Bipolar Blogs & Memoirs & Creativity, Oh My! (Part One)

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The brilliant and radiant writer Beth Mader, featured columnist and blogger for BP (Bipolar) Magazine

Every Saturday morning I’m in the habit of reading Beth Mader’s blog at the BP (Bipolar) Magazine’s website.  I was drawn to Beth’s blog because of her raw, original and relevant writing.  She never attempted to hide the dirty laundry of her life, but she was adept at avoiding “T.M.I.”.  Her blog was definitely not ho-hum in style.  Eventually we became Facebook friends and I occasionally asked her for writing advice.

Last Saturday was no different in terms of my routine, but imagine my surprise to see that Beth had briefly mentioned me in her blog post du jour!  I got a kick out of the fact that she found me to be rather spunky.  In her post “On Bipolar Memoirs and Writing” she writes:

“I am currently writing a memoir, and I refuse to make having bipolar its primary theme.  My journey across this planet, this existence, is far more complex and rich than what the role of mental illness plays in it.  That said, of course my having bipolar is a part of my memoir as it is woven throughout the fabric of my life.

Writing a memoir is hard.  Having mental illness on top of it makes it even more challenging.  Bipolar blogger and forthcoming author Dyane Harwood writes in a recent piece about how difficult it is to stay focused when we have bipolar, saying “Many people with bipolar have attention challenges and/or struggle with sedation due to medication side effects.  I have both of those issues, but I won’t let them stop me.”  Even without the side effect of meds, bipolar symptoms get in the way, I’d add to her thoughts.  I like Dyane’s pluck; it’s the kind of spirit we need to keep in order to get anything done, let alone writing.

Someone who did get it done is our bphope.com blogger/BP Magazine Columnist colleague, Melody Moezzi, whose book I just finished. Her Haldol & Hyacinths, a memoir about her struggle with bipolar disorder, and also about being Iranian-American, an activist, and proudly intelligent, is brashly honest.  I like Melody’s story because she tells it in way that illuminates a full life — one with pain, struggle, and both mental and physical illness—and a life with goals, dreams and pursuit of the same.  And she doesn’t whine about it.  Along with Dyane, Melody, and numerous others, I am keeping my nose to the grindstone, and working on my story. I have things to say.

What do you continue to do despite your symptoms?”

I bought Melody Moezzi’s book Haldol and Hyacinths as soon as it was available.  The book made for riveting reading, to say the very least.  It was totally unique as Moezzi vividly depicted how her Iranian culture played such a significant role in her life.  The book is among my favorite bipolar memoirs, and it has earned rave reviews everywhere.

To view Beth’s original blog and meet some other BP contributors (including Melody Moezzi, & cartoonist Chato Stewart whose cartoon is in my 3/4/14 blog post) please visit:

http://www.bphope.com/bphopeblog/post/On-Bipolar-Memoirs-Writing.aspx

On a separate note, every few days I discover a new bipolar memoir on Amazon.  I kid you not.  I simply do a general book search with “bipolar” as the key word.  My latest find took place last Monday, when I spotted L.E. Henderson’s A Trail of Crumbs to Creative Freedom: One Author’s Journey Through Writer’s Block and Beyond.

Henderson released this relatively short book (88 pages) for only 99 cents on Kindle. In Trail of Crumbs she analyzes the creative writing process and how her bipolar disorder adversely affected her writing.  She ends the book on a high note in sharing how she was able to let her creative juices flow again. I just started reading it, and I’m finding it interesting and well-written, so it was quite a deal for less than a cup of coffee!

The Amazon.com description of A Trail of Crumbs reads,

“Writing is hard.  Toxic ideas about the need to summon a particular mindset or to force yourself to write cause pointless suffering.  A Trail of Crumbs to Creative Freedom proposes a more playful approach.

Part narrative, part instruction, Trail chronicles the creative recovery of the author, a bipolar novelist.  After a manic episode, she swings toward depression and block.  She longs to re-experience the creative rush of writing her first novel and imagines a trail leading back to it. 

Henderson asserts, “More than anything, I wanted to go back. Back to the time before my episode when the ideas has flowed freely. I needed a road, a path, a map. Anything would have been welcome.

L.E. Henderson’s blog is http://www.passionatereason.com/

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Tomorrow I will post part two, in which I discuss how a brand-new memoirist (someone who I frankly never imagined could write anything worthwhile) influenced me to “keep my nose to the grindstone” with my own writing.

Until then, have a great day, and thanks for reading!

