Jaime Lowe Investigates Mania and Lithium in her new book Mental



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.

Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain will help others with peri-partum bipolar

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I first came across Dyane Harwood’s blog after she left continuous comments on my blog and we began a conversation through email and in the comments. Dyane writes her blog after being diagnosed with peri-partum bipolar 1 disorder to help others make sense of their condition and find resources. Dyane’s bipolar was triggered by childbirth.

“It was a trifecta of hormones, genetic predisposition, and sudden sleep deprivation,” she said during a fifty minute conversation we had over the phone.

Dyane’s father was also bipolar. And even though she lived though a childhood of moodswings, her own mood shifts were not treated until the births of her daughters. She said that today there are medication studies by perinatal psychiatrists about how to treat women who have been diagnosed before becoming pregnant.

Her new memoir Birth of a New Brain takes one through her journey and how she learned to treat her condition and come out healthy and strong. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison has even blurbed it. It covers her childhood with a bipolar father, signs along the way when she became hypomanic, to her hospitalizations, her marriage, and parenting, to her life today. It takes one through what worked for her and what didn’t. She included a chapter on a trip with her family to Hawaii when she was in a depression and trying various treatments. You’ll want to read about her tsunami obsessions which she has had since childhood but were magnified during the trip.

The most moving parts of her memoir was her talking about her marriage and parenting her two girls Avonlea and Marilla. An avid reader, Dyane loves the Anne of Green Gables series. She also loves works by Madeline L’Engle. During her illness, her husband Craig, saw a counselor and came with her to her therapist. But what helped keep them together was Craig had a place to retreat to other than bipolar disorder. He was writing his own book on another topic.

“It was his own special retreat to help him cope,” she said. “The book was the other woman I like to say. It saved our marriage. We each had something to occupy ourselves and we weren’t always on each other’s backs.”

She also talked about her hypergraphia, compulsive writing, something I’ve experienced on multiple occasions during episodes.

“It was as if my thoughts were channeled through writing,” she said. “I didn’t have hypersexuality or shopping sprees but I just had this need to write. My thoughts were grandiose and the writing was messy, which is a sign of hypergraphia.”

Dyane takes an older generation MAOI combined with lithium, which has been a lifesaver for her. She also finds the friendships she makes blogging help her to heal as well as running around the tennis courts in her town while her dog Lucy watches. She tries to follow Dr. Alsuwaidan’s recommended exercise program of pushing yourself to your limits for 30 minutes and breaking a sweat. But after over-doing it and doing one hour of exercise, she takes a more moderate course. Dyane reads ebooks from NetGalley, mostly non-mental health stuff. She said she needed a break from the mental health genre.

Pre-order her new memoir Birth of a New Brain here. The book is released this October 10. Click here to visit Dyane Harwood’s web site.

Author Melody Moezzi Talks about Mental Health and Muslims

First ran on the International Bipolar Foundation’s blog

I interviewed Melody Moezzi, an Iranian-American bipolar Muslim feminist activist, an attorney, a writer and author of the award-winning books War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims and Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life. She blogs for BP Magazine as well as the Huffington Post and Ms. We talked about Moezzi’s latest book Haldol and Hyacinths and Muslims and mental health.
AZ: Why did you write Haldol and Hyacinths?

MM: I basically wrote the book I wished existed when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The memoirs I was reading after I was diagnosed were great but most of them were written by white women and I didn’t fully relate to their experiences and I think there are a lot of us who are already living a bipolar existence culturally speaking so the diagnosis isn’t just a clinical one. For me, it was something that just became really obvious that this has been my cultural experience all along.

There’s a very clear distinction…that’s something I have always experienced and there is obviously a huge distinction when it comes to clinical bipolarity. I’m not saying my cultural experience caused my clinical one but I am saying I saw as a writer it as a metaphor that was pretty glaring that I couldn’t ignore and I didn’t want too.

I’ve been very blessed but at the same time I know most people do not have the same experiences that I do and have been lucky enough to have had.

AZ: What was your experience as an Iranian-American in the mental health system?

MM: I was lucky because both my parents were physicians so class also plays into this. I was lucky I had them stand up for me and my family support in general. My best friend growing up is a psychiatrist so I was lucky to have her. I’ve had a lot of advantages that other people don’t have yet still the experiences I had in the hospital were definitely different. I pray as a Muslim so there was one facility where every time I prayed it was a sign of hyper-religiosity. I was praying three times a day. But they kept considering it hyper-religiosity. Any Christian who is praying is not getting that. There’s data that proves faith can be incredibly helpful in recovery. For me, it wasn’t necessarily seen that way and I don’t think there was an overt discrimination on that end but it defintely colored the perception that I was overly religious because it was a religion that they didn’t understand.

