In the time since my diagnosis — 18 days and counting! go me! — I did an awful lot of reading and research trying to make sense of it all, and understand the nature of what is happening.
The best piece of literature for a freshly diagnosed person would be, I think, this here leaflet from DBSAlliance. I loved and hated reading it, because it described me to a tee.
Some people with bipolar disorder can experience what’s called a mixed state. When this happens, people have symptoms of both depression and mania at the very same time. Those who have had a mixed state often describe it as the very worst part of bipolar disorder. They have all of the negative feelings that come with depression, but they also feel agitated, restless and activated, or “wired.”
[…] hypomania—the mild highs experienced by those with bipolar II disorder—is especially difficult to recognize. Hypomania might not have negative side effects for the individual at first. And sometimes, people actually function better during a hypomanic episode. They often see themselves as being more productive.
Most people with bipolar disorder aren’t inclined to seek psychiatric treatment when they’re experiencing the highs of mania or hypomania. In fact, many don’t even realize that the highs aren’t normal. Many folks would like to keep their highs, because they feel outgoing, extroverted and friendly … like “the life of the party.”
YOU TELL THEM
Antidepressants can sometimes also make bipolar depression worse by causing suicidal thoughts. If that happens, the traditional antidepressant should be discontinued immediately.
Well, that would explain why I have 1) been told to quit my MAOI cold turkey, and 2) why I haven’t plunged into deepest depression ever, which is what I expected to happen.
Even with excellent health care, sometimes bipolar depression can still be mistaken for—and misdiagnosed as—unipolar depression. Why? Because many people with bipolar disorder only have recurrent episodes of depression during the early years of their illness. The hypomanic or manic episodes often don’t start right away.
When people are misdiagnosed, treatment might seem to work for only a short time, and then the mood episodes return.
My case precisely.
And so on. I am described in this leaflet without any mercy. The leaflet is short, concise, clear and irritatingly correct in describing how I feel, what I went through in the years before, in the last three months and in the last few weeks. I have read five books in two weeks, and this leaflet is still the best source of information I have found, due to all the qualities I just listed.
There’s more though.
Wendy Williamson’s “I’m not crazy, just bipolar” is what I would think of as average BP story. This is not to be misread as “average writing”. I enjoyed the book, and could see myself in bits of it, and I thanked the gods that I haven’t experienced some of the stuff Wendy has been through. So far I have been lucky enough to avoid altercations with the police and law, and Wendy went through both, and described them in a way that is both honest and amusing. The book is a memoir rather than a scientific study, and there are parts that read like good fiction… but at the same time strike a chord that’s thrillingly familiar.
I found Marya Hornbacher’s “Madness” a tough book to complete. Some of the manic parts I skipped over altogether, because I found them exhausting. Hornbacher does what I would call “raw writing”, essentially putting the reader inside the mind of a properly manic person. Since I have the “luck” to visit that mind every now and then without help of literature, I elected not to read those bits and skipped until the time she is back to her medication regime. I would say that if you actually are bipolar yourself, this is not a good book to read. If you have a bipolar partner, you might skip this one as well. But if you think bipolar is something that sounds very interesting, you like to watch Gregg Araki’s movies and listen to Nine Inch Nails, “Madness” is the book for you.
John McManamy is an author of a website devoted to bipolar and other illnesses, McManWeb. I found his website tough to navigate and confusingly unstructured, but the book is a very different story. While some of the more… medical chapters are clearly aimed at people who are either doctors or intelligent enough to understand phrases such as “norepinephrine receptors” thrown at them in every sentence, the book itself was rather useful and interesting. Plus, some of McManamy’s humour is properly funny. (I am not being ironic here!)
George Ison’s “Diary of a bipolar” is written by a person for whom English is obviously second language; it has spelling and grammar mistakes; it portrays an author that is not an extremely likeable person; it is also the book that I found easiest to relate to. While Hornbacher somehow manages to make her mania sound exciting and glamorous, and McManamy can at times be too focused on making himself look smart and educated, Ison simply writes about how he feels. And as any person who experienced bipolar disorder knows, that means lots of ups and even more downs. This is not “look at me being a great writer y’all” kind of book; it’s a diary. And it is a touching one — it doesn’t come with a 100 page bibliography like McManama’s or Hornbacher’s books, it isn’t full of amazingly intellectual jokes either. But it affected me perhaps the most.
In a way, Andrew Solomon’s “The Noonday Demon” is one of the sadder books I’ve read; he studied depression in extreme depth (sometimes too extreme, making me skip entire chapters) only to have his diagnosis changed to bipolar a few years after the book came out (and got a bunch of awards). I am still reading this book — 600+ pages can take a few hours y’know — but this one is DEFINITELY worth its price, even though it deals pretty much solely with unipolar depression. Solomon did something nobody really attempted before, interviewing people of various backgrounds, various races and classes, thus proving finally that depression isn’t just a “middle-class white lady” disease, it can hurt Inuits, Africans, men, women, young, old, poor and rich equally badly. (And some of
them us do not have Hornbacher’s money to throw at eBay in a manic episode.)
Kay Jamison’s “An Unquiet Mind” is the single best book about bipolar I have read so far. Written by a psychiatrist who, despite her profession, still finds it difficult to admit she is ill and stick to her medication regime, the book thrills, terrifies and describes the disorder as accurately as possible. I found Jamison’s case to be a source of hope; she was scared to publish the book, not knowing if that will end her professional career, yet did so anyway and to this day works at her post as co-director of Mood Disorders Center at John Hopkins. It looks like it is possible to be bipolar, highly successful, maintain a long-term full-time career, write books and be amazing, and Kay Jamison proves that in one smashing package that “An Unquiet Mind” is. I intend to read all of Jamison’s books.
Any other books you would recommend I read?