Book Review: “Professional Patient: A Memoir of Bipolar Disorder.”
By Leesa Abbott, Psy.D. (2015)
A book review by Emily H. Sturgill, M.Ed, BFA
(Art Therapist with over 20 years experience living with bipolar type one disorder.)
The first 77 pages of this memoir cover Mrs. Abbott’s childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood in very stark and honest details. Despite this being the author’s first memoir she seems to have mastered the craft of such writing. After 77 or so pages, I felt that her writing was so compelling it was necessary for myself to mark and highlight certain sections of her text. On page 77 she describes in her role as a mental health professional encountering all types of people. In particular she details the struggles of interacting with persons baring personality disorders or traits of such disorders. She comments that, “I do know that simply responding to people who have challenging personality traits with a softer, non-escalating response can change the dynamics.”(Abbott .L.p.77) She goes on to describe an encounter with a young child and his mother. She explains in depth that,
”Sometimes people have a thick layer of defenses but it is possible to connect with the wounded person inside. It does require patience and ability to ignore misguided anger.” While this is sensible and logical advice I find it more than a bit ironic. In my own experiences as a Graduate Student studying Art Therapy our professors advised us that clients with such personality traits made for difficult clients and we may wish to avoid taking on such clients unless we specifically were trained to work with them.
Dr. Abbott’s advice on the topic seems to make much more sense and also highlights her skills at helping others. The Author speaks rather frankly on the duality of the roles in her life as both mental health professional and mental health consumer. Not only is she a counselor, a healer, a therapist but also a client herself. This gives her a unique vantage point.
Later in her book she sums up a personal account of her own depression. She tries to explain the distorted thought processes someone who is depressed goes through.
“I tried to get rid of as many personal items as possible I believe as a way to start making myself disappear. It was as if the fewer belongings I had the closer I was to not existing
at all.”( Abbott.L. p.99)
Often a common sign of depression can be a person giving away all of their belongings. On the next page she talks about her illness as a “dirty little secret.” And her own battle to keep these two worlds in her own life separate. Later on page 109 she discusses a hospitalization for her own bipolar disorder, “I didn’t see how I was similar to my roommate and the rest of the people on the ward. I felt different because I worked in the profession. I felt I had a secret that must be protected at all costs. I also felt my illness wasn’t as serious as theirs must be. Of course I realized later in life with 20/20 hindsight that was untrue.”(Abbott.L.p.109)
Most of her memoir she struggles to find balance between Mental Health professional and Mental Health Client. Sadly, there is such a stigma left in our society especially in America and much of that is rampant among mental health professionals.
During the second half of her book the Author constantly discusses this push and pull between wellness and becoming unwell. There is a conflict between being a caring compassionate professional in this field and the shameful isolation in being a unique person with their own diagnosis.
One of my favorite parts comes near the end of the book. It is here we see her as a caterpillar finally shattering the cocoon of stereotypes and growing her wings. Back on page 77 she gives the reader a quote from Mother Theresa, but I see many ways on how this quote is echoed throughout the Memoir itself. “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is love without getting tired.”(p.77) The Author in many ways embraces her own self through love, self-love and love for others as well. She accepts she is a butterfly. She accepts that she is also a coin with two faces. Her inner conflict seems elegantly resolved as she reflects that.
“One day I had an epiphany.” This leads to much description of the need to develop her own self-worth for herself. She details this development of self-worth along her journey.
“The feeling of confidence and that I deserve the good things that come my way had to come from with-in me. I had to forgive myself and cherish myself. I had made mistakes-big ones, whoppers, but I am human. I also had accomplishments, accomplishments that I had achieved despite mental disorders I didn’t ask for.”(Abbott.L.p.207)
I feel that this is not just another personal memoir but also it’s a story about living a double life. I’m willing to bet that many other professionals across a wide range of careers are also leading double lives-secretly struggling with a mental illness too. People who might be afraid if the word got out about their illness they might lose or ruin their entire careers. That stigma in and of itself would result in them being shunned by their peers. That of course is unacceptable yet things like that cause discrimination all the time. What is so beautiful about Dr. Abbott’s memoir is she gives us a road map of how to come clean. She describes in full detail her manias and depressions-this disease and how it has impacted every angle of her life. It’s really a personal account about transformation. To go through the steps to become a professional in the mental health field, to later being diagnosed as having bipolar disorder to lastly becoming an Advocate for those with mental health issues through her work with NAMI. She takes that journey with us-her readers-and at the end she re-emerges not broken into a two side coin but whole and united as a Mental Health advocate. This is a great book to give insight into how it feels to have a mental illness and just because you have one-that does not mean you cannot become whole and embrace yourself like a brilliant butterfly. To buy your own copy follow this link here:http://www.amazon.com/dp/1312218797/ref=rdr_ext_tmb