My Bipolar Trip
(Atria Books)I shouldn't be reviewing this book.
I'm a psychiatrist,
living in Providence.
Her parents are health professionals,
Living in Providence.
I'm at Brown.
So are her parents.
What if the book sucks,
And I have to skewer this poor kid.
She's only 23.
Her parents will hate me.
She'll hate me.
My patients will hate me.
§ § §
That's how Lizzie Simon writes --- telegraphically, dramatically, with a flair. In this short book, she chronicles the terrors of her bipolar episodes, which exploded when she was 17, just after her admission to Columbia. She doesn't write that much about her treatment or her life before the onset of her illness. In retrospect, she realizes that as talented and successful as she was, there were hints of the problems that were to come throughout her childhood. She doesn't talk that much about her family, although it's clear that they play a significant role in her illness, genetically, through conflicts, and through support.
Primarily, the book is about others, about Lizzie's quest to find young people with bipolar disorder who have endured, survived, and triumphed over their affliction. Her sparse style yields portraits that are brilliantly sketched, much in the way that great artists and caricaturists can capture the essence of a person with a few well-chosen lines. She can weave a narrative back and forth in time with remarkable skill.
I don't diagnose bipolar disorder in my practice anymore. I don't need to --- the patients come to see me and tell me that they are bipolar. It's replacing ADHD as the new hot diagnosis, generating titles such as Understanding Your Bipolar Child. Lizzie Simon makes the term come alive with meaning, poignantly portraying the human suffering and devastation that this illness can leave in its wake.
Lizzie Simon is not everyone's idea of a poster child for mental health. She doesn't like support groups; she finds them boring and perpetuating dependency. I think that for the most part, she's quite right. She says the things that many of us think but are too timid or politically correct to say. Bravo, Lizzie! You're right --- the Emperor has no clothes! And she doesn't have much good to say about psychiatric hospitals, either. Right again! (No letters of protest and indignation from NAMI. Please!)
But she's a far better poster child than John Nash (A Beautiful Mind). Of course, she doesn't have Russell Crowe's soulful basset-hound eyes, but she does sparkle. On the book jacket, Peter Kramer, MD, compares Lizzie Simon to Elizabeth Wurzel, saying, "Detour does for bipolar disorder what Prozac Nation did for depression." Let me assure you that Lizzie Simon is no Lizzie Wurzel. She comes across as a genuine and likeable person, really wanting to help herself by helping others. She is not the self-absorbed, narcissistic hedonist, hooked on drugs and promiscuity, who wrote Prozac Nation. Lizzie Simon does meet one person who is rather like Elizabeth Wurzel and tries desperately to rescue him and to be rescued by him. She seems to be ready at the end of the book to give him up, and we pray that she maintains the resolve to do so.
Lizzie Simon is my poster child for bipolar disorder. Her message is simple and direct: bipolar illness can wreak havoc, but is treatable, if those who have it find the right doctor and medication and take their medication religiously. I will be lending my copy of Detour to all my young patients with bipolar disorder and their families. No, I'll be suggesting that they buy their own copies. An author as good as this deserves some royalties, and the gasoline costs for feeding that SUV of hers as she criss-crossed the country writing her book must have been very high.--- Michael A. Ingall