A Deskraven Book Review
“I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to Sante Fe to kill myself. I figured that was more information than people needed, plus it might interfere with my travel plans if anyone found out the truth. People always mean well, but they don’t understand that when you’re seriously depressed, suicidal ideation can be the only thing that keeps you alive. Just knowing there’s an out – even if it’s bloody, even if it’s permanent – makes the pain almost bearable for one more day…”
Page 5, Paragraph 1
Terri Cheney is deeply true and unapologetic. Her memoir Manic (2008) affords the reader a vicarious experience. In the unlikely statistical event that mental illness has failed to invade the corridors of your life- this work will allow you to share the room with madness. While I consider myself well read on the topic of manic-depression, known today as Bipolar Disorder, I have never seen it presented this way. Her words sit up straight and lean boldly in from the very first page, and is not intended for the faint of heart. Having read this work upwards of four times – with such heart and complete lack of grace – I found her literary voice disquieting, daunting even. Terri is a shining example of life gone wrong. She reminds us that even the working upper-class is not somehow exempt from a cranial invasion.
BACK OF THE BOOK
An attractive, highly successful Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer, Terri Cheney had been battling debilitating bipolar disorder for the better part of her life-and concealing a pharmacy’s worth of prescription drugs meant to stabilize her moods and make her “normal”. In explosive bursts of prose that mirror the devastating mania and extreme despair of her illness, Cheney describes her roller-coaster existence with shocking honesty, giving brilliant voice to the previously unarticulated madness she endured. Brave, electrifying, poignant, and disturbing, Manic does not simply explain bipolar disorder-it takes us into its grasp and does not let go.
You can learn more about this fiery red head as she reflects on her personal journey and the catharsis the genesis of her book afforded her in this 2007 interview.
A DISCUSSION WITH TERRI CHENEY
Following the success of Manic, readers and reviewers around the country had many questions for Terri Cheney. We’ve collected a random sampling of some of those questions with answers from Terri, but if you need additional information, you can contact Terri through her Web site, www.terricheney.com.
1.) Manic was a bestseller in hardcover, reaching tens of thousands of readers. How do you feel about so many people being privy to the intimate details of your private life that you kept hidden for so long? Has this changed your life in any way?
A: My secrets were weighing so heavily on me by the time I wrote Manic that it felt tremendously liberating to get them out in the open. But I have to admit it’s unsettling whenever I meet someone whose first line is, “I’ve read your book.” That person already knows infinitely more about me that I’ll probably ever know about him. He knows, for example, that I was raped, that I spent a night in jail, and, of course, that I’m bipolar. Small talk seems pointless after that.
One of the benefits I’ve discovered from disclosure is that strangers now tell me their secrets. Because I’ve been forthcoming about my own struggle with mental illness, they trust me to list to their stories – and wild ups and downs, the desperate consequences, that hassles with the health-care system, the constant fear of stigma. Discovering that my secrets weren’t so extraordinary after all is a gift I never expected.
2.) Manic is told in such an untraditional manner – it’s not a linear narrative at all – so many characters’ lives aren’t wrapped up nicely and neatly. Can you tell me a little more about some of the players in your life and what they’re doing now? What about your mother? Your former boyfriends?
A: My mother is alive and well. It was hard for her to read some of the darker passages in Manic, which she didn’t know about, but she’s inordinately proud of me – she carries around some of my press clipping, at all times. Perhaps because she’s a registered nurse, she is able to understand that bipolar disorder is a physical disease, and she accepts it.
I still remain friends with most of the boyfriends I wrote about in Manic, except Alan, the man who said he’d marry me in a minute if it weren’t for my manic depression. We’ve lost touch, which may be for the best. But Jeff and I are very close, and he’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders. And to my great surprise, Rick – the man I though I’d never, ever see again after punching him in the jaw during a mixed state episode – showed up to one of my readings. We’ve been able to discuss the past and make peace with it, which I never thought would happen.
3.) With a topic as personal as mental health, you’ve probably received letters from readers who relate to you struggles. What responses have you received from readers? How has the public’s reception of the book affected you? Have there been any reactions that you weren’t expecting?
A: Before Manic came out, I worried about how the public’s response would affect me and whether it would exacerbate my illness. I am highly sensitive to criticism, as I think many people with bipolar disorder are, but overall, the response to my book has been very positive and heartfelt. Of course, now and then I’ve received a negative response or review, a few of which have been surprisingly severe (one man wrote that he wished I would have succeeded at my suicide attempts), but with my therapist’s help, I’ve usually been able to place the negativity in perspective. Any subject as loaded as mental illness is bound to evoke strong responses.
4.) I’d like to talk a little about what you’re doing now and what the future holds. How do you manage your manic depression now? Did the writing of this book help your treatment in any way?
A: I haven’t had a manic episode in well over six years – and no, I don’t miss it, as many people ask. Mania got me in too much trouble. I do still get depressed, but the depressions are much less frequent and intense, and to my amazement, I don’t get suicidal. The basics of my recovery regime are: medication (which is often tweaked), therapy, support groups, mental health advocacy, and writing. I have excellent relationships with my therapist and psychopharmacologist, two amazing men. My weekly groups include the dual diagnosis group that I facilitate at UCLA for people with mental illness and substance abuse issues and my two writing groups, which provide invaluable emotional support.
Writing for me has always been cathartic and therapeutic. People often ask, “Wasn’t it traumatic to describe the events in Manic?” No. To the contrary, it was empowering to revisit some of the most dismal times of my life and case them in prose. They no longer owned me after that.
5.) What advice would you give to someone who’s either struggling with manic depression or has a friend or loved one who is?
