by Lorie Lewis Ham
& Karen Lewis
This week KRL has the honor of interviewing New York Times best selling author Terri Cheney and reviewing both of her books that tell her story of living with bipolar disorder–Manic & The Dark Side of Innocence. At the end of the interview are details on how to enter for a chance to win a copy of The Dark Side of Innocence.
The Dark Side of Innocence by Terri Cheney
Review by Lorie Lewis Ham
When I picked up The Dark Side of Innocence by Terri Cheney I had no idea of the journey it would take me on. This honest, often heart wrenching portrayal of childhood bipolar disorder was shocking, real, painful and yet incredible all at once. Anyone who has ever had their life touched by bipolar disorder truly needs to read this book.
As early as seven years old Terri was planning her own suicide, in what seemed to her a very logical and reasonable way, and she truly believed there was no other choice. This was just the beginning of her battles with that which she refers to as The Beast. A brilliant, yet troubled child, she often missed days of school with depression, yet she managed to get through school with wonderful grades that got her into Vasaar and led her to a career as a lawyer where she represented people like Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.
Her desire to please her father was definitely a driving force in her life, and her battles with her mother were often frightening. At an early age she learned how to self medicate with alcohol and had bouts of obsessive hypersexuality and episodes of drunkenness that nearly cost her, her life. In high school she was not only great academically but was also a cheerleader and part of the popular crowd. However her moods often cost her friendships and relationships with boys.
Terri struggled for years without ever knowing what was wrong with her. In her book preceding this one, Manic, she shares her adult struggle with this disorder and after its success was asked to go back and retell her childhood.
See below a review of Manic. Having read both of these books I have to say they were eye opening and I have such a greater understanding of this disorder and the havoc it can wreak on one’s life and those around them. I greatly admire Terri for sharing her story. I recommend this book and Manic to EVERYONE as a must read. Though we’ve seen portrayals in movies and television and heard stories of celebrities who suffer from bipolar disorder, until you walk in the shoes of someone who has lived it you just can’t have any idea. I firmly believe there needs to be a greater awareness and understanding of this disorder in all its forms. And if you have any suspicion that you may be bipolar, this book may not only give you insight but also hope. And I beg you if you even suspect that you may be bipolar please get help—you don’t need to struggle through this alone—there is help and hope.
And for those of us whose lives have touched those with bipolar disorder, please, please read these books. Perhaps if I had better understood, if I had been better informed, I could have prevented the loss of one of my dearest friends. Perhaps I could have helped him. But I honestly had no idea of what my friend was going through. They need us to understand, but most can’t share it the way that Terri has. Terri has done us the honor of granting us an interview and first and foremost I just want to thank her for these books! They a have truly changed my life.
And if you’re sitting there thinking, oh this has nothing to do with me, how can you be so sure? This disease touches millions and so many go undiagnosed or refuse treatment. Be aware, someday you just may find yourself in a position where this knowledge will make a difference in someone’s life. Perhaps even your own.
Manic by Terri Cheney
Review by Karen Lewis
Manic: A Memoir, by Terri Cheney, is very much a captivating book. Terri has specialized in the field of intellectual property and entertainment law but has more recently dedicated her talents and abilities to the cause of mental illness. The book was quick to become a New York Times bestseller, and has been translated into eight foreign languages. HBO bought the rights to make it into a movie.
Manic is a true story about a woman called Terri who was a very successful lawyer. On the outside she looked as if she had it all together but deep down inside her very being Terri knew this was not the case. Her life was falling apart. Terri’s story takes the readers upon a shared insightful journey into the realms of her own mind and mental illness. This gripping story brings the reality of what it is like to suffer from a mental illness. The book describes in great detail the different aspects of the depressive bipolar disease like hypomania, mania and mixed states which Terri went through. I see this book being of interest to people who have a desire to find out more about the illness or possibly know someone close who may be searching for a deeper level of understanding as to why a person with bipolar disorder may go through some tough life experiences due to their illness. Terri goes on to explain the highs and the lows of her disease. She describes how the hypomania phase can affect other people who are around her and not just herself. She notices in detail how people are drawn to her passion and enthusiasm of life in this phase. Then she goes on to explain the mixed-states phase where suicidal thoughts and attempts prevail.
