I am a reader and a researcher by nature. I love to take in new information, to understand new things; I love to sit in a chair while rain pours down outside, curled up with a book, learning some new story or some new fact of life that will help me understand my own world a little better.
I also happen to have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, a sort of madness that I live in but that does not allow me a better understanding of myself. I live with it but because of this I cannot observe it, objectively, from a distance, and see what it is doing to my life at all times. When I turned to Marya Hornbacher’s novel Madness: A Bipolar Life I was hoping for an objective perspective that would help clarify the disorder for myself; I ended up with a lot more than I bargained for.
To say that the book is objective would be, truthfully, misleading. Because Hornbacher experiences Bipolar Disorder Type I rapid cycling every day, she cannot give a perspective that an outsider would give. While this may have been what I was hoping for, the first person, jarring, in your face story that Hornbacher has created is so much better. I had hoped to find understanding.
What I found was a woman whose perspective on life is much like being on a roller coaster without the safety harness, a woman who struggles with self harm, a woman who struggles to separate reality from fiction all of the time. A struggle with a disorder so difficult to understand that even those afflicted with it turn to doctors and websites and support forums in hopes of having things just a little clearer, and a book which a reader with Bipolar Disorder can look at and say, “Yeah, that sounds like last Tuesday.”
Hornbacher takes her readers on a wild ride, filled with uncomfortable truths and all the lies that we tell ourselves when we’re ill in hopes of making it better. Her words are akin to looking into the madness and having it explained to you, the reader, page by page, in agonizing detail.
For a reader with Bipolar Disorder of any type it’s like looking into your own skull and finding organization within the tangled mess of twine that is our emotions. Unnerving, addictive, raw; Hornbacher’s Madness: A Bipolar Life should be read by everyone wishing to understand the disorder for a loved one or for themselves.