Book Review:”Professional patient: A memoir of Bipolar Disorder.”by Leesa Abbott Psy.D

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

To buy a copy of this book  you can buy through Amazon.com or also through Barnes and Nobles Booksellers. It is $19.99Leesa Memoirs cover

the Monster of me

the Monster of me-

12/27/14

by Emily Sturgill

the Monster of me-

you cannot see

from the outside, but,

on the inside

there is a Monster of me.

deep inside a divided mind-

there is a Monster of me

It’s ugly, and messy,

It’s broken, jagged, sharpen edges

with rotted teeth

with the violet violence of despair.

Deep down inside me,

lies horrible truths, like Anger, Depression, Sadness and Fear.

it eats away at me from the inside out.

leaving nothing but

this empty shell

of a young looking pretty

40 something, crazy cat-lady,

bag lady, bag lady, i’ve been there before.

the Monster of me

is what you cannot see.

I appear normal enough

but i am raw to the touch.

and the tears just flow

like a faucet with way too much

draino.

I can appear to be

almost anything. Confident, witty or artsy-

or quiet and shy,

but deep down inside

an unraveling mind,

lies the Truth

I am mentally ill.

I am dangerous

I am to be feared

and never understood.

I am just another anonymous Statistic

I am just another runaway lunatic

I am just another victim

of my own unhinged mind.

I live with bipolar disorder

and that feels like a Crime.

the Monster of me

i keep her chained to the bed

on a dirty mattress

She’s the darkest deepest secret

the Horror in my head.

Being bipolar can really suck sometimes…U

The nature of the “crazy-beast” is that when you are crazy, or going crazy then you do not believe you are crazy.

I know that there is a cliche about that, but unlike most cliches, this one is definitely true.

I know first-hand, because I am “bipolar 1-with psychotic features” -although current groovy dr. just shortens it to being bipolar or having manic-depression. It is more than a label. It is an illness. But it is a treatable one.Not easy to have nor to treat, but it is possible, to live a semi-normal life while being bipolar.

I think i am one of the lucky ones. I was diagnosed roughly 21 years ago-in 1992. Since then, I have amassed a huge group of friends, family, and trusted allies. It is vital to staying well to have some sort of support-network, whether its friends, family, church, priest, rabbi, minister,siblings,spouses,employers ect. You need objective persons in your life who can look out for you when you are not objective. If your really bipolar-you will not always be 100% objective. It is the nature of the “crazy-beast.”

I just had a major break-through last night. I realized I have been having some sort of episode-hypomania or mixed-mania, with paranoia, for at least the last two weeks. I called my Dr this morning to confirm this-(my husband already did confirm though) and to just let her know- i was on the same page now. I knew I had been sick. I complimented her method of handling it. Unlike past doctors I had had at Community Mental health-she did not directly address this issue that i was “sick”. She is an excellent doctor, by the way. I first saw her back in 1998-2000. i stopped seeing her because i took advantage of her, during an episode to get her to prescribe me medications i had no attention of correctly taking. It was long ago i was only 26.

I decided to swallow 30 depakote and kill myself. It was dramatic and extreme.I really violated her trust in our relationship.But soon after i did that stupid stupid thing i began to change my mind…when my boyfriend-(now hubby)-got home from a midnights job i confessed everything and he rushed me to the nearest hospital, most likely saving my life. I was given charcoal and was in the ICU for four days straight. That was my first and last ever serious suicide attempt.

After that my doctor broke up with me- i don’t blame her at all for this. So i started going to Community Mental Health. I went on and off for years-the off parts were during episodes….

2 years ago, yesterday, i married my boyfriend of 11 years. My health insurance changed slightly. We had wrongly deduced if we were to get married i would lose my Medicare and Medicaid-so he put me on his Blue Cross Employee insurance. Now CMH refused to treat me saying they did not accept blue cross.

I called my old doctor. I was very persistent, and convincing. I explained I had grown up a lot since she last treated me. I ask if i could please be her patient again? She was hesitant, but willing to give me a second shot.That was almost 2 years ago. I am so thankful she said yes to being my doctor again. She is the best and my most favorite doctor I have ever had in the over two decades of this madness.

Fast forward to the past two weeks….I became very irritated, the day after ,the day after, my 39th birthday. So like 2 days after my birthday-may 21-i lost my shit. May 23rd was terrible, but May 24th and 25th were much worse.

I guess it was a hypo-mania-(mild mania) or a mixed state-(both depressed and manic mixed together.)

If my doctor confronted me about being paranoid or manic, I would have stopped speaking with her-probably even fired her as my doctor.

instead, she choose to just listen-after i found myself in a safe shelter house for women with domestic violence she started increasing my meds.

we did have a small mishap with that-she raised my lithium too high-while i did not go toxic-i had dangerous symptoms and had to be briefly hospital2ized over night. My lithium levels never been that high before-it was 1.25.So she lowered it back down to its normal dose. And just raised other meds.

Eventually, i decided to forgive my hubby and came home two nights ago. At first, i still thought i was in my right mind-but then my doctor wanted to raise my sereoquel XR some more. A couple hours later, i realized with her frequently raising my meds, i must be having another episode. I cried hysterically for over  2 hours while mu husband just held me and told me that he still loves me. i was devastated.I was confused but coming to my senses.

And i was safe, he was safe, we were still married-it was going to be ok. To be honest, i am even crying as i am writing this-I feel cheated somehow, but by my own mind…i do not understand how i could so quickly get sick again-without typical warning signs? It is a very scary feeling to be paranoid. Especially terrified of friends and family who love you. I thought it was all hubby’s fault. What i mistook as physical abuse was him trying to restrain me and keep me from running away-i always run away….usually nowhere safe or good. This time was a bit better- i wound up in a safe place.

All i can say is bipolar disorder is a serious illness and “crazyness is a beast.” which is difficult to contain.