Author: Claire Gault
As someone with bipolar disorder, I have a fascination with reading about and researching the illness itself. I believe that the more information I learn, the better equipped I can be to manage the illness. My favorite way to learn is through reading autobiographies of successful, intelligent people with bipolar disorder that model ambition and healthy coping mechanisms. I have two favorites, and I’d highly recommend them to anyone looking for another perspective:
1. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Lab Girl is a memoir tracing the life and career path of Hope Jahren, a geobiologist currently teaching at the University of Oslo in Norway. Her life story is weaved within insightful lessons on plant life, and her journey as a rising scientist is brimming with stories of hard work and courage. Hope describes tirelessly working nights at her lab, personal scientific discoveries, and her rise in academia. For any reader, regardless of interest in science, her story is an irresistible read.
She does not acknowledge her mental illness at all until Chapter 9, where she begins with, “full-blown mania lets you see the other side of death. Its onset is profoundly visceral and unexpected, no matter how many times you’ve been through it.” Her description of the rise and fall of bipolar disorder takes only three pages, but is intensely heartbreaking and profound. The scale of mania can only be understood by someone who has experienced it, and Hope’s account is eerily relatable. Hope’s journey with bipolar disorder is not easy as she navigates her life as a scientist and mother, but she manages to find incredible success. Lab.
Girl is a must read for anyone wanting to be inspired by one of the foremost scientists of our time, who promises the reader that no matter their diagnosis, their dreams have the potential to come true.
2. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
As you may have guessed by the title, The Collected Schizophrenias does not revolve around bipolar disorder, but the illness does have a significant presence in the book. Esme’s memoir primarily takes the reader through her own diagnosis and the stigma surrounding it: schizoaffective disorder. For those unfamiliar, schizoaffective disorder is a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, meaning that the afflicted have mood episodes, but can also experience hallucinations outside of mania.
One of the most poignant chapters in my opinion is called “The Choice of Children”, in which Esme describes her experience as a camp counselor for a youth bipolar camp. This chapter is especially enlightening on the topic of bipolar disorder and children; Esme quotes the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), saying, “Pediatric bipolar disorder appears more severe and with a much longer road to recovery than is seen with adults”. This becomes apparent as the chapter progresses, with Esme having to contend with conflict surfacing in the campers, her position of authority in the camp’s chaotic environment, and her own underlying desire to have children. For many, the decision to have children while reckoning with personal psychiatric conditions is a tough battle, and Esme relates with a beautifully articulated and emotional story of her own.
Both memoirs appeal to me (and I’d hope to you, as well) because Hope and Esme are shining examples of facing their disorders head-on, without sugarcoating the harsh reality that bipolar disorder brings. Neither author claims to have beaten their mental illnesses, but merely explain their way of managing their mental health, all while leading fulfilling lives. Lab Girl and The Collected Schizophrenias are a must read for the memoir lover, neurodivergent person, and/or curious mind wanting to be inspired by cogent stories of strength and tenacity.