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Book Review: Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney

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Terri Cheney seemed to have it all. She was a lawyer at a big law firm, lived in Beverly Hills and drove a Porsche. However, at times Cheney was crouched under her desk at her law firm unable to move. Other times she was deliriously happy, flying kites off the edge of a cliff in a massive thunderstorm.

Like 10 million fellow Americans, Cheney suffers from bipolar disorder, characterized by deep depression and manic highs. Like many people who suffer from bipolar disorder, she kept her illness hidden from her co-workers and many friends. Manic: A Memoir is the story of Cheney's horrifying yet hopeful fight against the disease that nearly took her life.

Manic: A Memoir is a shockingly raw story. Cheney writes openly and honestly about her life. She is not afraid to let the reader into her world of numerous psychotropic medications and their side-effects, relationships ruined and savings accounts dwindled. Cheney tells her story episodically rather than chronologically, which adds to the power of the events.

The incidents in Manic are not defined by time, but rather what mood Cheney was in. Manic? Hypo-manic? Depressed? Stable? In writing this way, the author shows the different mood swings a person with bipolar illness can go through and the dramatic effect this can have on his or her personal and professional life.

Cheney graduated from Vassar and then received her law degree from U.C.L.A. Working at one of the top entertainment law firms she represented Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, among others. Teri's dying father saw her as a drug addict because of all the medications she took in an attempt to stabilize her condition. Because of his beliefs he outrageously wrote her out of his will, a graphic example of how bipolar disorder can tear apart a relationship.

In an excerpt from her book Terri writes,

Who knows what went wrong during that last [electroshock therapy] session? I personally think it was some strange gift from the gods. I emerged from that chaos a different person, with a different identity. No longer depressed but bipolar. The label mattered. It made sense of my erratic life. I had never understood how, for several months at a time I could function with such a high level of competence, only to be followed by equally long periods of hiding under my desk, under the covers, in the dark.

It took Cheney years to understand and accept that she had bipolar disorder. The electroshock therapy left her with some short term memory loss, but by the end of the book, on new medication she is as stable as she has been for twenty years.

Cheney's story is not that of a miraculous recovery, but rather a heartbreaking story of one woman's ongoing fight to live with bipolar illness. If you're interested in learning about the wild highs and devastating lows of manic depression, Cheney's frank memoir provides a unique insight.

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About Rebecca Wright

  • Cheney’s book is significant because of the details in relation to using ECT for manic depressive illness. “Shock treatment” is seen as such a last resort and is rarely mentioned as an option but is very different but most popular portrayals, and far more effective and less damaging than many people realize. It would be great to have more real life stories about it and see it at least discussed instead of so many bipolar people being given inappropriate and ineffective drugs.

  • I’m sure Ms. Cheney’s book is both informative and moving but my personal experience of being close friends with a bipolar sufferer has been harrowing.

    There’s always that time in any conversation when you’re wondering:

    “Are they being enthusiastic or have they just turned manic?

    It’s awful!


  • Suzanne

    I am reading the Cheney book. I am married to a BP man. What interests me in both the book and what I see of BP in some people is their extreme selfishness. This trait may be a part of the disorder. Don’t know. But, since they all seem to be successful, and all seem to have an abundance of enablers paid to be around them, how is it possible to feel “sorry” for them? I know that not all BP sufferers are blessed with high intelligence and financial resources. But, for those who are, they seem to enjoy not only those advantages, but also to revel in their illness. Especially the manic belief that it is a gift. That others are not so gifted as they, because they have it. Einstein supposedly had it. Need I say more? In conclusion, it is difficult to have a lot of sympathy for those who have the illness, and who have lots of advantages along with it, AND who revel in it. Seems that they are in love with themselves, and infatuated with the disease which makes them “special.” Their pain, if it exists, is at least ameliorated by their extreme access to financial resources. What more could they want? As Cheney said in part of her book, how could she be so selfish as to consider her multimillion dollar priviledged lifestyle unbearable, after she witnessed the lives of third worlders? Uh, yeah, I agree.

