In Braving Bipolar: A Family Journey and Guide, Stephanie Schlosser shares her experiences with bipolar disorder in order to support others who have the disorder, provide education and insights for those who don’t, and challenge stigma.
The book is broken into two parts. Part I gives a chronological view of how the author’s illness developed and evolved over time, while part II addresses how different aspects of life can be affected for people with a chronic mental illness. The author rates her knowledge of mental health and ability to acknowledge her mental health needs at milestones along the way, allowing the reader a glimpse of how her relationship with her illness has changed.
Schlosser’s descriptions are remarkably vivid. Describing the initial onset of manic symptoms, she writes “My thoughts had opened up to new words, colors, light, and sounds… It is hard to explain in words; it’s like someone decided to turn on a radiance in my cellular structure that had been asleep my entire life.” The use of metaphors also adds richness to her writing. I particularly liked this: “With no self-awareness at this time, I couldn’t stop my daily life bus at the station to get well or figure out how to slow it down.”
The author writes about her hospitalizations, and as is far too common for people dealing with mental illness, she wasn’t kept in the loop, including not being told her diagnosis during her first hospitalization. It can be easy to assume that we’re alone in these experiences, and also for others to minimize the likelihood of this kind of thing happening, so I think it’s crucial for people to speak up and share their truth. Schlosser also addresses limitations in Canada’s health care system, including the lack of coverage for psychologists’ services.
Schlosser also offers an example of the frustration that people with mental illness face when it comes to getting on disability and later returning to work. My doctor wasn’t quite as obstructionist as hers was, but it’s something that I think will ring true for a lot of people.
The book addresses a number of other issues that commonly come up for people living with chronic mental illness, such as shifts in identity and priorities, and worry about passing mental illness along to a child. Attention is also given to things that can support wellness, including diet, exercise, and a self-help acronym ACTIVATE that was inspired by Mental Health First Aid. Overall, the book provides a very balanced perspective on how to manage bipolar disorder, incorporating the medical, therapy, and self-management aspects.
Stigma is a recurring theme throughout the book. The author writes that while stigma makes people with mental illness somehow less than, that didn’t fit with her experiences. “I fell to pieces, yes. But those pieces held my essence, and I achieved great things after this melt-down because my heart is strong.” I really like the way the author has chosen to define bipolar, as a “lifelong affliction of great need to feel deeply” that’s a matter of what’s present rather than what’s missing.
The author admits that when she releases this book, “I will be vulnerable to the stereotypes of bipolar. I will feel threatened personally that I may be overcome with people wanting to take advantage of my condition or exploit my situation.” To support others in sharing their stories, she’s starting a Scribe Your Story project online.
Finally, the book concludes with appendices on how friends and family can help as well as self-reflection questions.
Overall, I think this book did a great job of conveying the kind of journey that dealing with bipolar can be. The author is open and honest, and acknowledges that she knows her experience, but she doesn’t have all the answers. She’s clearly passionate about sharing her story and challenging stigma, which makes this book a great read.
Braving Bipolar is available on Amazon.
This review also serves as the book’s introduction.
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