A paradox: Those who might benefit most from Voices of Bipolar Disorder are least likely to read it, while those who already know much of the important material herein will read it with interest—including patients, families, and clinicians of all kinds.
The contents of this volume are, as the cover emphasizes, “real stories from real people.” Clinicians who practice in a setting that allows time to really listen to patients have already heard these stories. These would be clinicians who have learned that listening to small details in a patient’s history helps one recognize patterns not described in the DSM. Some doctors learn this; some, it seems, do not, as the book describes. Clinicians who have time to listen will find these stories very familiar. They may wonder why they should spend time reading even more accounts, even though these are especially well written.
Psychiatric textbooks do not teach that experiences such as “I screamed or flinched when I was touched by anyone,” or “intense anxiety entered my life, binding up my brain and consuming the last of my spirit” can be symptoms of bipolar disorder (BD). Nor do they teach what it is like to be in the middle of a professional debate about “bipolar versus unipolar” described in the chapter “What They See Is What You Get.” There are valuable lessons here for everyone.
All the essays in this book are written by experts—namely, people who have lived with the illness long enough to know many of its intricacies. The book is organized into sections on how it feels; diagnosis; “Bipolar Is in Our Blood” (eg, taking care of one’s mother or daughter with BD); caregivers (spouse stories); and “I’ve Learned to Manage It,” which includes 9 lovely pieces on writing, music, and other helpful strategies not usually listed in textbooks.
A resource section includes many well-known groups and Web sites, from NAMI and DBSA to the International Society for Bipolar Disorders. This section also includes information on 5 different foundations that address suicide and suicide prevention—a statement in itself.
And what of the clinicians who should read this book but shall not? I’m sure that many of the authors herein would like to place a copy in the hands of doctors whom they experienced as inattentive or lacking understanding. Of course, our medical care system is partly to blame: funding is somehow available for the latest high-tech laboratory tests and interventions, but funding is not available for our time—just to listen closely. We might listen only enough to get the details necessary for the next decision. At minimum, we could say that every psychiatric resident and therapist-in-training should read this book. I will certainly suggest that those whom I supervise do so.