Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life
Melody Moezzi
Avery, 2013 ($26)

A fine line separates creativity and madness. Bipolar disorder teeters along that line, with patients experiencing moments of impulsive thought, which can yield bold insights or quickly descend into confusion or rage.

In her new book, Haldol and Hyacinths, Iranian-American author and activist Moezzi presents a captivating autobiographical account of her struggle with bipolar disorder. Using a series of vignettes, she reconstructs her downward spiral into psychosis, which eventually led to a suicide attempt and multiple stays in mental health facilities. From seemingly innocuous bouts of insomnia to full-blown hallucinations, Moezzi describes how she descended into madness.

Moezzi's medical issues first emerged in her sophomore year of college, when she began to experience severe abdominal pain, later diagnosed as pancreatitis. Doctors decided to remove her pancreas to save her life and prevent a cyst from festering. Everyone she knew rallied alongside her during this time.

Things were much different when Moezzi's bipolar disorder took hold in the years following her physical illness. She soon discovered that mental illness has no heroes, no celebrity spokesperson, no champions. Relying solely on the support of her immediate family and a devoted husband, Moezzi saw that the disorder carries a stigma, exacerbated by inaccurate media portrayals. Even worse is the plight of patients in places such as Moezzi's homeland of Iran, where mental illness is simply ignored. Despite bipolar disorder being the sixth leading cause of disability in the world, there is not even a word for the disease in Farsi.

Moezzi's doctors placed her on a medication regimen to balance her moods, but simply controlling the disorder did not satisfy her. She decided to channel her energy into writing and speaking in public forums, providing people with an inside look at the personal and medical dimensions of mental illness. Moezzi's activism has put a much needed human face behind the illness.

Moezzi uses a powerful narrative to illustrate that battling bipolar disorder means relying on others to overcome the struggle. Yet she also succeeds in offering hope to people suffering from any mental illness and their caretakers: we can thrive despite our brain's quirks and weaknesses. Much like the hyacinth flower, which rarely grows perfectly straight, Moezzi believes we need to embrace the disorder in our lives and understand that support from loved ones will keep us afloat.