Manic: a memoir

Manic: a memoir by Terri Cheney

There’s a prescription drug commercial that shows a woman in the throes of bipolar mania, shopping, cleaning, or working in an office at a furious pace. The camera pulls back to reveal her standing on top of a house of cards, the medication presumably slowing her down and bringing her back to earth. Terri Cheney’s "Manic" describes what happens in those buzzing highs, productive at first but finally destructive, and what happens when the cards come tumbling down, leaving Cheney in the immobility of depression.

As an entertainment attorney in Beverly Hills, Cheney leads a fast-paced and stressful life, representing famous clients and competing for high-profile cases. These pressures play into some of her triggers to mania: lack of sleep, alcohol, socializing in spite of insecurity. Cheney recognizes the progression of behaviors she cannot control – inability to stop talking, excessive flirting, needing to be the center of attention. In spite of her wealth and privilege, Cheney’s bipolar disorder leaves her vulnerable in dangerous situations, and she suffers the consequences. These stories are difficult reading, but Cheney tells them with a detached, observational style, her wry humor moving us along. Recovering from these incidents only deepens her depression and determination to commit suicide.

What impressed me most were the sensory details of Cheney’s memoir. I felt the sensuous tingling of her skin that signals the beginning of mania, and the burning when this hypersensitivity becomes overwhelming. I sympathized as the onset of her symptoms carries her helplessly into the manic flow and then throws her into the torpor of paralyzing depression, “overwhelmed by the sheer effort of blinking.” Even more terrifying is the point between mania and depression, when instead of reaching a peaceful balance, Cheney has just enough strength to carry out her attempts at suicide.

Some reviewers maintain that Cheney’s style mimics the speed and force of a manic mentality, but I found only an absorbing, storytelling quality and emotional honesty. I did notice that individual chapters read like magazine articles, whole in themselves and sometimes a bit repetitious. Read in their entirety, though, the stories build upon each other and lead to the author’s hopeful acceptance of living with mental illness. Cheney struggles to find the right combination of medications and therapy, details her experience with ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and her subsequent memory loss, and ends with her relative success with antidepressants and careful self-monitoring. Possibly her healthiest decision was to quit her high-pressure career and become a writer; I’m certainly grateful she found her voice and documented her survival against the odds in this fascinating memoir.

by Jan Hardy, Cataloging Specialist

Tags: Health & Medicine, Nonfiction, See all tags

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