[Rough notes for a book review; edited post, here]

ISBN: 9789814358910

There is power in knowing a name.

Maybe it allows for some measure of objectivity and rationality when one is able to put a name to a problem or illness.

Knowing what to call something means we are able to make sense of it. And subsequently adopt strategies to deal with it.

It is the same as other coming-of-age books about physical or mental illness that I’ve read.

As the author writes: “It was a life changing revelation to learn there was an explanation and a name for my unusual behaviour.” (Chapter 13, p232)

Reading the first few lines of Chapter One, my impression was the author who had acceptance. By the end of the book, it told me this was someone who had come to terms, but not eradicate, her inner demons. I appreciated how the author does not make excuses for herself nor subjected the reader to a self-indulgent confession.

How do we know if we are ill or just lack self-discipline? When does one lack self-control about one’s emotional responses and when is one just not being able to help oneself at all because of an illness? The last chapter scratched just a little of the surface of this issue.

Back in the 1980s, when the author was in her teens, mental illness was not something one discussed or publicly acknowledged. The stigma was real.

There is no shame in having a disability, be it mental or physical.

Taking charge of one’s mental disability — by seeking appropriate help — is an attempt at self-control.

I wondered “Have I ever been like that?” and “Do I know anyone like that?”

Uncontrollable rages that seem overblown.

She described several specific incidents where she let her rage get out of control. Each time, after the violent outburst, she would feel a sense of guilt and remorse. She described episodes of self-loathing for not being able to control how she has acted.

Just like one does not feel ashamed of taking medication for cholesterol or blood pressure, the same could be said about medication for one’s mental well-being.

As I learned from the book, Bipolar Disorder symptoms include extreme mood swings: periods of energy, happiness and invincibility and then inexplicably sadness, over-reactive outbursts and rages. Even feelings of being unconcerned about death.

She described being aware of those episodes but initially took it as part of her personality (bad temper and unpredictable nature) and a normal life cycle.

A breakthrough came when she decided to consult a psychiatrist, though episodes continued especially when she decided to adjust the dosage of medication.

Pages 109, 128, 153, 163, 194

To anyone ill, the best thing to hear is there’s nothing wrong with them.

Chapter 9, on her suicide attempt and her husband’s response was a poignant and touching moment for me (hat tip to Bob there). I liked this line a lot: “The minute you become a parent, you revoke the right to think about yourself.”

As with many things in life, the support and understanding from family, friends and colleagues are critical for one to cope with an illness.

The book would be great for a book discussion, on the theme of awareness, consciousness, choice. Similar themes that reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, just not as ‘metaphysical’ or philosophical

We read life stories like this, to remind ourselves that there is always some measure of choice over one’s ‘fate’.