Book Review: Balancing Act: Writing Through a Bipolar Life, by Kitt O’Malley

 

balancing act
A picture of the cover of the book Balancing Act: Writing Through a Bipolar Life, by blogger Kitt O’Malley. The cover contains a stack of black rocks which become smaller the higher the stack. The background is a gray storm cloud.

 

Everyone with mental illness knows that managing their disease is a balancing act. Kitt O’Malley, a mental health advocate with bipolar disorder and blogger at the eponymous kittomalley.com, knows this all too well.

O’Malley collected the best posts of her blog into a book titled, appropriately, Balancing Act: Writing Through a Bipolar Life. I was offered an advanced reader copy in exchange for a review, which I am glad to give.

This book is excellent. As a former Marriage and Family Therapist and fellow bipolar sufferer, O’Malley is uniquely qualified to write about the disorder and how it affects her life, as well of those of her loved ones. In the first and second sections, O’Malley clearly lays out the symptoms of her bipolar disorder (first diagnosed as bipolar II, now recently changed to bipolar I), as well as her mental health journey. The third section, Bipolar Thoughts, is an eloquent, haunting collection of posts detailing her “ramping” up in hypomania, and the debilitating dives into depression. The fourth section, Write With Purpose, describes what writing means to O’Malley and how the art fuels her activism. The fifth section, Caretake, is a description of her managing her son’s struggles with chronic illnesses, as well as helping her aging parents–both who suffer from dementia–navigate multiple care homes.

Let’s look at what does and doesn’t work.

What Does Work

  • The writing is poignant and straightforward, and at times lyrical. O’Malley includes the occasional poem as well. She is quite the wordsmith, coming up with turns of phrase I wish I would have thought of myself. The poetry is especially appreciated.
  • While O’Malley has attended a multi-denominational seminary, the book is not overly religious. This may not be some people’s preference, but for others, the approach will be fine.
  • O’Malley’s candor is refreshing. She describes every slip up she has, including the times when she was unfortunately abusive to her son and husband. Holding nothing back is incredibly hard, and O’Malley’s bravery is commendable.
  • One of Balancing Act’s great strengths is that it is, indeed, a collection of blog posts. We are able to travel along O’Malley’s journey with her in real time, reading first, for example, about her brother-in-law’s lung cancer, and then that he passed. O’Malley often addresses her readers with rhetorical questions, as well as thanking them for their support.

What Doesn’t Work

  • While reading Balancing Act, I had to take breaks every 40 pages. O’Malley’s struggles with managing her bipolar disorder, caring for her son’s migraines and digestive issues, and looking after her aging parents are relentless. I couldn’t help but sympathize with her constant difficulties, but I did feel overwhelmed at times, like she does. However, O’Malley often expresses her gratitude to her readers, her husband, and to her parents’ caretakers. I really appreciated that.
  • This is a small nitpick. Very rarely, O’Malley uses multiple sentences together without subjects, starting with a verb. This is fine; it’s a stylistic thing, and it’s a great demonstration of O’Malley’s anxiety and hypomanic symptoms. But the transitions were occasionally jarring. The writing is still excellent.
  • While the book being a collection of blog posts is one of its greatest strengths, that is also its greatest weakness. O’Malley sometimes includes transcripts of videos, which may have been more effective in video form. The posts can also be a bit repetitive, as some of it is rehashing information we’ve learned before in different words. These are tiny nitpicks, though, and all in all, the blog does translate well to book form, as long as readers keep in mind that the writing was once in blog form.

So that’s a glimpse of Balancing Act: Writing Through a Bipolar Life. The book will be on the market, published by Eliezer Tristan Publishing, starting September 19, 2019. I recommend this book and encourage you to pick up a copy today. Thank you, Kitt.

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Book Review: Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain

birth of a new brain
Dyane Harwood’s brilliant memoir, Birth of a New Brain.

*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Dyane Harwood’s brilliant breakout memoir, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder (affiliate link*), chronicles her heartbreaking struggle for stability after the onset of postpartum bipolar disorder. Dyane’s battle to reestablish her mental health from the ravages of mania and the pits of depression is recorded in a gripping account with an almost-journalistic flair.

An often overlooked and misunderstood perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), postpartum bipolar disorder is listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as part of the bipolar spectrum. In Dyane’s case, she suffers from a severe form of “treatment-resistant” bipolar I disorder, which spirals high into manic episodes and deep down into soul-sucking depressions.

Dyane deserves all of the praise her novel has received from various sources. It’s a fascinating account with a structure unique to memoir: Dyane takes us from her birth in the beautiful Pacific Palisades to her first boyfriends to her seven hospitalizations. She spends a great amount of time describing her attempts to live medication-free and the disastrous results. She deals with over-prescribing, unethical psychiatrists, powerful electroconvulsive therapy treatments to negate her suicidal thoughts, and, eventually, finds a medication that works: a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) called tranylcypromine. Other useful contributors to her mental health are getting enough sleep, exercising thirty minutes for six days a week, and “forest bathing”–taking frequent long walks in a redwood forest.

Above all, Dyane is honest. She’s candid about her many failures–as well as her many triumphs!–on the road to recovery. She tells us about her relationships with her father–who suffered from bipolar I himself–and her mother, and their relationship with each other. Dyane even tells us about the fights she had with her husband. All of this contributes to a beautifully-written memoir.

Harwood’s book is crucial for understanding the postpartum bipolar experience. She references writers and doctors with experience dealing with bipolar disorder. Her memoir, Dyane Harwood’s brilliant breakout memoir, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder (affiliate link*), is one of the greats.

Disclaimer: Dyane is one of the frequent commenters on this site. She offered me a PDF of Birth of a New Brain for review, which I was glad to do. Dyane blogs at DyaneHarwood.wordpress.com.

*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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