Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Marya Hornbacher: How Do You Move Beyond Blue?

For this week’s segment of my series, “How Do You Move Beyond Blue?” I thought I’d reprint the interview with the author Marya Hornbacher in the “Washington Post” by Post staff writer Rachel Beckman. You can get to the interview by clicking here.
Hornbacher has just written a second memoir, “Madness: A Bipolar Life” about her life with bipolar disorder I. “That I have made it all this way without dying or killing myself or someone else is a miracle, or a joke,” she writes in the book. Her first memoir, “Wasted,” chronicled her struggle with anorexia and bulimia, was translated into 14 languages and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hornbacher first experienced symptoms of bipolar disorder at age 4, but wasn’t diagnosed until 1997, when she was 24.
Here’s the Washington Post interview:


In the book, it seems that your bipolar gets worse after the diagnosis.

When I knew I was bipolar, I was still drinking myself to death and wreaking havoc on my relationships — like a little tornado going through life. That was immaturity and fear. My own misperceptions. Me not wanting to be manic-depressive.
When did you get the condition under control?
I wouldn’t say that there was any real stability until I was 28. That’s when I got sober. If you’re drinking, if you’re using drugs, the meds won’t work. The drinking and the substance abuse trigger everything to go haywire.
When I cleaned up, I had, honestly, a year of stability and then the bottom fell out. I spent two years in and out of psych wards.
What they finally sorted out was because I hadn’t taken my meds for so long, and I had gone undiagnosed for so long, and I had been drinking so much, that I had addled my brain chemistry pretty substantially. It had to bottom out before it was time for me to take care of myself.
What are the most important things you do every day to manage your mental illness?
The most important thing — above all else — is to take my meds. The second is sleep. Without the sleep, the meds won’t work, and without the meds, the brain won’t work.
What’s your average day like?
I keep a very regular schedule, which is not my style, but chemically it keeps the homeostasis in the brain going. I get up at the same time every day and take breaks at the same time. It’s a rigid schedule.
I have what’s called ultra-rapid-cycling bipolar, so my moods cycle many times a day.
I get up at 4, so I can be fantastic from 4 to 7 a.m. but by 2 p.m., I can be having suicidal thoughts. And at 6 p.m., I’m doing all right again. During a day like that, it’s very difficult to sit at my desk and do my job.


What is your goal with “Madness?”
I want to show [people] that it’s scary but it’s not foreign. These people are people. Don’t back away.
My great hope was to bring someone both inside the mind of someone with bipolar and inside the mind of a regular person with a mental illness.
Mood disorders are still just moods. All of us exist on a spectrum of mood and mind. One of the things that’s so frightening is the knowledge that if it is a spectrum, then I can slip.
Why do we get so embarrassed when we see the man muttering to himself on the street? We don’t want to be there, we don’t want to be him.
What are the biggest misconceptions about people with mental illness?
The idea that this is about character, that it’s not really an illness and it’s a character flaw.
I’d invite all those people who believe that to an anatomy-of-the-brain class, and they can learn that it is a brain disease! It’s not about being a bad person or committing sin.
It’s really backwards and anti-modern to think that you should just be able to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
Now there’s a caveat to that: As soon as you know you have bipolar, you better take your meds. Those are your bootstraps. ·

  • Ta

    Thank you! I like this lady! I have been feeling guilt ridden for, forever. I never looked at having bipolar as a disease and I have been very hard on myself for having it in the first place. I plan on reading the book: Madness: A Bipolar Life. I pray that it will give me and others who can identify with me, more insight on what this is all about. I am hopeful that there is a better way to live with this.

  • Lisa K

    Yes, we are regular people with irregular feelings and emotions. Don’t back away from us. Don’t be frightened. You won’t catch it. More of us need to step out and step up and speak out too. Thank you for reprinting this. What a boost!

  • becca

    I think I have developed it. I rapid cycle also. I can five moods in a day If I don’t try extremely hard to repeat my mantras or do something different than just thinking how yucky my brain feels. It is such a horrific disconnection from my soul. It is like all good thoughts and feelings have been sucked out of myself and all I can experience is disconnection,empty, sad, unacceptableness from others who have no idea I even want to feel or need to feel accepted. I feel like I visited a funeral or something at least once a day. Then I can snap out of it somehow in a different environment. My behavior amazes me. Sometimes I am convinced that I must have a brain tumor because I cannot get a grip on simple things that I know better not to say or do over and over. Then I repent. I beat myself up for being so unpredictable and negative. No matter what I feel that I am never good enough for my 3 Gods(the HOLY ONE and only & my inner life coaches.) I feel like they are so fed up with me. One minute it is good enough to show up the next is not good enough because of —–whatever. I feel and jugde myself with them and cannot seem to ever have a good day where I don’t disappoint myself or drive myself crazy with my moods and thoughts that never measure up. Worst of all I want to move up with making more money because I get so depressed that I cannot pay my bills and I want to do right for God but I cannot get out of my sick cycle to get promoted or make more money. I am always freeking out about surviving. I am at the point now where I pray more to have God end my misery even if it is death to do it. I don’t want to experience struggling to survive anymore. I am not sure how to break out of this rut. The mood equalizing drugs that I have tried numb my brain, flatten me out completely where I don’t care about anything. Then they make me angry. My joints ache and weaning off is hell and then some. My life at times is a living hell. There are good times but since I have given up smoking they are far and few between. Antidepressants help some but they are not a mainstay. I really don’t know what to do. I have held back on going to a psychiatrist due to bad experiences with them and their medication suggestions. I was only diagnosed with mild mood disorder and at one time Major depression and Tramatic stress syndrome. but my last year I bottomed out from withdrawal of meds of horrific side effects. I don’t want another year like the same. Church, prayer, new freinds, have helped but being independent and memory problems have not been easy. I freek alot not knowing how to financially live. I live on the edge more than I really want to.Help what to do? Meds are so fickle.

