When I started looking for books about bipolar, this one was recommended over and over and over again. You’ve probably already read it.
The prologue starts with a graphic account of cutting – of the self harm variety. And then it gets a bit more gruesome. It’s well written from the get go, vivid as hell. The tone of the rest of the book, while it doesn’t pull any punches, is easier than the prologue.
I grew into it. It grew into me. It and I blurred at the edges, became one amorphous, seeping, crawling thing.
It’s a brutal read though. Watching the little kid Marya, who finds safety in being awake at night, battle the demons you know she’s not going to get help with till she’s an adult, is hard. And she expresses the anguish with intense skill. Watching her crash and burn is sore.
It isn’t unrelenting though (thank fuck) and there’s a sound and excellent education about the illness along the way. The further I read, the more my respect for the book and its author grew.
She grew up in the 70s – no hope of an accurate diagnosis in a kid back then, and only a little more hope in the following decades … how many people have gone through this? Being misunderstood, feeling damned, damning yourself … escape, evade, avoid, distract, hide, hate, bleed … despair.
(Those anti-psychiatry types ranting about the increase in bipolar diagnoses are fools. Obviously there’s an increase; there’s a world of mis- and non-diagnosis to set right.)
And then the horror sets in. All that time I wasn’t crazy; I was, in fact, crazy. It’s hopeless. I’m hopeless. Bipolar disorder. Manic depression. I’m sick. It’s true. It isn’t going to go away. All my life, I’ve thought that if I just worked hard enough, it would. I’ve always thought that if I just pulled myself together, I’d be a good person, a calm person, a person like everyone else.
Yeah … and there are so many yeahs in this book. Even when the story or the symptoms are very different from mine, there are still pages of yeah yeah wince yeah cringe yeah phew yeahs. But if there are far reaches of bipolar, I’m guessing the author has explored them. It seems to me she’s been to hell and back more times than I’ve had hot dinners. Those medals that Carrie Fisher wants issued to bipolar sufferers? Marya Hornbacher has already earned the whole set.
It’s tough to read, because it’s so utterly, tragically accurate. The writing is hip, the writer is ruthless – I wanted a happy ending, because I like her. I wanted a despairing ending, because that would feel real. (It’s not always about drama; in fact, it’s a relief to read such an eloquent description of the terrors inherent in a grocery store.) Telling this story was an act of pure courage, I don’t know how she did it.
The doctors offer me a paradox: tame the madness through surrender. Accept that it will be chained to me, pulling, always trying to get loose, for the rest of my life—but also know that if I respect the strength of the madness, I can live in some kind of peace. Only then will it, instead of me, tire out, and sleep.
I want to think that the impossible can happen—I will no longer need to spend so much time devoted to the daily micromanagement of my moods, the constant monitoring of my thoughts, the second-guessing of everything I do. What if everything that went through my head wasn’t inflected with the arbitrary whims and twitches of a broken brain?
Very, very, very truly excellent book. If you haven’t read it, you should. She’s a credit to humanity and its spirit if you ask me. I don’t think the ‘success’ part of story is as much what she has accomplished, as much as who she seems to be by the end of it – a compassionate human being. True compassion is rare and horribly underrated. You’ll like her mind a lot.
Life expectancy of an adult with serious mental illness: 25 years shorter than that of a person without.