As a person living with bipolar disorder (BD), the process of understanding my condition has been a long road. As I’ve worked towards making sense of my diagnosis, I found some of the most helpful resources to be books, blog posts and comics that addressed depression and BD, from the perspective of others who experience it.
Reading the stories of others helped me to de-stigmatize – after all, if I wasn’t judgmental of the people in these stories, I had no reason to judge myself. Beyond that, seeing my experiences mirrored in others helped me to understand BD better, keying me in to what I needed to do to live a better life, and helping me see I’m not alone.
So, here are the top four bits of written media I found most helpful as a person with BD, trying to understand BD!
4. Depression Comix
This was the first comic I’d ever encountered that addressed mental health problems from the perspective of someone living with them, and I found it extremely helpful and destigmatizing for the depression side of BD. Depression Comix shares what depression is like through the lens of multiple characters, and the stories are varied enough that most personal experiences will probably be somehow represented at one point or another. It’s been running since 2011, and at this point has over 400 comics.
Depression Comix helped me detach my experiences of depression from my self-concept and see it as a broader problem shared by many others. It made me feel less alone and reduced my self-stigma. That said, the content of the comic is very dark, and I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’re already depressed, feel like you’re on the brink of an episode, or if darker content is triggering for you. Content includes suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders, and the comics don’t show any resolution to most of these topics. If you do want to read Depression Comix, please check in with yourself first and make sure you’re up for it!
3. Wishful Drinking
Carrie Fisher was very outspoken about living with BD throughout her life, and her autobiography is no exception. Frank, humorous descriptions of BD are interspersed with tales of substance use, celebrity romances, and anecdotes about working on Star Wars. Overall, I found Fisher’s irreverent, humorous approach to BD to be entertaining and destigmatizing; her humour takes the edge off of experiences that are otherwise tough to think about. As Fisher puts it:
“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
That said, if you don’t feel comfortable with people making light of BD – which Fisher frequently does, using terms like “crazy” in the process – this might not be the book for you. Plus, this book is not strictly about BD, but rather about her life, so she also talks a lot about her famous parents and her interactions with celebrities. It sometimes reads more like celebrity gossip than anything else! All in all though, I found it a quick, entertaining read that I could learn from. Wishful Drinking taught me to look on the brighter side of BD.
Adventures in Depression and Depression Part 2 are blog posts by Allie Brosh, the creator of Hyperbole and a Half, that describe her experiences with depression. The posts, which are illustrated with quirky MS-paint style comics, explain depression in a way that’s intensely relatable yet rarely shown. It’s the sort of narrative that only a person who’s lived through depression could possibly come up with: accurate, personal, and mundane yet bizarre.
Brosh describes her transition through a months-long depressive episode, from initially feeling sad seemingly without reason, through the negative self-talk she begins to generate, to total numbness, to eventually coming back out of it. She explains what a different state of mind depression is, how it affected her relationships, and how completely benign a lot of well-intentioned advice seems when you’re in the midst of it. The posts don’t try to make depression sound hopeful or make sense; instead, they lay out just how absurd depression can be in the funniest and most relatable blog posts I’ve ever come across.
This graphic novel was the absolute most helpful book about BD I’ve ever encountered. Marbles, which features over 250 pages of artwork, is written and illustrated by a professional graphic novel artist who was first diagnosed with BD in 1998. A major focus of Marbles is the relationship between Forney’s BD and her art, and the tension of wanting to try various medications, but resisting them for fear of how her creativity will be affected.
Forney also shares her interactions with her therapist, how her mental condition affected her relationships, and the differences between bipolar 1, 2, and cyclothymia. It’s a captivating story, featuring a range of experiences that those of us who’ve experienced mania or hypomania can probably all relate to on some level. If there’s one source of media you pick up about BD, I would absolutely recommend this one.
Honourable mention: I Do Not Have an Eating Disorder by Khale McHurst. As the title suggests, this autobiographical comic is primarily about an eating disorder (namely, the author’s anorexia). However, partway through the narrative, the writer’s character is diagnosed with BD, making this a valuable resource for people with BD as well. Unfortunately, tumblr seems to have removed some pages.
Note: at the time of publishing this post, this comic’s archive isn’t working. The archive is still useful in order to see the trigger warnings, but to move through the comic, you can use this tag instead: https://khalemchurstcomics.tumblr.com/archive/tagged/idnhaed