Joel's Reviews > Soaring & Crashing: My Bipolar Adventures

Soaring & Crashing by Holly Hollan
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's review
Jan 29, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: biography, psychology
Recommended for: Families of bipolar sufferers and clinicians
Read in February, 2009

My personal experience of people in mania (including myself) clumsily parcels out those who revel in their manias and those who fight them with every ounce of their spirit through self-examination and re-examination. The ones who kept ending up in the hospital and getting into trouble were of the first order. They may have been sharp at math, possessing of stupendous vocabularies, or cleverness, but when it came to having insight into their disorder, they kept making the same mistakes over and over again. Their thinking tended towards the magical. When they took part in support groups, they were the smartest, the ones who had nothing to learn from anyone else. They were forever second-guessing their doctors and stopping their meds. It was imperative for them to be optimistic to the fault of refusing to see bipolar disorder as anything more than a "different" or "highly-sensitized" way of seeing things in a universe where there was no truth. When they fell, it was spectacular.

Meet Holly Hollan who fits these criteria to a T. Hollan is by her own self-description "brilliant", able to pass any test, master any machine, forsee earthquakes, and understand psychology as well as any professional. Every bad decision she makes, every catastrophe turns out to have a silver lining. She is Candide awash in religiosity, grandiosity, and Neil Diamond.

Her story, nevertheless, enthralls mostly by frightening. Hollan's mother was the Mistress of Unjust Punishments, denying her daughter a whole school year without makeup and nylon stockings because of a practical joke Holly played on her little sister. Her parents became acolytes of Nathaniel Branden, the one-time heir apparent of Ayn Rand. Her earliest therapists were of that movements. In one particularly memorable episode, she left her job at the Morton Salt Company in Michigan to stalk Neil Diamond in Hollywood as part of a quest to realize the Second Coming. The obsession became so ingrained in her life and her delusions that one therapist screamed at her "You are not going to marry Neil Diamond!" Near book's end, she suggests that a meeting with Diamond over the phone was the realization of that vision as proved by the capture of Saddam Hussein two days later. She says that afterwards she let go, but that declaration implies that the delusion still informs her self-history.

Her response to her symptoms are passionate, if sometimes wrong-headed. I have to admit like her being pulled through hard times by listening to songs such as "I am, I said". Getting through times, I have found however, is not the same as living them well. Speaking as one actively fought his manias every step of the way, I must say that those who are inclined towards mania need less of the optimism so lost upon depressives and more of an honest skepticism, the ability to say "Uh oh. I'm might be indulging in magical thinking here." Then when a relative prays for us and declares us healed so we won't need our meds anymore (as Hollan's little sister declared to her at one point) we avoid applauding the miracle and plunging into a fresh calamity.

The difference between me and Hollans is that I never trusted the miracle workers.

I would not hesitate to recommend Hollan's book to family members, clinicians, or stable sufferers who want to broaden their understanding of the disease. But into the hands of the newly diagnosed or those with a history of defying treatment I would not place it. Hollan's book has too many factual errors -- for example, she says that Tegretal is contra-indicated for people with seizures! It's not clear what medications she is on: on one page she claims that she takes only the lowest dose of Abilify. Within a chapter or so, she is saying that she has eliminated all medications except Xanax which she uses to slow her upturns. At points she blurs the distinction between what she believed while in her worst episodes and what she feels now. She is always, nevertheless, sure of herself. And that is why I recommend her narrowly, with abundant warnings.

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Reading Progress

01/29/2009 page 13
02/01/2009 page 159
58.24% "Getting manic just reading this!"
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message 1: by Belinda (new)

Belinda This is a very thoughtful review, thanks! Knowing what I know about anosognosia and mental illness, I can't help but think that your "two camps" of response to mania might better be described as those with anosognosia, and those without. My husband's one of the "lucky" (is anyone with mental illness lucky?) few--fewer than 20% of all bipolars, statistically--who, like you, is capable of insight about his illness, and therefore is able to "fight" it with everything he's got. People who lack insight are not "making mistakes" or engaging in magical thinking--their lack of insight is part and parcel of their disease. That's what makes it the very devil to treat.

Have you read Xavier Amador's I Am Not Sick I Don't Need Help? Amador also has a great two-hour lecture on Google Video on this topic, and it was really helpful for me in understanding anosognosia.

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