  • becca

    I am going to be grateful daily. I wish I had not written the above. Sorry to all who read it. I was having a stupid and bad moment when I wrote. Tried to delete but to late.

  • sam salme

    your going to be fine. One day at a time, from moment to moment do what you have to do to be the best you. So what if your not what everyone would label “normal”, you are. This is just normal for you. Everyone has a different normal cause were not all the same, some may be similar but each to his own really.

  • Connie

    Over the past three years I have changed so much. Late 2004 my husband of 26 Years left me for a younger woman and began to live a life that would later prove to nearly destroy him and our entire family.
    He was for 26 years a MInistry/Pastor. I soon found out that nine years of that he had been standing in the pulpit while having affairs, using meth and many prescribtion drugs. I don’t know why I didn’t see it but I didn’t. Toward the end of our marriage I saw a large change in him and that is what opened my eyes.
    When this happened to our family the children all scattered. My daughter and her husband pulled away from us and her and I were so close. My 18 year old son went wild and landed in jail. These were good sable kids and they had their foundation torn out from under them.
    I tried to handle the situation but the depression was so bad. I made stupid decisions and looked more unstable then my husband. I may act unstable now but I was at one time was a supportive, wise wife and mother. He has never stopped trying get me back into a relationship with him. He is clean and wants to rebuild our lives together.
    I am like a yo yo. I go back then I leave him because I am still so hurt over all stress that he caused our family that is still estranded from me.
    One year after all this happened I was told I had Post Tramatic Stress Disorder. I am on an anti-depressant and something to help me sleep. My moods are wild ..I can go into a high and crash into a low with nothing going on in my life to trigger it and that is daily. I year ago I tried to kill myself and was discovered by my son dropping in unexpected.
    When I am on a high I make crazy decisions. Then I crash and go to bed at 6PM until work the next day. I think I may have more than PTSD. Need some advice. Thanks for being here.

  • Joyce

    I knew for many years before being officially diagnosed that I needed help. I’m sure there are others out there like me who have bipolar but just can’t afford therapy or medications even with having insurance. I eventually turned to self-therapy, mostly on the net, & figured out some ways that help me with the depression part. It seems that when you have your lows, its the hardest to deal with… not only yourself but other ppl don’t know how to handle being around someone who is depressed & often make it worse. If I get REALLY bad off & start thinking everyone would better off without me, I literally have to force myself to think of something to make me wait another hour or day or week. No rules to any of this– Just suggestions to help.
    (1) Look for something in your schedule. For me, it’s usually something to do with my children (Dr. or WIC appt. or school project). Basically, anything that it takes to convince myself that “I am the only one who can handle that”.
    (2) Make myself get up. Exercise does help! I’ve read several articles that support the lack of sunlight can cause depression so I try to go outside for a walk, sit on my swing, or just long enough to smoke a cigarette (I know thats bad too). I hate exercising but it does get my mind off of everything that seems to be going wrong.
    (3) Take vitamins. Vitamin B is known for naturally helping & since I’m bad about remembering to take them so I drink the vitamin waters that have any B’s in them.
    (4) Find anything else that requires focus. Similar to exercise, it’s simply changing your focus onto something more productive. Do housework even if you don’t like it. Start a project & set a goal to finish it. This works for chores the same as it works for crafts. The thing that helps me most is WRITING. I write music & poetry but I also write in a journal sometimes. In my creative writing, I try to focus on how I can make my life experiences available to help others who may be going through the same things.
    (5) Try to remember that nobody is perfect! This is hard for me b/c I’m much harder on myself than anyone else is.

  • pamela ruth munro

    I second Joyce’s comments! Altho recently I couldn’t do any of that & had to go back to my heavy emergency meds briefly – but they worked & what a relief! Writing – either in my journals/notebooks or my internet writing – has been my salvation many times. It does you good to vent safely onto a private page! Do your research and be aggressive about your meds & how they make you feel. I am bp2 & it took me years to find a good psych who found the right combination for me. No one but you knows what effect the meds have on you.
    Note: Altho I of course applaud Ms. Hornbacher – it seems that more than bp was happening here – as it was multiple diagnosis of alcohol abuse and probably other personality disorders all at the same time. The lesson is that we have to really clean house to try to become as sane as we can muster to really deal with our neurological disorders! Often, I see other psychologigal weaknesses masquerading as just bipolar! Don’t allow yourself to be lulled into a complacency by blaming everything on your neurological vagaries. It’s more important for us, even more so than normies, to optimize our mental health!

  • Lynne

    Actually I identify with the man/woman muttering on the street. I wonder what it’s like to be them. When I was a child we had this full wall mirror.( that Dad ocasionally threatened to smash durring the Friday night fights) I used to wish I could walk through it and become this person who I fantasized that lived on the other side. The one with the loving household and the perfect life…in many ways, I’m still trying to find her.

  • lourie


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