Ever want to know what it’s like to be bipolar? Yeah, probably not, but now that I’ve mentioned it, I bet you’re curious.
One thing about being in school and learning about all the things that can possibly go wrong in the brain is that it makes you wonder what it’s like to be in that person’s skin. Or at least it makes me wonder.
Art is one of the ways that we can get closer to someone’s experience. It has a way of communicating emotion and thought in a way that just words can’t. Comics make it even easier, being able to use language but emphasize it in just the right way as to make the creator’s world come to life.
Recently I had the chance to read Marbles by Ellen Forney. Her art style makes the book an easy read that is also pleasing to the eye. The book is very informative and presents the information in an easy to digest way, but it is also a doorway into her struggle with being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At times it feels like you’re right there with her.
She brings in drawings from her sketchbook when she was first diagnosed with bipolar as well as snippets from therapy sessions with her psychiatrist to really capture her experience. Her ups and downs, her struggle with being an artist on medication, her “coming out” as bipolar to her friends and family are all captured beautifully in her art.
As a clinician, it really helps to have an insider’s view into the experience of a disorder (I don’t like pathologizing people, but for the ease of communication, I use the word disorder here). Only having my own internal experience, it can be hard to put myself in a client’s shoes. Yes, there are autobiographical books out there about almost every condition you can think of. However, there is something about seeing it graphically that makes the story really sink in. For this reason I appreciate cartoonists like Ellen Forney, Psychiatric Tales), Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half) and Alison Bechdel (Fun Home, Are You My Mother?) who are brave enough to put their story out there for everyone to see.(
Marbles is a book anyone interested in understanding the bipolar experience should pick up. Any clinician working with someone who is bipolar should read this book, in order to better understand their clients. It could also be helpful for friends or family members who have someone who is bipolar in their lives, especially if they are having a difficult time understanding their loved one’s behavior.
Forney makes it clear that her experience is her own, and that there are many different types of bipolar disorder, and that each person’s experience is different. She had it easy in someways, in others, it was like her world fell apart.
The bottom line is, you should read this book if you have had contact with, or plan on working with, someone who is bipolar. Even if you aren’t somehow connected to someone who is bipolar Forney’s “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me” her book is worth every page.
It will give you a rare glimpse into a world that can be particularly difficult to understand.