Bipolar Books I Recommend – I Mean Books About Bipolar! ;) – Part One

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Today it’s truly raining cats and dogs and I’m using my Sunbox to cope with the gloomy weather.  Some of you are rain-lovers, I’m sure, but not this born-in-sunny-Los Angeles gal.  There is nothing quite like a rainy day that is so ideal for staying home to be warm and cozy, and of course read a good book.  Reading on a rainy day is my nirvana, well that, and being in Hawaii when I am not depressed!  For more about my Hawaii trip please read one of my favorite posts:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/hell-in-paradise-part-one/

Now, I am a voracious reader; even when I am depressed I devour books.  I have read all the “biggie” bipolar books.  I’m sure you have heard of some of these: Dr Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, Teri Cheney’s Manic and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing up Bipolar, Marya Hornbacher’s Madness: A Bipolar Life and many more books.  I’m always on the lookout for more good books about living with bipolar, and I’ve noticed a surge in the overall amount of books published about this topic literally almost every single day.  I discovered this fact while I was using Amazon.com to conduct book searches for bipolar books.  Once I found the main bipolar category, I selected to sort it for “most recently published” books. (I’m making it sound harder than it is – this takes all of thirty seconds to do.)  This search is a pretty amazing feature and one can see which books will be published in the future – even a year or two from now.

I read some of these books post-bilateral electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) so I have a better recollection of what they cover.  Other books on my list are ones that I read years ago, and I don’t remember much about them except whether or not I really liked the book.  I wish I could recall all the juicy little details, but alas, that’s not meant to be. Most of these books are very reasonably priced for my Kindle, which I love.  An added bonus to having a Kindle is that you can sample the book for free before you purchase it, which is a fantastic option.  I’m sure that some of these books can be requested for purchase through your local library, or perhaps your library already has the book available to loan.

Haldol and Hyacinths by Melody Moezzi

Melody is an amazing writer and mental health advocate.  Her memoir is truly unique as she is an Iranian-Muslim-American with a spicy sense of humor.  I read her blog religiously on BP (Bipolar) Magazine’s website (www.bphope.com) and Moezzi’s book is absolutely fascinating.  I gave it a five star review on Amazon and here is what I wrote:

“I’ve always been a huge fan of Moezzi’s work.  I knew that Haldol and Hyacinths would not fail to disappoint me.  I was 100% right!  Moezzi’s sharp-as-nails writing takes you in from the very first page, and her brilliance shines through her narrative.  I could use every superlative I know to recommend this book, but in the interest of space here, I won’t.  All I can say is that if you have bipolar disorder or know someone who does, this book is a must-read.  And if you aren’t touched by this particular brand of mental illness, I say read it anyway, because the story ends in hope and it’s totally fascinating.  You will definitely learn things you did not know about, not just about bipolar disorder, but about Iranian Muslim culture, that I found made this bipolar memoir stand apart from the numerous bipolar memoirs available these days.  I honestly could not put it down once I started reading it, even though I was vacationing in gorgeous Kona, Hawaii and there were numerous activities beckoning to me – it was that good!”

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So Far by Cristina Negron

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Here’s the five star Amazon review I wrote for this book:

“I love reading juicy memoirs – the more disturbing, the better, as long as the author includes some redemptive themes so the book is not a total soul-sucking experience!  Yesterday I finished reading So Far by Cristina Negron, a former Rodale editor married to Amby Burfoot, longtime editor of “Runner’s World” and a winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon.  This book was published last fall.  Negron’s title appeared on my Kindle during a general search I selected for recently published bipolar-themed books.  I like to see what’s up-and-coming in the bipolar book world, and it never ceases to amaze me what people write and publish. The phrase “it takes all kinds” comes to mind…I was intrigued by this book as it was clear in its brief description that running plays a central theme in the story.  I used to be a long-distance runner in high school and I kept running in my 20’s.  I subscribed to Runner’s World and ran 10 kilometer races.  I’ve always believed that running consistently delayed the onset of my clinical depression and bipolar.  Negron’s book is well-written and very inspiring. While I don’t want to give anything away, I’ll mention briefly that she discusses her large Mexican-American family at length.  She reveals truly heartbreaking situations in connection with these relatives.

I found it refreshing that the topic of bipolar disorder did not dominate the story.  Yes, a bipolar disorder diagnosis played a pivotal role in her life and in the book.  However, Negron wove different elements throughout the narrative that gave her story depth.  Her writing style allowed the reader to have breaks, per se, from the highly sobering sections in a finely wrought fashion.  After I finished the last page, I knew that certain members of Negron’s family would stay with me, especially the ones who were extraordinarily brave.  Whenever I complete a book that has been the proverbial “can’t put down” type, I feel a void in releasing a world I have immersed myself in so intensely.  I felt that way with So Far.”

