Yesterday I made mention of Marya Hornbacher’s On Madness: A Bipolar Life. Nearing the end today and I continue to be taken with her capacity to illustrate the experience of mania, of using it to successfully do great things and of being drop-kicked into depression, of repeated hospitalizations, of the experience of being snowed under by medications, of chaotic and fearful thought patterns, of the impact on relationships and more.
She writes of the experience of ECT treatments and the struggle to regain her ability to think, write, relate, remember. After many treatments and lengthy hospitalizations, she reflects on her more stable mind:
Much is lost to those two year of hospitalizations. I remember very little, because madness erases memory, and so does electroshock.
…Memory is not all that’s lost to madness. There are other kinds of damage, to the people in your life, to your sense of who you are and what you can do, to your future and the choices you’ll have. But there are some things gained. The years that have followed my decision to manage my mental illness have been challenging, sometimes painful, sometimes lovely. The life I life, even the person I am, is nearly unrecognizable compared to the life I had when madness was in control. There are things in common,obviously–my mental illness hasn’t gone anywhere, and it still, to some extent, shapes my every day. But the constant effort to learn to live with it, and live well, has changed the way I see it, the way I handle it, and it’s probably changed me. (pp. 216-7)
The interesting thing is these sentences are not the last words or the “happily ever after” of the book. In fact, she goes on to tell how she unravels again and finds herself back in the hospital. Later, she confirms that it is hard to accept sanity as normal when it FEELS like failure. She desires normal to be the manic days. And then she reveals why. When her therapist asks why everything has to be perfect, why it’s okay for others to be “good enough” but not for her she says,
“It’s that your pretty good is better than my perfect”.
I suspect many of us can relate to that sentiment even if not bi-polar.