Terri really is a remarkable woman to share her personal experiences with her readers. Not everyone can open up to people about their deep and private thoughts or share a traumatic experience like rape. I admire her courage to admit she has a mental illness, and by doing this she is able to move on in the next step of the journey of accepting and receiving the help she needs. At one point in the story she finds herself at a certain place in her journey where she prays to God for help and certain things in her life start to turn around for the better. Many people fear telling people because of the stigma attached to being bipolar but surprisingly it is very common.
What I really like is the fact that although mental illness may come across as a serious subject, Terri’s sense of humor remains throughout the book making it easy to read and quirky. I enjoyed being a part of the shared journey of the author and I would certainly recommend you read this book if you have an interest in the subject.
Interview with Terri Cheney
Lorie: What inspired you to write Manic and then The Dark Side of Innocence?
Terri: When I began to write Manic, I was hospitalized for a severe bipolar depression. I tried researching my illness, but I found very few personal accounts — just a lot of clinical treatises that didn’t help me understand what I was feeling. So I decided to write a book from a very personal, interior view: exploring my feelings, sensations, terror and hope. When Manic became a success, I received many emails from parents of bipolar children, wondering why their children were acting this way, if I knew of a cure, what my own childhood was like. I wrote The Dark Side of Innocence to try to answer these questions — and again, to try to describe bipolar disorder from the inside out, to encourage people to identify with the illness and hopefully lessen its stigma.
Lorie: Was it hard to go back and write about your life and was it helpful in any way?
Terri: In spite of what many people seem to think, it was not traumatic for me to go back and write about the painful episodes of my past. In fact, for the most part it was liberating and empowering — I owned the material, it didn’t own me anymore.
Lorie: What has been the most surprising thing to you about how people have responded to your works?
Terri: I was very afraid of publishing my story, because for the most part I had kept it hidden from other people’s view. What astonished me was the amount of compassion and understanding and gratitude that has come my way, through emails and readings and speeches. If I had only known that such empathy existed in the world, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to hide for such a very long time.
Lorie: How have the books changed your life?
Terri: I don’t live in a tiny little closet anymore. I’m not trapped by my fears. Now, when I tell people I’m bipolar, they almost always respond with some anecdote about someone else they know who’s bipolar — or else they tell me they’re bipolar themselves! The world has opened up for me in a way I never expected, now that I’m not living a life of shame and secrecy.
Lorie: How is your mental health now?
Terri: I’m doing very well now. I work closely with a wonderful psycho pharmacologist, and I think we have the medications pretty well adjusted (although I wish there weren’t so many of them). I don’t really get full-out manic episodes anymore, although I do sometimes have breakthrough depressions. But they don’t last as long and aren’t as suicidal.
Lorie: What do you think helps you the most as far as being able to live a stable and healthy life?
Terri: I have a good recovery regime in place. Structure is very important to me, as it is to most mentally ill people, so I try to keep a regular routine. This includes seeing a therapist once a week, attending two writing groups every week, attending a mental health support group every week, and seeing my psycho pharmacologist as necessary. I’ve also been sober for almost 12 years, which is essential to my mental health. Writing is my secret weapon — I don’t know how I’d stay sane without it.
Lorie: What type of writing schedule do you have?
Terri: I try to write every day, although I don’t always manage it. But I think about my writing every day, and I believe that counts (I call it “percolating”). I almost always write in a little cafe near my house, because I find it helps to get away from the distractions of home. I don’t write a lot at one time, and I edit constantly as I go.
Lorie: Do you plan any other books? If so, can you tell us about them?
Terri: I’m currently working on a joint memoir with Elyn Saks, the author of The Center Cannot Hold. She’s a brilliant woman, a law professor at USC who has schizophrenia. We hope to compare and contrast our experiences with our two illnesses, which are very different but also very similar at times. The working title of the book is Mad Women: A Joint Memoir of Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and A Most Uncommon Friendship.
