As anyone who has suffered bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other related disorders knows, it's more difficult to live with than other illnesses because it affects you and everyone you know. While chronic physical disorders don't necessarily change your behavior, chemical imbalances in the brain make it a daily struggle to maintain healthy relationships because behavior is unpredictable. Your friends and family, try though they might, just don't understand. And this lack of understanding is precisely what causes these strains in interpersonal relationships in the first place.
Reading about those who have struggled with bipolar disorder is a helpful way of gaining a new understanding and perspective. Everyone has different ways of dealing with the disease, and it can be inspirational to find others who understand, and who can articulate their personal stories. Here are a few memoirs that are particularly noteworthy:
Kay Jameson is probably the leading researcher on bipolar disorder. As both a psychiatrist and a sufferer of bipolar disorder herself, Jameson offers insight into the illness that both personal and professional. Jameson, although critical of big pharma, does demonstrate how a combination of lowered medication and personal support saved her life. Best of all, Jameson clues us in on the latest advances in neuroscience that can offer new hope for an illness that has been misunderstood and misdiagnosed for centuries.
We all know Kurt Vonnegut, the eminent writer who gave us such classics as Cat's Cradle and Slaughter House Five. But what many don't know is that his son, Mark, struggled under his father's shadow with a debilitating bout of decades-long psychosis that was first diagnosed as schizophrenia but what he now considers bipolar disorder. In his latest volume, released this year, Vonnegut offers fascinating insight into his own struggles, as well as giving readers a more expansive perspective on mental illness in general. With panache and humility, Vonnegut is adept at both writing humorously and inspirationally. In one of my favorite segments, Vonnegut states:
"None of us are entirely well, and none of us are irrevocably sick. At my best I have islands of being sick entirely. At my worst I had islands of being well. Except for a reluctance to give up on myself there isn't anything I can claim credit for that helped me recover from my breaks. Even that doesn't count. You either have or don't have a reluctance to give up on yourself. It helps a lot if others don't give up on you."
While Jameson's book is told from the perspective of a clinician, and Vonnegut's is told from both the perspective of a doctor and the son of a famous writer, Manic is written by a former entertainment lawyer. The most interesting part about Manic is that Cheney writes her book in short episodic segments that very accurately describe what it's like to cycle from the rapid highs to the soul-wrenching lows that characterize bipolar disorder. Cheney's account is not necessarily an uplifting one, but it's certainly describes the bipolar life with a candor that is hard to match.
These are just a few memoirs out there about individuals who have learned with varying degrees of success to live in the rollercoaster existence of bipolar. Even if they don't offer hope per se, they at least offer solace. Knowing you are not alone in your suffering can sometimes be more uplifting than anything.
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