Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Madness: A Bipolar Life

After reading Marya Hornbacher's first memoir Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, I picked up her follow-up memoir Madness: A Bipolar Life. Yes, she's had both struggles. Hard to believe. Some people's cards just don't fall as easily as others.

Once I read Wasted, I sort of pieced together that fairy tale ending in my head. She taught me that anorexia and bulimia can be a state of mind that is very hard to break (and sometimes never can). The end of the memoir left me thinking that she was still very messed up with it, and she might relapse a few times, but she would be okay overall for the most point.

Little did I know that she would soon discover her bipolar which would complicate her life even more.

I also picked up this book because I didn't know much about bipolar disorder anyway. I really just knew the basic facts, nothing too substantial. Hornbacher shows the highs and the lows, the struggles, the drugs and their side effects, the acceptance, the denial, the chemicals and substances that alter bipolar, the treatments, therapies, etc. It really gives a well-rounded perspective of a life filled with understanding, coping with, and battling with bipolar. Again, this is something that needs to be adjusted and is with the person for their lifetimes (similar to the mindset of an eating disorder). She has a lot to conquer here.

What baffled me was when she was describing herself writing Wasted. She sounds clear and coherent when you read her writing so it's hard to picture her being so messed up and "crazy" as she often calls herself. When she was writing Wasted, she was dealing with her bipolar and her alcoholism. I never saw that coming either. An eating disorder case turned alcoholic? That seems strange, because they wanted to purge everything and now they want to take it all in? Quite a case.

Madness reflects a very long span of her life where she realizes the tell tale signs, her in and outs of hospitals, her diagnosis, her many boyfriends and how they deal with it. Marya now lives with her husband Jeff whom I give a lot of credit. He stuck with her when she was in and out of the hospital, when she was in her manic episodes. When she felt like leaving him on a spur of the moment and then take him back. He's been through a lot with her.

In all of her pictures, she appears so normal. She appears so above everything. It's hard to imagine. After her last book, she spiraled out of control in her life. How do we know that she's not doing that now? Maybe a new memoir will come out soon with a new challenging problem. It's a great money-maker, if anything.

I was also extraordinarily surprised with how open and honest she was. She didn't hide anything. Everything was right out there in the open no matter how embarassing or humiliating it was to anyone portrayed in the book. Now, I guess it's admirable to be honest, but I am just shocked that she would do that to herself. I guess it gives the disorder a more accurate portrayal, or we can think so, but I was just astonished at how candid it was. Maybe I'm the only one. I found Wasted to be the same way as well.

Hornbacher does have some talent as a writer though. I found myself cringing at parts, making faces at others. The part where she slits her artery on accident just stuck with me. The descriptions she used were just so vivid that I was squirming. That will stick with me maybe more than anything. That was a great way to open the book. It gives me advice on how to mix up and arrange a memoir of my own.

The whole book was basically a rollercoaster ride up and down the highs and lows of bipolar. Most of the time, I felt like no light was coming at the end of the tunnel. It was a bit depressing. It seemed that, no matter what she did, she would always relapse into the hospital or would need to be heavily medicated. It seems ridiculous that people live with this all the time. Are there more drugs and treatment now? I know this was only published a year ago, but I hope that more can be done and more awareness can surface because I can't even imagine going through this myself or if someone I knew did.

I'll put this out there: I bet these books (either separate or combined) would make a great movie (or movies). She looks a lot like the actress Brenda from Six Feet Under. She would cast well. So would Winona or Juliette Lewis. Maybe something to think about...

So, I have learned that bipolar is something that can come to the surface later on in life (20s) and is very hard to treat. It can push people to make rash decisions, overwork themselves, or go-go-go and crash all the time. I couldn't imagine feeling that so psychotic and not being able to control myself.

Madness is a really eye-opening book. It's worth reading if you're into memoirs or learning about disorders/diseases. It's coming of age too. It deals with a lot of relationship issues and drug addictions, which were also really interesting angles to explore. I just wish that she got more creative with her titles. They could be a little bit better, in my opinion.

So, what do you think of Marya Hornbacher's Madness?

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