Lorie: If you were able to tell someone with bipolar, or who at least thinks they may be bipolar, one thing, what would that be?
Terri: It’s not your fault. You’re not guilty. This is a brain disease, and the brain is an organ like any other. If you find the right treatment — medication and therapy — you can live a productive, wonderful life.
Lorie: What advice would you give to someone who loves someone who is bipolar (i.e. spouse, friend, child)? What do you wish those around you had understood/known?
Terri: One of the hardest things for me was when I was depressed and people didn’t understand. They would tell me to snap out of it, pick myself up by my bootstraps, run ten miles, eat more blueberries . . . The best thing you can do for someone in crisis is simply to ask them where it hurts. And then listen. You’ll be amazed by the channels of communication that open up.
Also, I’d advise family and friends of loved ones to check out NAMI (the National Alliance of Mental Illness). It’s a wonderful organization where family and friends (and also people with mental illness) can find local support groups, training, literature, and all sorts of resources.
Lorie: How great do you feel the need is for a greater awareness of what it means to be bipolar?
Terri: I worry, as “bipolar” passes into common use (“Oh, he’s just bipolar today”), that the disease will not be taken as seriously as it needs to be, or receive the funding it requires. Make no mistake: bipolar disorder can be a very dangerous disease, with the highest suicide rate of any mental illness.
Lorie: What kind of changes do you hope to see toward that awareness?
Terri:I would love to see more people come out of the closet and acknowledge that they are bipolar. I get so many emails from people who are afraid to tell their bosses or even their loved ones, for fear of repercussions. And of course, disclosure should always be made carefully, not when you’re manic or otherwise compromised. But awareness begins with those two little words: “I’m bipolar.”
Lorie: What is the best way for individuals to work on educating themselves?
Terri:There are lots of good books available now about bipolar disorder. It’s also helpful to read the section on bipolar disorder in the DSM-IV, the psychiatrist’s diagnostic bible. It’s important to know what your doctors are thinking. I’m not a big fan of googling medications — I think there’s too much inaccurate information out there, that may scare you away from taking a drug that could really help. But perhaps the most important thing patients can do is to establish a strong rapport with their doctors — ask them everything you want to know, and don’t hesitate to call them when you think you’re not feeling right. Many people are too afraid of their doctors to take this essential step.
Lorie: Resources that you would recommend?
Terri:My favorite resource is NAMI. (See question 11, above.) I also like the newsletter put out by the International Bipolar Foundation. It’s very current and cutting-edge. Also, Project Return Peer Support Network does a great job at organizing support groups for the mentally ill.
Lorie: Can you tell us about the things you are doing now to bring about awareness and the advocacy work you have been/are doing?
Terri: I facilitate a mental health support group at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. It started as a dual diagnosis group, for people with substance abuse and mental health issues, but we welcome anyone who’s interested in mental health recovery. (You can go to my website for contact info) I often do speaking engagements where I talk about my own life with bipolar disorder, and I’ve spoken at several classes at UCLA on the subject. I’m also on the board of the International Bipolar Foundation and Project Return Peer Support Network.
Lorie: Anything else that you would like to say that you feel is important?
Terri: A great many people with bipolar disorder use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. I did so myself, so I understand the behavior. But what most people don’t know is that using mood-altering substances significantly interferes with the medications prescribed to help bipolar disorder. Simply put, the meds don’t work. It took me ages to fully realize and accept this — years when I might have been feeling better, but stood in my own way. It wasn’t until I finally got sober that I started to feel better.
I’d recommend that people google Dual Recovery Anonymous — it’s a support group organization for people with a dual diagnosis (substance abuse issues combined with mental health issues). Changing this behavior can radically change your life.
You can also see video interviews with Terri and learn more about her, her books and her work, on her website.
You can find NAMI on Twitter @NAMICommunicate
To enter to win a copy of The Dark Side of Innocence, simply email KRL at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Dark”, or comment on this article. U.S. residents only please. A winner will be chosen July 23, 2011.