Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Marbles: A Review...and Confession

Last Saturday, Yours Truly ran across Ellen Forney's graphic memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me in Lexington, Kentucky, and quickly concluded I must read it.  Now can you guess why this Hysterical Historian might be drawn to a book about someone who learns she's bipolar right before her thirtieth birthday?...  No?  Well, think about it a little longer.  Anyway, back on topic here, in my opinion, on the plus side Forney's work is frank, honest, and provides a good description of what it is like to be bipolar.  The euphoria and insensitivity to others during mania followed by the crippling, sadness that the author compares to grief during a depressive episode.  And as if the symptoms weren't enough to cope with finding the proper combination of meds to keep a bipolar patient steady is also difficult, and takes time and patience.  I should know because I, too, am Touched With Fire, as Kay Redfield Jamison, one of the leading authority on this mental disorder, puts it...and have been struggling to find the right combination of meds for almost a year now.  Forney's illustrations are well drawn and the book is a fun read...but.  

Yes, there's always a but.  As a person who suffers from bipolar, I found Forney's complaints and sense of hopelessness over struggling for four years to find the right combination of meds a little hard to take when she openly admits to smoking pot almost daily and doing a line of cocaine at Comic Con (where she had a particularly bad episode).  Now, hold on Hipsters, this is not a rant against smoking pot.  In my opinion, its pretty harmless drug for healthy people, but the hard truth is staying emotionally stable is difficult for a bipolar patient at the best of times. This means extracurricular drugs, no matter how harmless, simply do not fit into the picture.  Yes, eventually, after four years the author admits to her psychiatrist she smoked weed on a daily basis and gives it up, but it seems rather hypocritical for Forney to complain so often about her meds when she actively took  drugs that would alter with her mental state.  In other words, she really had no idea with her meds were working or not during that period.  

My other complaint is that Forney, to some extent, idealizes her maniac state noting how unbelievably creative and uninhibited she was during mania.  For instance, Forney discusses, at length, having random sex with total strangers during her manic period.  Rather than mentioning the dangers associated with this behavior, Forney suggests superiority for having done so.  Hum...alright then.  Here's the issue, Kids.  During mania, most patients with bipolar disorder overwork themselves, engage in risky behavior, and fail to think about the feelings of their friends and loved ones.  There's no glamour here.   Just because there is a correlation between creativity and bipolar, and because many authors and artists have suffered from the disorder does not mean the condition ought to go untreated.  A large percentage of those same individuals also attempted suicide...again, its not something I recommend.  The most I can say is that sometimes I do miss the endless energy I had during mania, but, not at the expense of my health or the feelings of those I love and care about most.  Overall, Forney's book is worth the read, but I'd take some of what she implies about mental illness with a grain of salt.  

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