  • Megan

    Suffering from Bipolar II disorder has become a big part of my life. What some might refer to as “selfishness”, those living with BP disorder think of as a big part of their lives. Bipolar people don’t want the illness-they spent a good part of their time trying to make it go away. Most don’t want people to know, for fear that they might feel bad for them. A good part of people that have BP disorder just want to be okay, no matter how wealthy/intelligent they are. Every Bipolar individual has something in common:they’re all suffering from the same disorder, and they just want it to go away.

  • Sharon

    As a treatment provider, as in cognitive and expressive therapies, as well as coping skills- not medication (I am not an MD),I have seen and worked with many bipolar individuals.They do not need or want pity.They would like to be understood, but in the society we are in part of my job is to help these people accept that their illness is very misunderstood and misperceived by many people.

    Not all bipolar diagnosed people have the resources of the few who have been represented in media, either by themselves or others. Many have lost their incomes, their homes, their families, and their lives to this disorder. Many of them are in prison, some undiagnosed.

    It is a manic idea to think of the disorder as a gift. It is also manic to think of it as a curse.The last 2 sentences can serve as an example of mania and depression. Most people diagnosed with the disorder experience life as one or the other, with very little in between.Two extremes. Hence, the name: bipolar.

    Most of them (who seek treatment, i.e. those I work with)would gladly throw away this “gift” though they would not give it away. To anyone. Even those who misunderstand them and characterize them as selfish, crazy, lazy, spoiled, off their rockers, etc.

    If only it were that easy.

  • orchid

    Terri Cheney’s book is a poorly researched catalogue of events that aren’t believable. Maybe some of it is believable, but her description of ECT is way off. I wonder if she ever even underwent ECT? Considering that psychiatric records are confidential, she could lie and get away with it. Padded rooms? Wooden sticks to bite down on? It all sounds like second-hand knowledge she read from outdated books. I’ve had ECT, and it’s nothing like she described. What she’s describing isn’t even legal anymore. This is not the fifties.

    Also, the book is poorly executed. It feels haphazard and incomplete.

    Plus, she self-absorbed, obnoxious, and conceited.

    I just couldn’t stand it. I’d much rather stick with Kay Redfield Jamison’s, “An Unquiet Mind.” Now, there is a stellar memoir about bipolar disorder. Even “Madness: A Bipolar Life,” which is mediocre at best, is miles better than this book.

    I would not recommend it to anyone. It was a complete waste of time. She adds nothing to the genre.

  • Lori Greenstone

    Terri Cheney’s memoir mirror’s the disease. That’s what she set out to do. If it is haphazard and incomplete, it is b/c being manic depressive renders a person unable to locate their ‘self’. I appreciate the journey she allows us to take with her, even if some of it may be far-fetched and exaggerated, tho’ I don’t condone making things up. I don’t know about ECT, but i know about living with a M/D mother and managing my own mania (w/o drugs or excuses). I see Manic as a wonderfully written journal of discovery, even tho’ it is haphazard and incomplete. So am I. I highly reccomend it.

  • Mary Ann

    I read this book with interest as my brother has suffered from this dipilitating and misunderstood disease for over 25 years. I kept waiting to read some additional insight from Ms. Cheney – at the very least an acknowledgement of the collateral damage this disease reaks upon the friends and family of those who try to help their loved ones suffering from BP disorder. I can only speak from personal experience, but one common thread that I found is that narissistic and manipulative behavior seems to be common in those with BPD.

    I totally empathize with BP suffers, but even the first chapter when Ms. Cheney is attacked by the toothless man who later saves her from her suicide attempt – I’m sorry, but my gut reaction was to think that she put that in the beginning of her book to only garner sympathy from the reader who eventually keep reading through the rest of her book. I found most of this unbelievable.