Mad Like Me
Travels in Bipolar Country
"Couldn’t put it down. Very well written, compelling, at once personal, enlightening, and inspiring."
– Karen Armstrong, Librarian
Mad Like Me chronicles a decade of my life, from the time I first became ill with bipolar at age 51, to the present.
In it, I disclose – in vivid and illuminating detail – what my family and I confronted on our unplanned journey deep into “bipolar country” and ultimately to recovery.
This memoir fights the stigma of mental illness, encourages people to find their own paths to recovery, acknowledges the key – but often thankless – role of family carers, and gives readers sincere cause for hope.
"Merryl not so much writes but speaks to her reader. My eyes heard her voice! – explaining, revealing, cautioning."
– Marilyn Ghadirian
1. Why did I write Mad Like Me?
I decided to write this book one day in 2009, at the height of my first major manic episode. I wanted to share what I was experiencing with fellow bipolar patients, our carers, and our health care providers. As I say in the Prologue:
“Despite the wild fizzing in my brain, I kept a detailed paper trail of post-it notes with scribbled ideas and insights that enabled me to look back with startling clarity, and to re-live much of what I experienced during those turbulent three weeks. Those notes allowed me to capture realistic recollections of my lurching journey through Bipolar Country.” (p. 13)
My goal in writing it was not merely to bring readers along for the ride, as passive observers of the crazy antics of one particular bipolar sufferer. Rather, I hoped to bring them all the way into my stormy mind, so they could experience something of what I went through as a rapid cycling bipolar patient.
"Wow; bullseye! The definitive book for bipolar sufferers and everyone around them. I was mesmerized. Read this!"
– Laurence Potgieter
2. Why should people with bipolar disorder read
Mad Like Me?
If you have bipolar disorder, I hope this book will reassure you: my own bipolar journey took me from denial of rapid cycling Bipolar Type I to locked ward patient to full recovery. It’s taken commitment and focus, and the loyal support of my family and friends.
“It’s been a potholed road with many, many episodes and two hospitalizations, but now that I have been stable for so long, I can reclaim aspects of my tattered life. I’m using the remnants to make a beautiful quilt. May your quilt be both spectacular and comforting.” (p. 240–1)
It took me years of trial and error and research to learn how to manage my disorder, but I can now share all the tools I used to take back control of my life. The book ends with a 23-page Appendix titled “Self-care for stability” with the following detailed sub-sections:
Get a diagnosis
Accept the diagnosis
Accept the seriousness of the disorder
Learn as much as possible about the disorder
Build a healthy lifestyle
Other steps to keep bipolar in check
Accept the impact of bipolar on your family and friends
Talk about your disorder with people you trust
"Mad Like Me gives readers with bipolar disorder an opportunity to get practical advice from someone who truly knows their pain. Beautifully written; powerfully honest."
– Melinda Cochrane, Publisher
3. Why should carers and caregivers read Mad Like Me?
If you’re a family or other carer or caregiver to someone who has bipolar, you will learn everything you need to truly understand and “make sense of” the volatile inner workings of your loved one’s disordered mind during their bipolar episodes. You can then adjust your expectations and your behaviour accordingly. And hopefully treat them with more empathy, patience and respect.
"What is very touching in Merryl's journey is the unceasing accompaniment and support of her family and their tireless sacrifices. This demonstrates a compassion with caring acceptance not often witnessed."
– Dr. A-M. Ghadirian, Professor Emeritus, McGill University
"An insightful journey into madness and back… A personal account with a researcher’s attention to detail and relevant literature… It raises many questions about the indistinct boundary between sanity and madness."
– Jim Fyles
4. Why should health professionals read Mad Like Me?
At the same time, drawing on my own experience as a nurse, I critique the health care I received throughout, and make specific recommendations for improvement where appropriate. These sections of the book will be of particular interest to health professionals who work in the field of mental health, and to mental health care advocates, working to improve care for all psychiatric patients.
If you work in the mental health sector as a psychiatric nurse, therapist, psychiatrist, or in any other capacity, this book will take you inside the distressed brains of your bipolar clients and give you vital insights into their experiences. I hope this new perspective will then encourage you to implement changes in your own practice, and to advocate for changes throughout the health care sector. Stigma against mental illness and patients with mental illness is still rampant throughout the system, and we need everyone concerned to fight against it…
In one section of the book, I use my nursing background to reflect on how I would re-organise things on the psychiatric ward if I were in charge. Among several ideas, I mention:
“I would ensure excellent orientation for new patients. I was basically just steered to my bed and shown the washroom as we passed by – left to figure out all the rest for myself. What time are meals served? Where is the telephone and when can we use it? What occupational therapy sessions are offered and when? Are there any ward rules I should be aware of? All these and many more questions were churning in my misfiring mind. I wanted desperately to fit in, to be liked, and to be accepted by both the staff and patients. But I was walking blind, with no cane to guide me. It was stressful not knowing what was expected…. I would therefore appoint veteran patients to be the official “greeters” and mentors for new admissions: each patient needs someone who can orient them to the ward, its functioning and rules, and introduce them to the other patients. This would help newcomers feel welcome and more relaxed from the start, promote a sense of community, and develop pride and leadership skills in the mentors. Failing this, a standard orientation for all new patients by a staff member would have been much appreciated.” (p. 179)
"Really lets the world know what it’s like to LIVE the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Should be compulsory reading for all health professionals."
– Barbara Webster, RN, BScN, MSc.
"Well written, informative, clear and very personal. And frankly very brave."
– Dr. Sturla Bruun-Meyer, Psychiatrist