Tag Archives: Marya Hornbacher

The impact of illness on marriages

One last nugget from the book Madness on the impact of serious illness on the marriage relationships. Marya explores the impact of her bipolar disorder on her second marriage and her very devoted husband who spent two years entirely focused on caring for her. When she begins to recover, she notices that he is rather a shell of himself.

In some ways it is simpler to be married to someone who is all need and no give. It’s an enormous drain. But there is benefit too: you become the hero, the center of someone else’s existence. You are the saint. You have, in this sense, a great deal of power. You tell this person what to do, and she does it. You feed her. You hold her, You are her mother, her father, her husband, her priest. And you are never required to her on an adult level. There is never anything wrong with you; any problem is caused by her, her illness, her meds not working, her malfunctioning mind.  …

You relish your role and resent it enormously at the same time. And when your role is upset–when the patient climbs out of bed and walks on her own, makes her own food, drives her own car…–you see she now does everything wrong….And–who does she think she is?–She doesn’t always agree with you…she doesn’t need you anymore. This is unacceptable. This won’t work. (222-3)

What she describes is oh so true. Whether mental illness, disease of some other organ, or impact of an affair, one spouse picks up the slack to make life work. And so it does for a time. But when the sick one gets better, when the alcoholic gives up the bottle, when the adulterer gives up the affair and wants to renew a partnership again, the “strong” spouse often then experiences rages, resentment, distance, etc. At the just the time when a partnership is possible–the thing that the strong spouse most desired and fantasized about, they find it now difficult to allow or participate in such a partnership.

Why is this? In part it is due to comfort in one’s role and the dislike for change. It is a changed belief that the “sick” spouse is now incapable of really being a partner. In part it is due to the the hidden belief of the unfairness of the previous imbalanced relationship and the desire for some level of payback.


Filed under anger, conflicts, marriage, Psychology, suffering

Madness revisited

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.

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Filed under book reviews, Psychiatric Medications, Psychology

A window into the world of bipolar disorder

As a teacher I am on the constant prowl for books, movies, pictures, etc. that give a realistic and personal view of the experience of mental illness. I picked up a great book regarding the world of the Bipolar I person: Madness: A Bipolar Life, by Marya Hornbacher (Houghton-Mifflin, 2008).

Marya tells of her life in short chapters beginning with her memories of life as a 6 or 7 year old. It is less biography and more of a sampling of her thought and emotional life. She has severe highs that last for a couple years, severe lows, and many rapid cycling from high to low in a matter of minutes. You can help but get a sense of her inner world from times in the hospital (many times at that) to impact of her medications and the ineffective care by several psychiatrists.

She is also author of “Wasted”, a book about her anorexia and successful treatment. Ironically, while on her book tour for that book she was drunk most days (trying to control her mania), impulsive in every way, and completely out of control.  

If you check out her book on Amazon, you can search inside. See if you can read pages 11-13 (search for the word “goatman”) and get a rich and painful flavor of her inner world in 1978.

If anyone here as read “Wasted” feel free to let us know what you thought of it.


Filed under book reviews, Depression, Psychiatric Medications, Psychology, teaching counseling