Bipolar Me by Janet Coburn explores her journey with bipolar II disorder. The book is made up of blog posts, which are divided into chapters based on theme. The chapters cover topics like the symptoms of bipolar disorder, the “med-go-round”, times of struggling, dealing with social situations, and broader societal issues. Each post is pretty self-contained, so this grouping by topic feels very natural.
Janet explains that it took her a long time to be diagnosed with bipolar II because her hypomania tended to show up as anxiety. It also took a long time for her to find the right medication. She refers to spoon theory a number of times throughout the book to describe the effects of chronic mental illness, and she describes the extra energy expenditure associated with hypomania as borrowing extra spoons, which will need to be paid back later.
She writes about how treating her bipolar II disorder improved her concentration and as a result boosted her creativity and expanded the scope of her writing, which is interesting since the common perception is that mania increases creativity. Still, she notes that she’s able to be more productive with her writing during hypomanic episodes.
The book includes tips for the newly diagnosed, and offers some work hacks to compensate for mental illness. She lists the seven wonders of the bipolar world, starting with “I wonder if I can get out of bed today.” She also gives a rundown of the various “natural” strategies that are supposed to help with depression but didn’t help her.
Janet brings a self-deprecating sense of humour to her writing. She quips that “If catastrophizing were a power source, I could light up Chicago.”
Throughout the tone is wonderfully direct. She describes herself as a crazy cat lady. She calls BS on the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Taboo subjects like self-harm are openly addressed. As for being open about her illness, she says “I’m not doing this because I’m brave. I’m doing it because I’m stubborn.”
The author also admits to self-doubt, writing: “Like many people with bipolar disorder I often have the sense that all along I was faking it, that during the periods when I seemed to be functioning best, I was pretending.”
The book addresses the financial toll that bipolar takes, and the author’s fight to get disability as well as insurance coverage. She writes about how her illness impacted her ability to work outside of the home, something that a lot of readers will likely identify with.
Janet shares that she was bullied as a child. She acknowledged that the bullying worsened the illness that she was already biologically predisposed to, wryly commenting: “It’s a wonder I’m not a spree killer today.”
Stigma is addressed throughout the book. There is a chapter “Beware the Mental Health Meme”, in which she addresses inaccurate and supposedly inspirational memes circulating around the internet (e.g. “nature is the best therapist”) and includes comments on the matter by several other bloggers. She also addresses the legal system’s treatment of mental illness, media reporting of scientific studies, and media suggestions in the media attributing tragic events to mental illness.
This book offers very good insight into living with bipolar disorder, and it’s written in a conversational style, as though the author is speaking directly to the reader. I continue to be impressed by the calibre of books being written by mental health bloggers.
You can find Janet on her blog, Bipolar Me.
You can find my other book reviews here.