AZ: How was your faith helpful in your recovery?

MM: I found faith incredibly helpful in my recovery. I’m of the belief that people with certain psychiatric conditions have a lot of problems that other people don’t have. But a lot of us are what I interrpret as being spiritually gifted. There’s a disconnect between seeing this condition of bipolar disorder type 1 as being a gift but also seeing it as a clinical curse. I treat it and I know it needs medication. I know how to treat my condition. I’ve always been the kind of person that knew where I came from and knew there was something greater than me. I’ve had two mystical experiences one was during a manic episode and the other one was during what probably was a hypomanic episode but it wasn’t diagnosed at the time. I’m really grateful for those experiences. I also see that some people can have trouble reconciling that expecially with the Western medical establishment. They have a lot of trouble accepting that something can be both clinical and spiritual. But that’s been my experience. It took me a long time to accept both sides of that because I’m science oriented. I believe in the power of medicine. I know that medication is necessary in my case but I see it as being a kind of spiritual gift as well.
AZ: What was it like writing a memoir and being vulnerable?

MM: What’s hard for me is that my first book was about young Muslim Americans and I did fear that because I had come out as I had tried to break stereotypes around what it meant to be Muslim, particularly Muslim American. I didn’t want people to think she’s Muslim so she’s crazy or she’s crazy because she’s Muslim [when writing Haldol and Hyacinths]. I wasn’t keen on this about myself as someone who has been an activist since I was a kid I couln’t really experience what I did in the hospital and see the way the American mental health system works and just be silent and not do anything aobut it. I think the best way to do something about it is to share your story. That can be scary. For me, it turned out what I needed to do and I’m glad I did it. But I don’t doubt for a second that doors have been closed because I am so public about having a mental health condition. I don’t doubt for a second that there have been doors which have opened because of it.
AZ: What mental health barriers face Muslims today?
MM: I think there is a greater stigma in the Muslim community that even if you have access to care you might not seek it. Within a lot of different faith communities there is this impression that you can pray your way out of mental illness as opposed to any other illnesses that need to be treated. There are also some people who have the perception that not only are they not like other illnesses that it is some sort of punishment or some sort of curse. Like I said, I see it as being the opposite in being a spiritual gift. Look at the mystics of the world… I’m writing a book right now about Rumi. Rumi was reciting poetry and singing out loud in public. I don’t doubt that someone like him would have been thrown in a psychiatric hospital if it were a different time and a different place. I see people who have minds who work differently as people who have access to different levels of consciousness that might not be convenient to the world we live in right now but that doesn’t make those levels of consciousness any less true.

MM: I think part of it is once you belong to any vulnerable group or a group that is often misrepresented it becomes harder to seek help. Data shows that racism and other isms affects our mental health. We need it more than ever right now yet we are least likely to seek it because of the fact we don’t want to be further discriminated against. As an Iranian American Muslim woman and a feminist, there are enough reasons for people to discriminate against me and then for me to be public about having a mental health condition gives people another reason. That is why people in the Muslim community are hesitant to seek help and within our faith community surveillance is a problem. It’s easy to say someone is paranoid but then there is the reality that the NYPD was actually infiltraiting mosques. That’s a scary reality that has been proven. It’s not paranoia when they are actually out to get you. I think that’s the position that most Muslims find themsleves in.
AZ: What would make more Muslims feel comfortable about seeking treatment?

MM: I think what have to happen is first of all it would have to come from our own communities. My hope is that more Muslims go into the fields of psychology, psychiatry and neurology. The one thing I worry about is the white savior…nobody can fix it for us. We have to do it within our own community. Not that there aren’t white Muslims but within different Muslim communities we don’t need people coming in from the outside saying this is what mental health is and this is how you treat it. I think we need to look from within. For example, the past few years I spoke at the Muslim Mental Health conference which I think is a fantastic initative that has helped enormously in getting mental health conditions more accepted in the Muslim community. Initiatives like that led by Muslim psychiatrists and psychologists then it suddenly makes a difference. You don’t feel so nervous revealing to your community that you have some sort of mental health condition when there are people who are prominent in your community who are saying not only is there nothing to be ashamed of but it’s something that you deserve to get treatment for.
AZ: What mental health issues do refugees face and how can we help them?

MM:The refugee situation and I don’t say refugee crisis because the way that we paint the picture makes a big difference. Certain members of the media has painted the picture about refugees in Europe is that there a crisis, they’re a problem. I think they are a huge opportunity. I think there are people who are desperate to get out of war torn countries, often war torn countries because Western countries have caused those problems. You can’t divorce the fact that the US and the UK have been so involved in spreading wars in the Middle East and then you have all these refugees. It’s no surprise that this would happen. I think it’s really important in terms of mental health issues to have members of the community leading effort and others being allies. It’s really important to have members of the community helping who speak the languages of the people who are refugees. I’ve seen people come in and trying to help a situation and making it worse because they don’t understand a certain culture or language.

