This memoir of a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, complicated by eating disorders and alcoholism, records the internal experiences of mania, confusion, depression, delusion, anxiety, terror, wild impatience, discouragement, and at times clarity and resolve that alternate in her life of recurrent struggle.  Diagnosed somewhat belatedly as rapid cycling type 1 bipolar disorder, her disease drove her to one disastrous coping strategy after another until she was hospitalized for her eating disorder and for cutting herself.  After years of intermittent hospitalizations and encounters with several incompetent psychiatrists as well as a few who were consistently helpful, she has come to understand exactly the kind of help she needs-at times trusting others' assessments of her condition more than her own, accepting supervision, abstaining from all alcohol-a critical factor in avoiding psychosis.

Her doctors continue to recalibrate her complicated drug therapies, and her moods and control remain precarious, but she has learned to live with a disease that seems still to be poorly understood, accept the limits it imposes, and handle it with intelligence, humility, and even at times a wry note of humor.  She has learned to accept help from the husband whose love survives recurrent unintentional abuse, and from parents and friends who remain supportive.  She ends the memoir on this note of acceptance, appending to it a list of facts and statistics about bipolar disorder designed to help situate it for the reader relative to other diseases and disorders.


This narrative is both compelling and relentless.  We are taken with terrible explicitness through a painful journey into what the author repeatedly terms periods of madness, beginning with a close-up, detailed treatment of the cutting of her arm that landed her in the hospital as an adolescent.  The story maintains its close focus; little is said about public events, or about the lives of those around her except as they affect her from day to day.  Intelligent and edgy, the narrative is also curiously dispassionate in its treatment of what at times has been excruciating pain and humiliation, inviting and inciting clinical curiosity at least as much as compassion.  In her manic phases she is remarkably creative and productive, producing articles and books and working as an editor as well as a returning student.  In her depressed phases she is at times completely incapacitated for weeks at a time.  Painful as it can be to read, the book is a gift to those who want and need to know what life is like for those with bipolar disorder, and what it might mean to be involved in their lives as friends and caregivers.  


See also Hornbacher's earlier memoir about her eating disorder, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia.


Mariner Books

Place Published

New York



Page Count