privy to the work of a video-environmental non-governmental organization; visited Calcutta by train, Madras by train, Bangalore by train, Dharamsala by bus; ate Bengali sweets, fish, butter chicken, Southern Indian vegetarian fare, masala dosa; visited friends from Chicago originally from Bengal; soaked in the sounds, smells, sensations of crowded streets, bright sunny rooftops, late night parties, musical events, street theatre, dramas, dance; met Gayatri Spivak at Seagull Publication’s opening (she’d never remember me); held hands; touched; grew affectionate; kissed; slept in; wrote my M.A. thesis; discussed jazz in Delhi, and recovered from what I do not know but left feeling re-invigorated after years of not-living.

We visited Mother Theresa’s orphanages, the zoo, the ocean, parks, clean-up projects, old colonial buildings, the computer capital of India, Anglo-Indian districts, Sameera’s grade school, high school, the emporium, the bazaar, her cousins, aunts, uncles, sibling, former lover (the Anglo-Indian, Carol, for whom Sameera eventually left me), relatives all over India.
It was scattered but all of a piece.

One India, ten thousand dialects.

A million sensations.

Sensual, visceral, hot, sweaty, air conditioned, fanned, breezy, stultifying, beautiful. I did preliminary research on torture, human rights, and refugees in Dharamsala. There I met Mr. Dorjee who worked for Tenzin Choedrak, the late personal physician to the Dalai Lama. Mr. Dorjee gave me a book by Alexandra David-Neel and asked if I would be willing to organize a trip for Tenzin Choedrak. Ecstatic that I would be picked out of the myriad tourists coming to the area, I agreed and promised to do what I could to facilitate a Chicago trip.

Sameera met me in Dharamsala.
We stayed at a German-run hostel with an Ohm sign just outside its wooden entrance. The lodgings were sparse but the price was right and with body heat, the temperature was too. It felt a sacrilege to be together with Sameera in a place I considered so holy, sacrosanct, in my mind, on a mission I felt should be as pure as possible (“I feel so clean!” she exclaimed one night after making love in Evanston. Her comment always disturbed me.) academic as it was.
Nothing could beat India in the winter. It was a welcome (much needed) respite. From what, I do not know. But it was an escape I forced myself to take in order to sustain a relationship that was doomed from the start.

I loved Sameera. She came after the first long term relationship I had ever had. A three year doozey with sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. With a summa-cum-laude Harvard graduate, Bill, a year older than I. Bill and I travelled all over together. The U.S., Southeast Asia, South Asia.
Surface travelling, I call it.

Because we never really delved beneath the surface.
It was a mélange of lonely-planet cultures all packaged into one for the time-constrained traveller looking for the (cheap) “authentic” in the everyday. It/he got me interested in graduate work. Making love in Indonesian thatched-hut rice paddies. The act itself a validation of a world we did not know, understood at a surface level, and wanted to consecrate. Fried banana toast sandwiches (surprise!) awaited us in the mornings, cool showers awaited us in the evenings, shadow puppets, street music, and Hindu gods filled our days and nights.

We revelled.
We were young-in-love.
A beautiful relationship.
I still dream about Bill. Feel our soul. We experienced a lot (the world) together. During those post-graduate years.
Here, I have to stop.


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