Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Book #1: Marbles by Ellen Forney
I said in that post that I would count graphic novels as proper books, and lo and behold, I'm starting the year with one. Marbles by Ellen Forney is an extraordinary look at bipolar disorder (also called manic depression), told by someone who has it. This is a memoir that moves from Forney's diagnosis in the mid-90s, and takes you through the following 15 years of her life, the ups and downs, the confusion and regret, and the constant battle with medications.
At first she delights in her manic episodes, thinking it helps her reach new creative peaks. Like a constant bolt of adrenalin, her manic behaviour pushes her to do more and more, and be wilder and wilder with her goals. Throughout it all she has a wonderful psychiatrist working with her, urging her to take medication. But she has one deep fear: as an artist, wouldn't taking medication stifle her creativity? I mean, if Michelangelo and Van Gogh and hundreds of artists throughout history are now widely assumed to have been bipolar — and were unmedicated — shouldn't she join their ranks? Shouldn't she embrace the manic side of her life and learn to live with it, unmedicated?
Her psychiatrist gently explains to her that yes, those people were unmedicated, and most of them committed suicide, too.
Unfortunately, when you're up, there's only one direction to go next, and when she hits bottom, she hits rock bottom. Over several pages you can feel the darkness descend over her life. Frame after frame of the book shows her as nothing but a ball, curled up under a blanket on the couch, unable to move or do anything. Her paranoia begins building, and eventually she gives in and tries the meds. We watch her swing from one extreme to the other as her body adjusts, rejects, adjusts, and rejects one med after another, until finally, after a decade, she finds the perfect combo. AND finds a place where she can be as creative as she wants to be, and doesn't feel like her mind is a fog.
This book is amazing. If you are lucky enough not to suffer from bipolar disorder, you probably know someone who does, and this is an excellent book not just for readers in general, who will delight in her story and gorgeous illustrations, but for anyone who is worried about a loved one, or, most importantly, those suffering from the disease. There is hope, and Forney's is the only book I've ever read on bipolar disorder that unequivocally lays that out for readers. Highly recommended.
OK, your turn. In the comments below, tell me about the first book you read this year!