Click here to read reviewer Marie Hashima Lofton's take on Madness: A Bipolar Life.
In her first memoir, Wasted, Marya Hornbacher detailed her long battle with anorexia and her fragile recovery. At the beginning of Madness: A Bipolar Life, she is in still in therapy and is taking antidepressants, a popular treatment for eating disorders. But she soon begins to experience other symptoms on the medication: dramatic mood swings, chronic insomnia and uncontrollable anxiety, with periods of irrepressible energy and elation. The only thing that calms her down are large quantities of alcohol. Very large quantities of alcohol.
Hornbacher describes her symptoms to her therapist and several other medical professionals, and not one them recognizes that the medication she's been put on has begun to trigger manic episodes, and that she is suffering from manic depression, also known as bipolar depression. They also don't know that when they increase her medication, they are making things even worse, and her manic episodes become more frequent and intense.
The idea that a serious illness could go on for so long unrecognized by so many medical professionals is tragic but not surprising. The treatment of mental illness is still light years away from other illnesses. Most health insurance plans will barely cover twenty visits to a psychiatrist or a therapist, while you have access to much more comprehensive care for other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, etc.
Astonishingly, one doctor's great idea is to suggest to Horbacher that she just needs to take a hot bath with some perfumed water and candles, and that will calm her down. She keeps insisting that Horbacher is getting better even as her behavior becomes more and more erratic and uncontrollable.
Eventually, Horbacher finds a psychiatrist who realizes that she is suffering from bipolar depression, not unipolar depression, and he puts her on mood stabilizers and urges her to stop drinking because it will prevent her medication from working. Still, it is only years and many hospitalizations later that Horbacher begins to understand how to control her illness.
Madness is recommended reading for anyone unfamiliar with bipolar illness, but what separates it from other books written about bipolar depression is the author's brilliant writing in this relentlessly brave and beautiful memoir.