I’ve dealt with depression and a bipolar condition all of my life. When I was younger, I didn’t know what it was. At that point, it just manifested itself as a heavy sadness that would hit about every six months or so and last for about a week. Unfortunately, as I grew older and got knocked about by life every so often — especially when I got hammered through no fault of my own and didn’t see the reason for it — that cycle accelerated and started lasting longer.
During those intervening years, I also pushed my writing hobby (probably cathartic in the beginning) into a full-time career. This meant I was (and still do) living primarily out of my own head. That’s not always a pleasant place to be. Too many nightmares exist there. I’ve learned throughout my life where all the weak points are. When I’m in a downward spiral, I attack myself unmercifully. When I’m in an upward spiral, I can’t sit still.
I started figuring out my own coping mechanism, based on materials and books I’d read, but that was only after I figured out that what I was going through was different than what other people dealt with. My first clues as to what I had to face were given to me by friends that suffered from the same anxieties and pressures. These conditions aren’t easy to deal with for the person who has them – or for the people around them.
When I first read about Terri Cheney’s book, Manic: A Memoir, I immediately wanted to review it. Here was a successful person who admittedly dealt with the same issues I had. I didn’t know how honest she was going to be about those problems.
After reading Cheney’s book in a single sitting (because I was mesmerized at watching a train wreck in motion and thinking how similar our strategies for self-destruction were), I have to admit I couldn’t find a single pulled punch. Cheney lays her life out there for inspection and offers no apologies for it. I have to admit that in a lot of ways, she had it worse than I did. I had kids at an early age and couldn’t allow myself to go full-tilt down some of the dark passageways she explored. My kids were my anchor, though I know this isn’t always the case for everyone.
Cheney’s book describes her failed relationships, her attempts at chemical and electroshock therapy, her moments of self-discovery, and the seeming impossibility of merely coping in ways I immediately understood. I don’t know if laymen will truly appreciate everything she’s done because you have to walk a mile (or several years) in our shoes to know how huge that mountain is to navigate.
People who have never dealt with bipolar tendencies or depression (or never had to share their lives with someone who has) probably won’t understand everything Cheney writes about. Even without this insight, though, she tells a compelling story. As every bipolar person is subject to doing, she jumps around in her narrative. I’m also ADHD and I’m willing to bet Cheney is to a degree as well. That’s part of the creative mind – and part of what allows us to function at a high level on our own.
I loved this book. It’s a savage song of survival, and a rebuttal of conventional life. The average life would be a wonderful thing, but it’s not attainable by everyone. Cheney’s book may not celebrate that, but she acknowledges it.
Whether you read for understanding or just a voyeuristic interest in peeking into someone else’s life, Manic is heart wrenching and a definite gut-check for those who don’t realize how good they have it. I don’t know if Cheney plans to write any more books, but I’ll definitely be in line to pick them up if she does.