Moorestorms: A Guide For The Bipolar Parent by Rebecca Moore

After I bought Rebecca Moore’s book I discovered her insightful blog “Moorestorms” (www.moorestorms.wordpress.com)  I gave five stars to Ms. Moore’s moving book Moorestorms: A Guide For The Bipolar Parent.

“The book was a fast, moving read filled with tons of helpful information.  Reading Moorestorms was like sitting down with a good friend to learn about what it’s like to live with this illness, and how to live a better life in spite of its damage.  As Moore is the parent of seven children, she has learned an enormous deal about how to be the best parent she can be and shares this knowledge with her readers.  I wish I had this book a long time ago when my two kids were young, as it would have made me feel less alone with my struggles and it would have given me practical pointers as well.  The author bares her soul throughout the book. She never condescends to the reader like some “bipolar experts” do in their tomes. I highly recommend it.”

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Will I Ever Be The Same Again: Transforming the Face of ECT (Shock Therapy) by Carol Kivler

Carol and I have communicated via her blog for Esperanza the Anxiety and Depression Magazine website (www.hopetocope.com).  She is a wonderful, inspiring woman.  Long before I exchanged emails with her, I purchased her book about ECT and found it very useful.  I had ECT done for bipolar depression while Carol had it done for major depression.  Here is the Amazon.com description of her book:

Blessed with a loving family, a successful business as an executive coach and money in the bank, Carol Kivler was suddenly and unexpectedly brought to her knees by “The Beast” – clinical depression.  The story of her journey to recovery from medication-resistant depression is not only informative but inspires hope in others who suffer from this debilitating illness.  Because medication did not work for her, and despite serious reservations, Kivler eventually agreed to ECT (electroconvulsive therapy, or shock therapy).  The treatment not only gave her back the desire to live but the ability to thrive in her personal and professional life.  Electroconvulsive therapy became her “ladder out of the depression pit.”  In her opinion, the stigma associated with ECT deprives severely depressed individuals the right to potential recovery.  Consequently, the section of her book on “Demystifying ECT” provides accurate, up to date information about today’s modernized procedure, answers common questions such as “Does it hurt?” (No!) and discusses possible side effects (which Kivler found to be no worse than those from medication).

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Undercurrents by Dr. Martha Manning

I read this book long ago (before both of my rounds of ECT) and to this day I vividly remember it being so lyrical and convincing regarding ECT as saving her life.  I was so impressed with Dr. Manning that when I was hired to write my first professional article for a national magazine (the sadly defunct “Fit” Magazine; my 1997 article discussed the importance of exercise with women) I contacted Dr. Manning to interview her for my piece.  I also interviewed none other than Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison.  Dr. Jamison was a famous bestselling author and in the late 1990’s numerous writers clamored her for interviews.  I stood out because she and I attended the same high school, although we never met there as she is older than me.  I also had the honor of meeting her when she gave a fantastic talk at the Palisades Library – the lecture room was packed like sardines in a can, she was so popular.

Copied below is the primary description for Dr. Manning’s book that I found on the Amazon.com website.  I find it rather strange that the ECT that saves Dr. Manning’s life is not mentioned in the blurb.  I could be mistaken, but to me that is a subtle form of stigma towards mental illness and ECT.

“This is the memoir of an ordinary woman—a mother, a daughter, a psychologist, a wife—who tells the tale of her spiraling descent into a severe, debilitating depression. Undercurrents pioneers a new literature about women and depression that offers a vision of action instead of victimhood, hope instead of despair.”

I believe a much better description is the review by the Library Journal:

As psychotherapist Manning began her slow descent into depression, she recognized the signposts along the way: a sense that she was losing control of her life, perpetual fogginess in her head, social withdrawal and subsequent isolation, and a painful alienation from all that gave her life pleasure and meaning-except her daughter. She recounts how medications were tried and discarded, psychotherapy proved fruitless, and her mind became overwhelmed with thoughts of death as a way out of her ceaseless torment. The one last hope was electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), the thought of which left her feeling frightened and totally helpless. Nevertheless, ECT alleviated her despair and began her recovery. Told in journal form, the events so sensitively and insightfully depicted here reveal how tenuous one’s connection to physical and mental well-being can be. Recommended for general readers.

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I am so grateful to Dr. Manning for her book, as it made me feel better about getting ECT when my time came.  I still had huge reservations, of course, but I was desperate.  (I also cover this issue in a prior blog post:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/are-you-shocked-that-i-got-shocked/

Tomorrow I will share Part Two of my favorite books with you…and mention a few I will be purchasing in the coming year that look really cool, unique and helpful.  Take care and if you are staying home due to inclement weather like I am, happy reading!