Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Guest Post: Manic.

Today, I'm proud to welcome my intelligent, charming, hilarious cousin Abby (who you miiiiight remember from this post back in October about the first time she read Perks of Being a Wallflower). Abby is a Licensed Master Social Worker, and has been interested in mental health forever. When I texted her regarding mental illness for my Book Roundup post on Monday, she offered to write a post about her experience with a book she read and loved that deals with mental illness in a very different way. How could I say no to that??

So, without further ado, here's Abby

I have always known that I wanted to work in mental health in some capacity (save for that one time in undergrad when I had an apparent brain aneurism and switched my major to kinesiology but we don’t talk about that week). I have always been fascinated by psychotropic medications and neurotransmitters and all that jazz. I could read the DSM all day, errday and be content. Now that I am a mental health professional, I could not imagine doing anything else. My interests are most strongly pulled toward personality disorders for many reasons, not the least of which being my strong empathy toward people whose lives are completely turned upside down on a regular basis by disorders such as Bipolar Disorder.

‘Manic’ by Terri Cheney is one of “my books”. It’s one of those books that will stick with me for all of eternity and impact how I live and work on a daily basis. There are parts of this book that I randomly have flashbacks about during my daily activities even years after reading it for the first time. I found Manic in my first semester of grad school during one of my many trips to the Barnes & Noble mental health section, where I would sit in between those bookshelves with a green tea soy latte for days on end. This book certainly helped me to empathize with the clients I worked with at the time in an outpatient mental health hospital and continues to affect my practice in my current job.

Cheney begins the book by explaining that the chapters are not in chronological order because to someone with Bipolar Disorder, memories are not always stored that way. Every day, week, year is categorized by mood. These are my happy months, this was my extreme depressive year, that week was very manic, etc. The first chapter begins with a suicide attempt (one of several) that is interrupted by a very graphic and brutal rape scene. Super. I liked that Cheney gives no apologies for the dramatic nature of the book and the stories within it, because her life is dramatic. Bipolar Disorder is dramatic.

Something I found interesting (and also see evidence of in my real-life clients) is that people who are living with Bipolar Disorder often have two complete wardrobes for their manic and depressive stages because they essentially live two completely different lives. Manic days are filled with rapid weight loss, risqué outfits, and stilettos. Depressive days are covered in oversized sweatshirts and pajama pants because people often gain weight quickly during this time as a result of “eating their feelings”. Cheney describes these switches in clothing, as well as spending habits, work performance, her love life, in great detail that give the reader a shocking view of how difficult it is to live this way while trying to maintain some form of outward normalcy. During manic stages, people often spend very frivolously and act very impulsively, while in depressive stages, they can hardly get out of bed. Cheney describes one particular work day during a depressive stage where she hid under her desk with the lights off. Treatments are also discussed ranging from medication management and talk therapy all the way up to ECT (electro-convulsive therapy), which is only used in extreme cases as a last measure for treating depression. It has many side effects, including loss of memory, which Cheney experienced.

As a social worker and someone who has lived with generalized anxiety and depression for years, I have a great appreciation for anything that increases awareness and empathy for people living with mental illness. I have worked with people who have Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, and everything in between, and I believe that reading books like Manic and other autobiographical accounts of mental illness is extremely beneficial to me and other mental health professionals, as well as the general public. All the DSM reading in the world cannot help you grasp what it is truly like to live with a mental illness in the way that hearing someone’s personal story can.

Abby Ortego, LMSW


  1. I love books that allow you to dive into another person's mind for a few hours, even if that mind has an illness (in fact, those kind of minds make for the most interesting books!). I'll definitely have to check this one out!

    1. I've definitely added it to my TBR, even though I know I'll feel crazy while I read it!

  2. I know my favorite college courses so far have been psychology courses, the most interesting class being Abnormal Psych because I loved the case studies... This book sounds like it would be even better than a course; a real life account of bi-polar disorder sounds so interesting, I'm going to have to check this book out now. Thanks so much for sharing! :)

  3. This absolutely sounds like a great read. I will add it to my list too.