Review of "Bipolar Disorder Demystified"

By Lana R. Castle
Marlowe & Company, 2003
Review by Gerda Wever-Rabehl, Ph.D. on Dec 27th 2005
Bipolar Disorder Demystified

Bipolar Disorders Demystified has two strengths. First, its accessibility and authenticity. Written by someone who knows first hand what it means to live with bipolar, it is filled with anecdotes, thoughts, musings and sketches of embarrassing, funny or unfortunate situations resulting from either a manic or depressive period. My guess is that many people living with bipolar disorder might recognize themselves in Castle's anecdotes. In addition to the recognizable and sometimes amusing personal narratives, the book also covers a wide array of topics, from the conventional to the unconventional. The extensive range magnitude of topics covered in Bipolar Disorders Demystified is its second strength of. Among the topics discussed by Castle, are suicide, medication, drugs, alcohol, diet and exercise, transcranial magnetic stimulation, St. John's wort, vagal nerve stimulation, acupressure, breathwork, massage and the healing power of laughter and toastmasters. Castle uses the metaphor of the tightrope to thread it all together. For people with bipolar disorders, says Castle, a tightrope is the only available surface to tread on. Sometimes feeling indomitable and powerfully invincible high up there, the person with a bipolar disorder might find him or herself falling way, way down at other times. This, the insightful metaphors, lively descriptions of the missteps and indignities of falling deep, the insights and the triumphs make the book a real gem for anyone struggling with or just interested to learn more about bipolar disorder.

Yet Bipolar Disorders Demystified also has a weakness: it might paint a picture that is slightly unrealistic. I am, for one, rather skeptical about eating only “God foods” by way of treatment of this very severe and chronic illness. I am equally skeptical about the benefits of aromatherapy as a treatment option. Yet more disturbingly idealistic is Castle's way of addressing family members of people with bipolar disorders. In Helping others: When someone you know has a mood disorder, Castle provides a list with Wrong Words as well as a list of “Words That Help.” She suggests family members use the Helpful words to address their mentally ill loved ones. Furthermore, she suggests that family members, among other things, support diet and mealtime changes, encourage exercise and support bedtime changes. While this all sounds lovely, people living with a bipolar disorder as well as their family members are in it for the long haul. And I imagine that when your loved one goes strutting the tightrope once again, and once again comes crashing down, perhaps leaving you and your family in financial ruin, nobody but the most saintly of family members can sustain the outpour of sympathy and compassion Castle preaches. I could well imagine family members saying a few things of the Wrong list. And perhaps so they should. Exhaustion is a very real thing for families living with a person with a severe mental illness and a discussion of burnout, divorce, abandonment and suggestions as to how to prevent it would have been more helpful than a list of Right and Helpful expressions. The lack of attention to the struggles of family members reinforces rather than dispels one of the myths tackled by Castle: that people with a mental illness are self-absorbed.

Perhaps it is fair to say that Bipolar Disorders Demystified has lots to offer people who have recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorders. People severely affected by bipolar disorder as well as those who have already lived with them for a while might recognize themselves in the stories. And while this mirror effect is in and of itself worthwhile, Bipolar Disorders Demystified is, I suspect, less helpful for them and their relatives. Many people who have lived with bipolar for a while will have, I suspect, found psychiatric treatment. They will also most likely know the effects of stress, alcohol, diet and sleep or lack thereof on their illness. They, together with their family and or friends, will also most likely be able to identify the early signs of depression or a manic episode. I am also guessing that their family members, many of whom continually waver on the threshold of burnout, might find the lists of Right and Wrong Things to Say included in Bipolar Disorders Demystified Castles exasperating rather than helpful.

Yet the tales, insights and suggestions included in lists of Right and Wrong Things to Say are, I suspect, very helpful for people recently diagnosed as well as for their friends and families. The personal narratives, the wide array of topics, and the use of lively metaphors will provide insight and wisdom and make the book a great read for anyone just introduced to or just interested to learn more about bipolar disorder.


© 2005 Gerda Wever-Rabehl


Gerda Wever-Rabehl holds a Ph.D from Simon Fraser University, and has published extensively in the areas of social science, philosophy and philosophy of education.


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