National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Finding Your Own Way: Learning to Live with Bipolar Disorder

By Zachary Culler, NAMI Communications Intern

Judging from the covers of their respective books, authors James T. R. Jones and Peter Goodman seem radically different at first glance. The cover of Buzzkill shows trendy PR practitioner Goodman comically falling from a bottle of pills, while the cover of A Hidden Madness displays law professor Jones dressed in business-suited solemnity. Especially in this case, however, one should never judge books by covers. Both of these men face daily struggles with bipolar disorder, but each brings his own strengths to the battlefield. Even though their voices resound in different ways, they nonetheless echo similar stories.

A Hidden Madness serves as Jones’ professional “coming out” story, in which he reflects upon the rigidity of the career that forced him to hide his disorder for so long. Some people might challenge this emotional journey, criticizing Jones for sounding detached and technical at times. But as much as his writing occasionally mirrors the solemn severity of law and academia, it also captures the touching gratitude of a man searching for kindness and understanding. Jones’ story glows with the warmth of a well-rounded life finally coming full-circle.

The charm of Buzzkill, on the other hand, lies in its consistent quest to recognize both humor and insight within the smallest pieces of life. Some might be quick to attack Goodman for his sardonically raw approach to the sensitive issue of bipolar disorder, but these accusations fail against the book’s true character. Goodman takes an admittedly novel approach by presenting his anecdotes in an almost fictional whimsy, but he takes care to ground such stories within the meaningful context of his daily hassles. During one scene: Goodman encourages you to laugh at his inconvenient obsessive behaviors, but then he quickly reminds the reader that such childhood rituals scared him into thinking he was always just “one missed ‘I love you’ from killing my grandparents.”

While both men use humor to soften (and sometimes emphasize) the intensity of their highs and lows, the reader’s laughs never lack an underlying thought or emotion. Whether you find yourself laughing or learning at any given moment, you’ll also find yourself understanding more of this disorienting struggle. Even though the authors’ styles read differently, the words of both men demonstrate a special kind of wisdom. In both books, each chapter seems to heave the knowing sigh of surmounting a lifelong challenge.