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Book Reviews:  February 2008

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Swallow the Ocean
by Laura M. Flynn

As a child growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s, the author idolized her mother and her strong will and free spirit. But by the time Laura Flynn was eight, her mother's hold on reality began to slip, and the author and her sisters retreated into their own world of elaborate fantasy, dolls and books, as a way to escape from the reality of their mother's schizophrenia.  As children, they had no knowledge of what mental illness was:  "Most of all," one reviewer of the book has observed, "this memoir is a tribute to the ingenuity of children in the face of catastrophic events."  Flynn is a NAMI Minnesota member.

Manic: A Memoir
by Terri Cheney

"If you come with me on this journey, I think a word of warning is in order: manic depression is not a safe ride. It doesn't go from point A to point B in a familiar, friendly pattern. It's chaotic, unpredictable. You never know where you're heading next," Terri Cheney writes in the preface to her memoir—which is organized by manic episodes, rather than chronological order.

Fearing what friends and family might think of her, Cheney hid her illness for years. Her first suicidal depression was when she was 16. Under an immaculate appearance, she struggled to find an answer to what she was living, battling stigma and even her father to recognize it as an illness—and that you couldn't "pick yourself up by your bootstraps."

Her journey through college at Vassar and law school at UCLA was a battle with food to fill a hunger that wouldn't subside. At powerful firms in Hollywood, where she worked as an entertainment lawyer for high profile clients like Michael Jackson, she spent nights working to avoid others and took leaves of absences under different guises to try different treatments.

After an attempted suicide that landed her in a psychiatric ward for over a week, she finally began to accept her mental illness.

"I believe in the diagnosis. It's true to me as being a redhead. Despite the constant shifting of the earth beneath my feet, I feel grounded at last."

Throughout her journey, Cheney lost friends and family and lived with consequences. Today, she is comfortable speaking of her suicide attempts, therapy, medication and electroshock therapy she tried. And at the end of the journey, we see she no longer has to pretend to be someone she is not.   Her story is authentic, vivid testimony by a consumer. It's well worth-reading.

A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman's Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years
by Ruta Nonacs, M.D., Ph.D.

Nearly one in five women develop some kind of depression during their childbearing years, and as many as two thirds of them don't receive the care and support they need. Acknowledging that post-partum depression has gained considerable recognition over the past twenty years, this book argues that depression before and during pregnancy needs greater medical and social attention.   In addition to detailing medical factors that contribute to depression among mothers, it offers a comprehensive, current review of the many treatment options available, including medications, psychotherapy, light therapy, herbal medicines, and support networks. It concludes with a chapter addressed to families and friends, offering informed advice as to how they can help.

Break the Bipolar Cycle: A Day-by-Day Guide to Living with Bipolar Disorder
Elizabeth Brandolo, Ph.D. and Xavier Amador, Ph.D

Written for consumers living with bipolar disorder, Part One of this book addresses "The Big Questions" with up-to-date information about scientific knowledge, where a person might fit on s spectrum of diagnostic criteria, and effective treatments that are currently available. Part Two is a guide that addresses "Problems and Solutions," offering practical exercises that help customize the book—encouraging readers to find ways that work best for them to regulate mood, relieve stress, improve thought processes, and break the bipolar cycle. Once size does not fit all. The book can be used as a "jump start" for symptom management, a guide to understanding the illness, or a tool to help consumers focus conversations with doctors and families about .  Amador is a former NAMI national board member and author of the popular I'm Not Sick, I Don't Need Help, which recently was updated.

The Bipolar Teen: What You Can Do to Help Your Child and Your Family
by David J. Miklowitz, Ph.D., and Elizabeth George, Ph.D.

The Bipolar Teen is a guide to help parents distinguish between the typical ups and downs of adolescence and the symptoms of mania and depression; recognizing the signs of an impending episode and intervening before it starts.   Included are helpful tips for getting the most from interactions with doctors and school programs, and practical strategies for maintaining stability in family home life.