Spiders, Vampires and Jail Keys by Brooke O’Neill is a compelling story of one woman’s life with bipolar disorder.
Like me, Brooke is a nurse. When she returned to work after her period of acute illness, she was able to have positive conversations self-disclosing to some of her patients who had bipolar disorder in addition to the condition they were on her surgical unit for. This is something I’m a huge believer in myself.
For years Brooke’s illness was unstable. The reader follows the author up and down through mania with psychosis, depression, and mixed episodes. The descriptions do an excellent job of capturing her state of mind when unwell.
Medications play a prominent role in Brooke’s story. Concerns about potential side effects impacted her medication adherence, and she was quite susceptible to adverse effects. She described really struggling with an antidepressant, as it was contributing to mania but she was worried about withdrawal effects. Her stance isn’t anti-medication in general; rather, she shares the kind of real challenges that people face when trying to get stabilized on the right medication.
One encounter that I thought was a cute example of happy-hypomania was a visit to her GP’s office; when she entered the office, she started straightening things up and rearranging the books on the shelves, and then turned to face her doctor and said “Hi doc, I’ve come to see you today because I’m too happy. Can you help me?”
The book shows how enticing mania can be despite the havoc it creates. Brooke writes:
I am annoyed when people try to ‘interfere’ with my mania. Why would they try to take it away when I am ‘perfectly’ happy? This is what you call ‘pure’ happiness.
Sadly, nurses are not immune from ignorance and stigma, and this was something Brooke had to face. At one point, she overheard colleagues making negative remarks about a medication she happened to be taking at the time. One nurse who was involved in her care couldn’t understand why Brooke was depressed, saying “You have everything: beautiful home, gorgeous daughter, great husband and you are attractive.” Yeah right, because only ugly single people living in shacks get mental illness…
Brooke writes about the attitude she got from her manager at work about all of the sick time that she needed to take, and at one point she wasn’t invited to the work Christmas do because of her sick leave. She shares how difficult it was when she ended up giving her notice at work. I was rather tempted to leap through the book and whack her manager over the head with a rubber chicken,
One thing that Brooke found unhelpful was that some of the nurses “seem to like mentioning that I myself am a nurse and should have a fair idea about the medication I take.” Her concern was that she was in no condition to think clearly. I’ve actually had the opposite experience. Granted, I have depression rather than bipolar and I’ve always worked in psych whereas she didn’t, but in my own experience, not many people involved in my treatment were willing to take my knowledge seriously. I guess you just can’t win either way,
The book comes to a close with Brooke being in a more positive place, which is quite a contrast to how sick she was at times. I thought this book was excellent. It really shines in capturing what the highs and lows of bipolar, including psychosis, are like to live through. I would highly recommend it.
Spiders, Vampires and Jail Keys is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.