MH@H Book Reviews

Book Review: Braving Bipolar

Book cover: Braving Bipolar by Stephanie Schlosser

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.

You can find my other book reviews here.

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14 thoughts on “Book Review: Braving Bipolar”

  1. Very interesting! Great book review! Sounds like a great book for anyone who has bipolar or knows someone.

    Something caught my eye, that she wasn’t given her diagnosis during her first hospitalization. I might be able to shed some light on the other side of that issue. I’ve known two people who wound up in the ER and possibly the mental hospital, both for mental health reasons. Both of these people were in crisis and needed the medical care, and both were diagnosed with mental illnesses (bipolar for one, and I’m not sure about the other person who was hospitalized). And they were both put on meds. But since I know what happened to both of them–they were dealing with life-related crises, meaning something awful had happened to each of them. Yes, they were suicidal and/or hysterical, and yes, they were given diagnoses, but after they got back on their feet, they went off the meds, didn’t need them, and in all likelihood don’t actually have the illnesses they were diagnosed with. So one thing I’m wondering is if diagnoses are often withheld on the chance that the person was victimized somehow. (One of the two people I knew never spoke of what happened to the ER staff. She just acted unhinged and kept it to herself.) Interesting issue all around. What do you think?

    1. If a doctor isn’t confident that someone meets the criteria for a diagnosis, they shouldn’t be making it. If they’re unsure, there’s various ways of putting that, like saying the diagnosis is provisional, suspected, or a “rule out.” Patients are entitled to know what they’re diagnosed with, and if the professional making the diagnosis is withholding that information, there’s something paternalistic going on.

      1. Oh, that’s a good way to clarify things!! That makes sense!! I agree too that the diagnosis shouldn’t be made lightly. For all I know those two people have those diagnoses in their charts without having the illnesses. Geez!!

  2. This sounds like a heartfelt book with personal experience and bearing real world implications and issues. It’s awful they diagnosed her during her first hospitalisation but didn’t even think to discuss it with her. Meg’s point was an interesting one. I don’t think these things can be made just by an admitting doctor or specialist. The patient needs to be involved. And with something like bipolar, while there’s a lot of stigma with the diagnosis, it’s still an important one to have for moving forward, understanding why things have been the way they have for you, looking at treatment to help manage it etc. xx

  3. Regarding diagnosis, yeah I’m disturbed she wasn’t told and that it was a hasty diagnosis.

    I know someone who suffered CSA by a relative and she buried it, only for flashbacks to emerge years later when she saw the perpetrator. She took herself to the hospital and got diagnosed with bipolar because she was hysterical and suicidal…much like the 2 people Meg referred to.

    So I wonder too really. And of course bipolar means some serious medication like mood stabilisers. What about the long term effects of a medication one doesn’t need? Or of course, an incorrect diagnosis following one everywhere?

    The person I know fortunately could get on a kind of disability in her country, but disability benefits in many countries tend to put restrictions on how much money you can have.

    And then again, I circle back to my ever present frustration… a hasty diagnosis and then medication instead of the time and rapport building needed to uncover the symptoms and trauma, and give the correct diagnosis of complex ptsd/ptsd. And then appropriate help such as trauma therapy.

    I’ve side tracked… it’s a good review and the book sounds well written and interesting. I have to admit I know little about bipolar other than the basics.

    1. I think some instances of misdiagnosis are almost inevitable, given the complexity of mental health, but it really shouldn’t be happening because doctors are judgmental or can’t be bothered taking the time to dig deep enough.

  4. A great review that sparks interest in the book itself. I like this bit: “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.” Mental illness comes with a whole host of things neurotypical people don’t understand. It’s nice to see someone addressing it: I wish the general population would take note 😐

      1. It’s a lifestyle. Which sounds flippant but I don’t mean it that way. It means we’re different and in more than a tendency to our neuroses way.

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