When you wait in line for a roller coaster, there's a long posted list of reasons that you shouldn't be in that line. I feel like I should post that list here, because Terri Cheney's memoir of her decades-long battle with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is jarring, nauseating, and may induce whiplash. It's honest, raw, visceral, and GOOD. At the end of the book you may feel like you have manic depression, and that is exactly what it should do. Cheney draws you into her life and mind so completely that the lines become completely blurred and you are on that roller coaster with her. Enter at your own risk.
When Cheney is depressed, she is unable to function. She goes for days and weeks on end in isolation, taking leaves of absence from her high-powered, high-profile job as a Hollywood lawyer, ignoring friends, associates, the phone, and basic hygiene. When she is manic, she flies. She flirts, laughs, seduces, shines, takes risks, and attempts suicide. In between she bounces through a laundry list of pharmacotherapeutics and even undergoes ECT in a vain attempt to regulate a life spinning out of control.
There is no real narrative thread to this book, which lends itself more to the experience. Each chapter is a random account of an episode in her life, which is basically how bipolar disorder operates. There is no rhyme or reason. Underneath everything is the author's shame and subterfuge because mental illness, even when caused by biochemistry, is still such a taboo in society that only a very few can be allowed behind the curtain. Everyone else must be kept in the dark, and eventually there are so many lies that Cheney doesn't know what's true. The only thing that she knows is that she's trapped and there is no way out. It's like being in a soundproof box and screaming. No one can hear you.
Quite frankly, Manic can be terrifying and nauseating. The descriptions of hospitalizations and arrests actually made me feel powerless. Hopelessness, frustration, and impotence bleeds off of the page as Cheney recounts doctor after doctor, drug after drug, and her own knowledge of her illness, a knowledge that does nothing for her when she doesn't know how to help or stop herself.
If you like your reads light and fluffy, then run away from this book as quickly as you can. However, if you have an interest in real, flesh and bone people and struggle and guts, I would suggest that you stop by your library and give this a try. Dramamine is optional.