MM: A lot people fail to understand the trauma that comes with that kind of experience. Whether someone develops PTSD or not, there’s a great deal of trauma associated with it, for even the youngest. I was born in the United States but as I watch the stories of these refugees, I relate to them in a way from a perpective of transgenerational trauma that has nothing to do with the personal experience I remember but everything to do with the personal experience my family has had while I was young. I think of those children being born in refugee camps and I wonder what there experiences will be even if they’re given asylum. They still need support and services and mental health is huge when I talk about support. Suicide is a huge risk.

Student Unraveled: Bipolar On Campus

I paced frenetically all the while talking raucously into the telephone outside the college newspaper office. What began as a routine phone call to find out some more information for a story winds into a diatribe about how I planned to take over the Massachusetts Democratic Party and enact my politics of the impossible agenda. Thrown into the conversation at random are quick sexual jokes and other random puns leaving the person on the other end of the phone line confused and frightened.

Hanging up the phone, I stride into the Student Center lounge. I interrupt a student studying and begin a conversation. My mind races to my next thought and the next and the next.

Neurotransmitters surge.

Perhaps, you know of someone like me. I was an editor on the college paper, held internships at three major papers, a dean’s list student. I interned at a Massachusetts senator’s re-election campaign, was active in the woman’s center, a member of the campus philosophy society, wrote six to eight stories a week for the campus paper, and worked part-time jobs for extra cash.

A woman about town, I was seen at every political conference or social event. I was the first one at the gym every morning exercising for one hour on the treadmill and awake far into the dawn hours scribbling poetry.

One moment, my friends would be walking with me and I would leap onto the MIT bridge and walk the railing. The next moment, I was ready to jump off into the icy waters of the Charles River.

College life can be a bundle of stress to most students. However, for students like me, who have the biochemical disorder manic depression or bipolar disorder, the pressures of college may become impossible when you are dealing with mood swings, psychotic thoughts, and suicidal ideations. Imagine trying to study for a test in Espanol while three or four distinct lines of thought (all unrelated) race through your mind. Now, imagine more thoughts keep coming and coming until nothing makes sense anymore. Or try reading Shakespeare or sociology texts, when your mind has gone black.

It wasn’t easy for me to recognize that I need help as my mood rose. It was even harder for me to ask for help. No one at the school could offer the proper intervention because no one completely understood my situation. Having gone to one session at the college counseling office intent on discussing these issues, I groped with words for a half-hour and left.

Then, one-day my mind went black in the middle of photography class. The expensive camera I was so thrilled to buy and use suddenly became too complex to operate. I lost all clarity, couldn’t think, write, or concentrate on anything.

I, then, went to the computer lab and posted a suicidal message to an online group. I went back to my single dorm room, locked my door, turned the music up louder, cut my wrists continuously until I fell asleep on the tile floor.

The college RA escorted me to the emergency room after a raucous protest from me. Dressed all in black, like some Goth poster child, alone in a cubicle-sized room, I tried to convince the ER psychiatrists that I was not crazy, not even depressed, that the email I sent the group was a joke. Unfortunately, for me, I was talking millions of miles a minute, and I was not making much sense bringing up a lot of political names and celebrities, all of whom I had worked for or met during the previous semester. Nevertheless, they sent me to Mclean, the esteemed psychiatric hospital in Belmont Massachusetts.

The psychiatrists at Mclean called it an acute manic depressive episode, otherwise called bipolar disorder type 1. The episiodes had been reoccurring in various forms all fall semester—although, they went largely unnoticed by me as my moods fluctuated like the Atlantic off Nantucket. I spent eight days running in dark tunnels with my fellow inmates, watching another college girl break into multiple personalities, listening to tales of electroshock and a woman say she was schizo and manic, which baffled me then, but I later learned was schizoaffective disorder. Although, the hospital recommended I spend the rest of the semester resting at home, I chose to go back to campus under the care of an off-campus therapist and psychopharmacologist. Back on campus, I spent much time recovering from the stigma of hospitalization and mental illness. Rumors abounded.

College students with mental illness must believe in themselves, that they are unique, valuable and worth the effort, they must know their legal rights as stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as their school’s policies. They must remain clear, calm, and persistent when advocating for themselves. I wrote my symptoms, goals, dreams down on paper in my journal. In the journal, I taped a mood chart pulled off the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance’s web site. This journal later gave my therapist and I evidence when issues and incidents came up and the deans became involved.

There is a wonderful resource in the organization Active Minds www.activeminds.org which helps students start chapters on their campuses to educate other students about stigma and what mental illness feels like.