If there’s one thing I like more than receiving new books to read, it’s receiving new psychology books to read. And this one certainly did not disappoint!
Manic Man, written by first-time author Jason Wegner and clinical psychologist Dr. Kerry Bernes, was just published on October 14th, 2021, and is a raw, open memoir relating Jason’s firsthand experience of living with type 1 bipolar disorder.
The story begins with an outline of Jason’s normal life and then describes the hypomanic stage of his illness. The mania starts with his experience of taking the dangerous psychedelic drug LSD and takes off a few weeks later in Tanzania, Africa. He is in a full-blown manic episode while in Africa, and his behaviours and thoughts captured demonstrate this. Weeks of mania continued after he was home from Africa until he was tricked into going in an ambulance and taken to the hospital’s emergency wing. He would be hospitalized in the acute psychiatry ward for 57 days, and seven months of depression follows his hospitalization.
To lift himself out of his severe depression, his psychologist, Dr. Kerry Bernes, develops “The Octagon of Life,” which is the eight areas of life that he gets Jason to focus on. Following the plan, Jason gets out of depression and experiences post-traumatic growth and becomes a more successful person than he was before his diagnosis.
Of all mental health concerns, personality disorders are certainly some of the most taboo in our society. We tend to avoid the subject as much as possible, and when we do have to talk about it, it’s usually mentioned with concerns about homelessness, danger to others and/or suicidal risk.
Which is why, amongst a sea of bleak portrayals of mental illnesses in current media, I find such a memoir essential to our collective understanding of what it’s really like living with a severe mental illness.
Representation matters, and what better representation than stories that come directly from the people living with the illnesses themselves?
Three things I liked in this book
Memoirs are a difficult genre to write. Gloss over reality a bit too much, and your readers will be able to perceive the lies, the varnish coming off of the polished version of your life that you’d like to sell them between the pages. But be a little too truthful, and you might be confronted with intimate realities on the page that you might not have intended to share with such a wide potential readership.
Being honest with yourself and with your readers when sharing intimate personal experiences is a difficult challenge, and one that author Jason Wegner takes on without hesitation. It takes here the form of a heartbreaking but genuine description of manic episodes, from his perspective, that must have taken a lot of bravery to write and that leaves the reader with a new understanding of the trials of living with such a severe mental illness.
Speaking of recovery
One of the thinks I dislike the most in mainstream media’s portrayal of mental illnesses is the near total focus on the worst parts of people’s lives. What about the after, when a person has received their diagnosis and is in a better place to receive the help they seek in managing their condition?
Manic Man doesn’t shy away from that part of the process, and explains in more detail the difficulty of the work done by the author on recovery from manic episodes, and on managing his type 1 bipolar disorder in the future.
The difficult topics
Type 1 bipolar disorder is sometimes also called “manic depression”. This describes the two main emotional phases of the disorder, which are phases of intense mania – lasting at least a week, and during which the person usually exhibits extreme erratic behavior, and might require hospitalization for their own safety – and phases of deep depression, lasting at least two weeks.
The honest and raw descriptions of Jason’s experiences while in either one of these phases is something I found very educational for people wanting to broaden their understanding of the emotional cost and psychological effects of bipolar personality disorder on the individuals it affects.
All in all, I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in psychology, cognitive therapy, or just looking for an excellent memoir to read this winter.