National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Book Review: Polarized: A Bipolar Memoir by Patricia Frisch

By Doug Bradley, NAMI HelpLine Coordinator

CreateSpace (2012), $14.99

Personal stories of mental illness often deal with betrayal. Firstly, there is the betrayal by one’s own mind. Also, there can be betrayal by mental health practitioners who are supposed to help, not hinder or even sabotage recovery. Additionally, there is often betrayal by “trusted” friends, family, teachers and clergy. Patricia Frisch, the author of Polarized: A Bipolar Memoir, experienced these and more. However, the book is not a litany of complaints. It is ultimately a story of forgiveness, personal growth and resilience.

Like many people later diagnosed with bipolar illness, Patricia had much anxiety and depression in her childhood and young adult years. The death of her father when she was 10 and her intense, self-blaming religious scrupulosity also intensified these feelings.

Despite these feelings, the author still had a deep attachment to her faith and attended a Catholic college. There she met with her first counselor who did not believe in medication and possibly lengthened the time it took Patricia to get help. After college she did receive the bipolar diagnosis. She also had several hospitalizations which were helpful, except when hospital staff said she didn’t need medication after discharge and when, after readmission, her psychologist kissed her on the mouth.

During this time the author also joined the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church. Despite its good works and emphasis on spirituality, she ultimately discovered that this movement was hostile to psychiatry and further delayed her recovery.

After finally accepting medication as a part of her treatment, the author obtained her pastoral counseling degree. Again, however, she was betrayed during this process. The priest supervising her program sexually harassed and abused her. She was, amazingly, able to move beyond these events and went on to earn her Ph.D. in pastoral counseling. She also married during this time and started a family.

In the face of all she has been through the author maintains a remarkably balanced view regarding her church. She is clear that the church was responsible for allowing bad behavior among its clergy, but she does not condemn everyone in it or blame it for all her difficulties.

With the exception of the psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, I believe Patricia Frisch is the only doctoral-level mental health practitioner to publicly disclose her bipolar diagnosis, which puts her in a very select club. Hopefully, public admissions such as this will allow more people living with mental illness to openly participate in professions—and life in general—to which they have much to offer.