It takes a certain level of sanity to know you are mentally ill, yet try to hide it from the world – and succeed. I just finished reading Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher and I’m slowly coming back to reality. It was tough to put this book down and do anything else, it’s captivating, and quite frankly, mind-blowing. It’s difficult to imagine someone living this way, not only simply coping, but coming out on top and living a successful life. It is not a “how to be well” handbook, there are no answers here. But there is a journey well worth taking.
“I am silent. I do not exist. I am merely a pair of eyes, looking around the room. The rest of me is invisible. I won’t be visible again until someone sees me. If a woman stands in her kitchen rubbing her eyes and pouring coffee with no one there to see her, does she exist?”
Marya Hornbacher has managed to squash Anorexia, Bulimia, Alcoholism, and seems to be finding a way to live with what sounds like, fairly severe Bipolar disorder. Her descriptions of the rapid-cycling between hypermania and depression left me with a very clear understanding of what it would be like to face these obstacles, and a much better understanding (and empathy) for being mentally ill.
During the years her biopolar was misdiagnosed – then the years she fought the diagnosis, she led a somewhat functional life. Rather, it was highly dysfunctional but she accomplished some amazing things. Her book “Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 – all while being shuffled in and out of the psych ward (and associated reality).
“You wake up one morning and there it is, sitting in an old plaid bathrobe in your kitchen, unpleasant and unshaved. You look at it, heart sinking. Madness is a rotten guest.”
Marya used both food and alcohol to try to manage her moods and mind, and it’s unfortunate it took so long for her to receive appropriate help with each of these areas (eating disorder, alcoholism, and then finally, her biopolar). I learned, the longer bipolar goes undiagnosed, the more severe it will get (and the more frequently swings will occur). Since bipolar is often diagnosed as something else first, the patient is at risk.
Marya Hornbacher is a beautiful writer. As a lover of words, she has an amazing way with them. This book will likely be one of my favorite reads for this year – and it’s only January!