Manic: A Memoir
By Terri Cheney
Morrow, 256 pp., $24.95
I've read many good descriptions of the dull misery of depression but few of the reckless volatility of mania. Cheney, who has suffered both, writes with passionate clarity about depression and the lure of suicide but with especially keen intensity about mania. Mania, which "lights up the every nerve ending . . . like a volcanic eruption," drove her to approach driving, men, and her career with complete abandon.
Cheney begins with a horrifying story, a suicide attempt that turns into a freakish brutal sexual assault and a more freakish unintentional rescue, by the same scary stranger. The extremes of this bizarre incident duplicate the bipolar extremes of Cheney's life. She fluctuated between the highs of acute grandiose euphoria and the lows of uncaring, inert despair. When manic, she starved herself; when depressed, she ate everything she could find (including a box of baking soda). A beautiful, bright LA entertainment lawyer, Cheney labored to keep her illness a secret, inventing bouts of the flu and dental appointments to cover her professional lapses. Giddy and unbalanced or unwashed and undercover, she tried a variety of medications, rehab and psychiatric facilities, doctors, and finally electroshock therapy. The treatment, which wiped out her short-term memory and left her puzzled about the uses of a fork, sent her first into psychosis and suicidal behavior, then seems to have stabilized her. At the end of her memoir, able to write about her experiences, she feels cautiously hopeful. But, as she well knows, "the cruelest curse of the disease is also its most sacred promise. You will not feel this way forever."
Barbara Fisher is a freelance critic who lives in New York