Saturday, June 9, 2007

Researching My Malady (Part 2)

This is the final part of a chapter (a short one) that I eliminated from my upcoming book, Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out. The reason it's "out" is because when I started writing my memoir 14 years ago, there were very few books about bipolar disorder so people could relate to my experience. But times have changed and as we all know, there are dozens (albeit still very few that provide hope, I might add.) Some names have been changed for reasons of privacy.

"Uh, how can I help you?" he asked in such a quiet voice that I could barely hear him.

"I’m interested in buying the best books you have on manic depression," I said, sighing. I was becoming so fatigued that I had to force myself to talk. "Can you make some recommendations?"

"No, uh, I can’t," Virgil said. "The bipolar buyer, well, um, she's not bipolar but she buys the bipolar books, is on vacation."

"Oh," I said with no energy and great sadness. "Is there anyone else who knows this stock?"

He shook his head. "If you leave your phone number at the cash register, she can call you in a few weeks."

A few weeks sounded like eternity. I turned away from Virgil because I could feel the flood gates opening. After I’d taken a handkerchief from my purse and wiped my eyes, I turned back around to find that he was gone.

I guess my fantasy had been to read about people who suffered from depression or manic depression and were otherwise highly functional. But the information I read was discouraging and disheartening.

Of the more than 19 million North Americans who experience a depressive episode each year, I learned that only one out of three get help. There were stories of people who had stayed in bed for years or walked around like zombies. Some common characteristics of the clinically depressed are low self-esteem, helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.

I read about people who felt so bad they had to be institutionalized and others who attempted suicide. I learned that untreated depressions can lead to chronic and severe illness; that relatives of people who suffer from clinical depression are two to three times more likely to have depressive episodes themselves.

The good news was that manic-depressives were often considered charming, charismatic, and creative. Famous bipolar writers included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, and Emily Dickinson. Composers like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter were bipolar, and bipolar artists included Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock.

I was relieved to find that more than 2.5 million North Americans suffer from manic depression and that it is treatable. I guess misery loves company. The bad news was that 20 percent of manic-depressives kill themselves.More than 60 percent abuse alcohol and/or drugs, the more untreated episodes a person has, the more difficult it is to treat subsequent ones, and the norm is for patients to see three to four doctors over an eight year period before getting a proper diagnosis.

I closed my last book. By now tears were streaming down my face. I put on my sunglasses and walked out of the bookstore. What a nightmare!


marja said...

We definitely need books that talk about hope for bipolars.

I had been considered schizophrenic for the first 25 years of my illness, though no one bothered to tell me this. It was only when I read the description of bipolar disorder accompanying a story about a man with bipolar who had committed a gruesome murder, that I realized the paper was describing my symptoms. (all except for the violent behavior) That's how I found out what was truly wrong with me. A bit of a shock.

We need more books for newly diagnosed people. They need help coping with such a diagnosis. They need to hear a positive view. And if there were only less stigma, things would not look nearly as bad to them. The stigma is often harder to deal with than the symptoms themselves.

Sorry I've gone on so much.

ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

You write beautifully, Susan, and Marja: you don't go on too much at all! :-)

Yes, there do need to be more resources out for people who are freshly diagnosed. I for one was a mess when it first happened, and I was quite rebellious. NOT a pretty sight at all. I have been thinking of writing my own flavour of book with a twist of inspiration all its own on the topic, being that I am not a conventional person to begin with yet am quite a positive person anyway. In any case, it is nearly a quarter past 3:00am where I live at the moment and I am slightly hypomanic, so pay no mind to what I am saying necessarily, but take it with the best of intentions. :-)

Take care, and keep up the good fight!


James said...

There is a wonderful book called "A Lifelong Journey: Staying Well With Manic Depression/bipolar Disorder". I have found it immensely helpful, especially because medicines only seem to do so much.

The author Sarah Russell also wrote a journal article which forms the basis of the book. It can be downloaded for free from

All the very best,

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear James,
Thanks so much for the reference. I remember hearing about it awhile ago. As I recall, she's an Australian psychologist who's very upbeat about this illness. I had forgotten about the book but I just ordered it online. Thanks so much for the referral.


James Bishop said...

Hi Susan,

I just remembered another resource from the Black Dog Institute in Sydney. The link is:

Sarah Russell is one of the speakers and her presentation is about 10 minutes long. You can listen to it online. I was lucky enough to take part in the pilot of this programme which was excellent, and I would recommend any of the other speakers as well.


"Dootz" said...

Sobering statistics, Susan. I, too, have longed for more literature on - and even more interaction with - people with bipolar who have suffered the highs and lows but are "otherwise highly functional." That is, we're not sticking our heads in the sand about the illness, but we are not so defined by it that it consumes us. We have a life. We have families. We have dreams. Hopefully, when it becomes something that we manage in order to go about the business of our lives, rather than operating as the central feature, perhaps then part of its stigma will vanish.