Mental Lithium, Love and Losing My Mind by Jaime Lowe (Blue Rider Press) crosses the intersection between art and journalism shedding light on how we treat mental illness and what it is like to have these illnesses. Lowe treats her story poetically as if the reader is experiencing it alongside herself showing what it is like to be in a manic episode. Following in fellow writers’ footsteps such as Andrew Solomon, Elizabeth Wurtzel, and Lizzie Simon, Lowe gives voice to both the manic and depressed side of this illness, discussing the advantages, disadvantages and history of lithium, the drug that saved her for twenty-four years and eventually boomeranged on her kidneys.
Lowe actually enjoyed the reporting of the book more than writing her personal story. “There was a lot of crying. I thought about it and wanted to do the reporting aspect before including the personal.”
The book came out of a 2015 New York Times magazine essay she wrote about lithium, which you can read on her web site.
Lowe had her first manic episode at age 16. She started taking lithium, graduated high school and attended UC Davis for college. Her college life was free from manic episodes but not free from eccentricity. She created the character of Silver Girl and wore her costume around campus. Wanting to be a writer, she interned for the LA Weekly and other news outlets. After college, she moved from Los Angeles to New York to pursue a writing career. Once she adjusted to life in New York, her psychiatrist and her decide to taper off lithium. Once off the drug, mania slowly crept back up on her, spiraling her downhill when fire burns her apartment. Thus, she goes back on lithium. Lowe writes of her childhood sexual assault, researches trauma as it was to believed a trigger for her first mania.
She visited a Roman psychiatric conference where she interviewed Dr. Jules Angst who believes that everyone has some form of mental illness not necessarilly diagnostically that it is how we deal with each other individually and treatment relates to each person individually.
After finding out that lithium was destroying her kidneys, Lowe researches other options and eventually chooses Depakote ER. To pay homage to a drug that saved her for twenty-something years, Lowe visits the Bolivian salt flats and includes the history of lithium’s usage in our society. This book rocks like one of Lowe’s early music reviews for the Village Voice.
When I asked Lowe what she wanted people to take from Mental, she said “When I wrote about being in a manic state it was cinematic and exciting. When I wrote about the depression after mania, the depression was severe enough that I never want to experience mania again. Mental illness is glorified in the telling and retelling of people’s stories. I wanted to put a face on it with both aspects.”
On taking meds, she adds “Meds allow me to be the functioning version of the person I need to be. A tiny part of me misses the manic person, .001 percent of me does…that person cannot sustain the life as a person on meds.”
“I wrote about my sexual assault in Mental. The sexual misconduct in the media and entertainment worlds by an explosion of powerful people manipulating and harassing less powerful people has made me vulnerable and raw. I have a hard time digesting the news,” she said. She copes by having yerba mate tea and seeing a good movie.
Today, Lowe writes full-time and fact checks for the New York Times as well as writing for their magazine. Her web site is http://jaimelowewriter.com.