A: For people with manic depression, the fear of stigma can be crippling – preventing them from getting help and having the necessary compassion for themselves. For these people, I’d like to emphasize that bipolar disorder is first and foremost a physical disease. You woulnd’t hesitate to treat a broken leg; why neglect a broken mind?
Another critical lesson I wish I’d learned sooner is that sobriety is essential to sanity. Many manic-depressives in the throes of the disease self-medicate, and I can understand why, but the prescribed medications simply don’t work if you do. There are numerous support groups available through the resources section of my Web site, www.terricheney.com, to help you attain the sobriety that can change the course of your disease.
As for family and friends, I think you have to take care of yourself first so you have something left to give others. I highly recommend NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), a family-based organization that understand the special difficulties of dealing with bipolar loved ones.
6.) What are you working on now?
A: One of the things that surprised me most about the e-mails I received was how many of them were from parents of bipolar children. Their passion and persistence, their unrelenting dedication to finding help and educating themselves, simply amazed me. There are clearly more bipolar children out there than I ever realized, and there is a critical need for greater awareness.
So I’ve decided to write a childhood memoir about growing up bipolar. I don’t think I had a typical childhood (who did?), and I believe one of the reasons for that was the illness. Few “normal” children are suicidal at seven, for example. I hope that writing this book will help me makes peace with my chaotic childhood, the same way Manic helped me lay my more recent ghosts to rest.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF MANIA AND DEPRESSION
Millions of people around the country either suffer from manic depression or have a friend or loved one who does. While Manic eloquently describes the roller-coaster ride of one woman’s life, the symptoms may not be so clear for others. In Terryi Cheney’s own words, here are some of the symptoms, and their aftereffects, that one might suffer.
Paralysis: Movement is impossible, so I typically stay in bed for days, getting up only to crawl to the bathroom.
Excessive Sleep: I sleep for three to four days straight.
Excessive Eating: When I’m not sleeping, I’m eating. I often gain up to ten pounds during a depressive episode.
Desire for Isolation: I spent a good part of my career as a lawyer hiding out under my desk.
Extreme Negativity: When I’m depressed, I think mania’s a myth. I can never remember feeling any other way. I’m convinced that I always have been, and always will be, doomed to depression.
Suicidal Tendencies: Before I was properly medicated, I tried to kill myself numerous times, resulting in several hospitalizations. At the time, given the severity of my depressions, suicide seemed like the only sane option.
Increased Energy: During manic episodes, I can zip through all the work I couldn’t touch while I was depressed.
Sexual Impulsivity: I’ve been known to pick up the waiter right in front of my dinner date.
Heightened Sensuality: My nerve endings snap alive when I’m manic. I can taste colors; I can smell sounds.
Grandiose Thinking: One night when I was driving home I decided to challenge the cypress tree in front of my house to a battle of wills. I was sure I was the stronger force and could make it move out of my way. I wasn’t, and my car was totaled.
Decreased Need for Sleep: I often go up to four days without the ability to, or the desire for, sleep.
Decreased Need for Food: When I’m manic, food is just a distraction that keeps me from talking or doing other “really important things.”
Excessive Spending: I went through my entire savings during one glorious spree at the Post Ranch Inn.
Irritability: Nothing – nothing! – moves fast enough for me when I’m manic.
Recklessness: I danced naked in a freezing riptide for hours one night without any concern that I was putting my life in peril.
Charisma: The upside of mania is that people seem inexplicably drawn to you.
The Bipolar Child (www.BipolarChild.com) -includes a newsletter and a model IEP (Individual Education Plan) for students struggling with bipolar disorder
Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (www.bpkids.org) -a parent-led organization for families with bipolar children
International Bipolar Foundation (www.internationalbipolarfoundation.org) -publishes an excellent newsletter with cutting-edge research and information
Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation (www.jbrf.org) -a charitable organization focusing on research; includes questionnaire, information about clinical studies and professional Listservs
National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org) -a particularly good resource for families and friends of loved ones with all types of mental illnesses; conducts local support groups and training sessions
National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov) -the leading federal agency for research on mental illness and mood disorders
RAVE REVIEWS FOR MANIC
“Manic is filled with gorgeous writing, and we have never heard mania or depression described in such a visceral way. Terri Cheney’s ability to find humor in what should be terrifying situations makes this difficult illness never off-putting, and in fact, fascinating. Echoes of William Styron abound.”
-Demitri F. Papolos, M.D., and Janice Papolos, authors of The Bipolar Child
“Cheney brilliantly brings us along one her haunting and riveting journey of bipolar disorder. I was scared to go back, but it’s a place that people need to see to better understand this insidious and invisible illness that is still so stigmatized. Manic is extremely powerful, and at the same time, Cheney really manages to make you laugh!”
-Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania
“In florid mania the roiling surf both seduces and destroys, crushing will and reason. All too often for those who suffer, flung repeatedly against the rocks of prejudice and misunderstanding, the story ends in tragedy. Terri Cheney’s gritty, vibrant memoir brings this chaotic frenzy to life, tumbling the reader through disaster and despair, to end in hope. Manic is an extraordinary achievement that captures the real experience.”
-Peter C. Whybrow, M.D., Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience, Psychiatry, and Biobehvior at UCLA and author of A Mood Apart
When imagining an attempt to describe this book in one word, “visceral” is what comes to mind. Cheney’s Manic is painfully authentic and worthy of multiple reads leaving something new to be had each time. As someone living with manic depression, I can attest to her truth and find comfort in our shared pain. Somehow, the sentiment that we are so very far from isolated in our suffering provides compassion in a maddening hour. The matter, it seems, is simply finding a way to convey the language in order to reach others. Ultimately, with great vulnerability and strength of character, Cheney has achieved this. Click below to take a look. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
VISIT OTHER DESKRAVEN BOOK REVIEWS
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at email@example.com!**
For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!
In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!