fireez: (Default)
[personal profile] fireez
Putting this under a cut because it mentions self harm, eating disorders, hospitalization, substance abuse and suicide. Since this is an autobiography of someone living with bipolar disorder, there will also be some personal stuff by me.

This book is incredibly well-written, entertaining, and a real punch to the gut. Hats off to Marya Hornbacher for not only writing this, but for surviving and learning to manage an illness that can turn your life into a living hell.

The very beginning of the book is already controversial. Hornbacher has had bipolar all of her life, and it's still disputed if children can even have bipolar. Which, imho, is a bit strange, since children do get diagnoses of AD(H)D and autism spectrum disorders, which are neuroatypicalities, which in turn is something bipolar also falls under. Though, to be fair, most of the time the onset of bipolar is actually at around 20. I'm pretty sure that I had my first depressive episode by the age of 15.

By the age of 9, Hornbacher develops an eating disorder, and a few years later she's a bona fide alcoholic. Both things happen because she is trying to somehow control her ever more horrible episodes. Which leaves the reader wondering, why the fuck didn't anybody notice? Why didn't anybody do anything? The answers are as simple as they are upsetting: before the 1980s, even psychiatrists didn't know much about bipolar disorder. And well, the world is very good at ignoring things that it doesn't want to see. If you acknowledge a teenager's alcoholism, you're going to also have to acknowledge the underlying problems, and those make people very uncomfortable. Especially if it's mental illness. Hello, stigma.

What follows is a string of misdiagnosis and mismanagement, both by professionals and by Hornbacher herself. She's diagnosed as depressive (purely because of the ED, and when you have an ED you're depressive, at least that's the conventional wisdom) and put on meds that make her manic episodes worse.

Interlude: statistically, it takes about 10 years for someone with bipolar to get the correct diagnosis, and most people are diagnosed at around the age of 40. Mostly because a lot of mentally ill people don't get professional help, either because the system prevents it or because they are too scared by the stigma surrounding mental illness to even consider it. While I think self-diagnosis is valid and a good tool to assess your problems, I'm also a huge supporter of going to a therapist or psychiatrist to get a diagnosis, simply because those people are professionals and might catch something you've missed. Like, oh, bipolar, which is a bitch to diagnose even by professionals.

Back to the book. Hornbacher does everything you shouldn't do when you're bipolar. She drinks, she overworks herself, she tries to counterbalance the fact that she sees herself as a total fuckup by chasing an elusive dream of a "perfect life", believing that once she has that, everything will be fine. Something I can also very much relate to. "I'll be fine once I have a job", haha, good one. Inevitably, she ends up in the hospital. Several times. She loses about two years to a never ending cycle of hospitalizations and releases, every time going right back to the habits that put her there in the first place.

And if anyone is thinking "wow, she's stupid", I will slap you in the face so hard you'll have to pick up your jaw two countries over. Self-management is incredibly hard, and bipolar disorder needs a HUGE amount of self-management. Hornbacher has rapid cycling bipolar I with psychotic manias. I have bipolar II, which is a lot tamer, and I still need to manage my lifestyle like whoa. So unless you've ever had to:
- keep up a sleep cycle or you'll end up insomniac and depressed/manic
- take meds that can have a ton of unpleasant side effects
- keep away from too much excitement, even the positive kind
- turn down invitations, leave parties and other social events because you're in a fragile place or because your meds which you aren't allowed to talk about to most of the rest of the world are making you fucking drowsy as hell
- keep a mood journal and watch your moods to catch yourself before the episode is in full swing and STILL end up having one
- etc etc
you can just shut your judgy mouth.

But there are good things, too. Hornbacher talks about her social support system, which consists of family, friends and her partner, and is a life saver, often literally when she goes back to self-harming and suicidal intent. It's incredibly touching to read about the love and support she recieves. A lot of people in her support system are mentally ill themselves, which (as I've noticed) helps with understanding and bonding. They support her when she's in a bad place, and she supports them when they are.

The book ends on a positive note - her life will never be perfect, she'll never be free of madness, but that's ok. Life with mental illness is hard, but it's still life.

So if you're interested in a gripping, moving, sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking account of what it's like to be competely nuts, go read this book. My edition (paperback, Harper Perennial) also has an appendix with facts, resources and an interview with Marya Hornbacher, which makes it extra cool.

Date: 2014-02-06 04:23 pm (UTC)
sweet_nothings: 3 portals standing on a grassy landscape, all lead to different worlds (choices)
From: [personal profile] sweet_nothings
These types of books are really amazing. The courage to put yourself out there. It's nice to find a book where you can relate with someone in a common experience and maybe feel a little less alone.


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