Bipolar disease, also named manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks. The disease is experienced in four different phases: hypomania, mania (frenzied, abnormally excited, or irritated mood), depression, and mixed (concurrent symptoms of mania and depression). Effective treatments to control symptoms are medication and talk therapy, being a combination of both what usually works best.
The story of Elena Quevedo (Quevedo, E. 2013. God, Bipolar Disease And Sex: Making Bipolar Disease Work for You Rather Than Destroy You. Palibro, Bloomington, IN) is the story of a strong woman who, in spite of many abuses, difficulties, and having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder attempts to manage all, and writes a book relating her personal experience.
“I wrote this book in 3 months, but told people that it was 3 years, because they would be suspicious of my mental illness”.
Narrated in the first person and told as in confidence, this is a firsthand account of the whirlpool of thoughts and ideas that raced through her mind while under the effects of her illness’ episodes. Read carefully it might help to understand the mental and physical exhaustion that such episodes can cause to the sufferer. Jumpy, with missing prepositions, and cut off sentences while following a background well defined structural narrative, this is a book to be read straight, whole, in one seating. Only that way can the reader appreciate, through an unstoppable flow of repetitive ideas, the full extent of the ups (maniac phase) and downs (depressive phase) of somebody hit by this disorder. And here is where the strength of this book, its uniqueness, stands to.
Deeply autobiographical, the author displays her painful past as a series of vignettes that can be threaded from her earlier childhood to her days as a bipolar inmate at FCI Danbury (Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury), a low security federal correctional institution with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp in Danbury, Connecticut where she was confined due to a repeated happenstance attributed to her disorder.
Several times ready to give up (multiple attempts of suicide, fortunately failed), not surprisingly, and similar to what previously occurred to writer William Styron with depression, she finds relief and solace on being in partial isolation: incarceration in her case and admission to a mental institution in his. Both of them agreed that by that they were saved from suicide and, later on, were able to return to a more ‘normal’ life. In her case, she also benefited at large by therapy received through a specially tailored rehabilitation program:
“The Step Down Program (SDP) at FCI Danbury is designed to help mentally ill female offenders reduce symptoms and the occurrence of psychiatric relapse and consequent hospitalization during incarceration as well as after release from prison.
The Treatment team for the SDP includes a full ti[m]e psychologist, [a] full time Clinical Social Worker, and [a]half time Psychiatrist. Program participants meet regularly with the treatment team to create and update individual treatment plans”.
As already mentioned as normally prescribed, she follows a combined treatment of therapy and medication.
“You need a mood stabilizer, an antidepressant. I take Effexor as antidepressant. I take Risperidone for anxiety and Co[n]gentin[e] for the side effects of the other drugs”.
|Effexor®Venlafaxine||A selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs).||Increases the amounts of serotonin and norepinephrine, natural substances in the brain that help maintain mental balance.|
|Risperidone||An atypical antipsychotic.||Used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia and episodes of mania or mixed episodes of mania and depression.|
|Cogentin®Benztropine mesylate||A synthetic compound containing structural features found in atropine and diphenhydramine.||Used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and tremors caused by other medical problems or drugs.|
Therapeutic painting and poetry were used by her as means to express feelings and thoughts during the different phases of the disease (normal state, hypomania, and mania) as well as to gain relief from mental stress:
“Art therapy is a vehicle to express words, feelings and ideas in a nonverbal manner, which allows the person to identify aspects of self that may not be available to them at a verbal level”.
The book depicts some of the author’s drawings; drawings packed with symbolism and other references driven by her deep religiosity and love for all forgiving God, which help the reader to get a sense of her visions, fears, and feelings derived from her mental distress. Thus, readers get well acquainted with a disease that according to the National Institute of Health, as cited by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans (about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older) every year.
Within the Hispanic tradition, among others, there is a generalized tendency to see mental institutions as hell places of no return, places where devilish doctors take pleasure in torturing patients using them as guinea pigs for some obscure research experimentation. Being that caricaturized picture far from actual reality we, as interpreters and cultural brokers, should be able to convey the proper message in an attempt to properly overcome those putative patients’ thoughts for them to benefit from providers’ knowledge and experience, and ultimately keep their disease under control if not able to recover from it.