• Tom Robinson

In Bloom: one teenager's experience of the onset of bipolar disorder

Updated: May 5

Yesterday I wrote about how books can aid mental well-being through the escapism and comfort that can be experienced through reading them.


'Bibliography' or 'bibliotherapy' has long been known to be an effective means of benefiting mental well-being and combating loneliness.


In fact, books are part of the reason that I'm still alive, because I regularly resorted to engaging with reading as a strategy to divert my mind away from dark and destructive thoughts that so often accompanied my depressive episodes.


Reading self-help books gave me knowledge and education, memoir gave me empathy and understanding, and fiction offered me escapism and fantasy, all of which I needed in my quest to survive the illness and (eventually), achieve full remission.


I'm so drawn to anything that relates to mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, and that interest is another reason that I'm still here, because I wanted to learn, and was inquisitive about my condition as well.


I think if I had my time over again I would go to medical school and become a psychiatrist, but a really lovely, empathetic and encouraging one that offers so much more than just a qualification and a license to prescribe medication. Fortunately I'm all sorted with the 'finding the right psychiatrist dilemma', but it's taken quite something to find him!


Anyway, sorry for digressing, now back to the point of today's post - bibliotherapy. I finished the most wonderful book about an experience of mental illness last night, and now I want to share what I've learnt from it here with you.


'In Bloom' by Cordelia Feldman, is a semi autobiographical account of bipolar disorder which follows main character 'Tanya's' teenage life and explores the way in which the illness manifests and presents itself.


Through Tanya's experience we're given an insight into the effect that the illness can have on relationships. Those with boyfriends, family and friends, as well as the one that exists between Tanya herself, and her reaction to the escalating bipolar mood shifts and episodes.


Cordelia's wit and intelligence are smattered all over every page, and somehow she manages to combine humour with the seriousness of the condition, as well as the angst that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder brings with it.


There were several times when her one-liners had me laughing out loud, and I can tell that her humour has helped her to withstand and manage an otherwise upsetting and unsettling illness. A couple of examples of this witticism read like this;

"I shudder and turn away from her, lighting a Camel Light and taking a drag on it, blowing the smoke out in a seductive way channelling Ingrid Bergman in 'Casablanca'.

Her descriptions of herself and others are absolutely hilarious and she displays such a talent for supplying the reader with little insights into her own character and personality.


Later in the book, I found myself laughing and empathising with her when she's discussing mood stabilising medications with her psychiatrist, she writes;


I don't care if the side effects are leprosy, coma and death. I just want to get off lithium

The wit that shines through the book makes it such a pleasure to read, and I highly recommend it to everyone, particularly those with either an experience of, or interest in bipolar and mental illness.


The book leaves you wanting more and with the residual questions of: What happened next? Did Tanya conquer her bipolar disorder? What happened with Seb? Did they marry and have two sets of identical twins, and live happily ever after? Or, did the panther overwhelm her and disrupt everything again? I would love her to write the sequel and tell us!


As well as bipolar disorder, Cordelia has had to contend with even more hardships because about ten years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer which has spread through her body, and added even more complications and difficulties to her life.


She has been so honest and open about both of her illnesses, and how on earth she's managed to hang on to her sense of humour through all of this is as astonishing as it is inspiring.


I first reached out to Cordelia after she featured on the Stephen Fry documentary 'The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive', and we were going to arrange to meet up, but unfortunately I was just too ill at the time to be able to do it. We've been in touch again recently though and hopefully, when it is safe to do so, we will be able to meet and share experiences.


If you would like to read 'In Bloom', you can find it on Amazon and order it here.


What books are you all currently reading? Any favourites that have helped you through lockdown? Do please let me know!


Thanks for reading,


Speak to you on Monday,

TR

www.dyingtostayalive.com