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on April 25, 2008
Madness is one of the few personal accounts of bipolar disorder I've read that covers the escalating unfolding of the disorder from such an early age (4 years old) to the present. The book covers just about every aspect of the struggle with bipolar disorder - early failures to diagnose it, misdiagnosis, clueless and competent psychiatrists and therapists, stressors, triggers, the tendency to self-medicate, hospitalizations, hyper-sexuality, the terrible side effects of many of the medications used to treat depression and mania, bipolar and career, alcoholism, self-mutilation, relationship dynamics, lack of insight (not realizing when a manic episode is settling in), and the highly productive and invigorating hypomanias that often convince those with bipolar disorder that nothing's wrong. Her narrative functions almost like a textbook case study of bipolar disorder.

The book has a solid chronological structure that leads the reader through the escalating and exhausting mood cycles Hornbacher experienced. She is a highly skilled writer who keeps the narrative progressing at a quick pace while revealing dazzling insights about the disorder, about people, and about life in general along the way.

What I found particularly helpful about the book is Hornbacher's descriptions of how her mood episodes began so seemingly innocent enough. One day, life seems to be just fine and then over the course of several days, weeks, or months becomes wonderful - everything is clicking and Hornbacher's energy and joy seduces all those around her - and then, just as suddenly, her world crashes in on her. People who haven't experienced this, don't know what it's like. They wonder why people with bipolar disorder can't tell when their moods are cycling or why a loved one didn't step in sooner. I think Hornbacher's accounts can help people gain a better understanding.

As co-author of Bipolar Disorder for Dummies and as someone who's "married to bipolar," I could relate to just about everything in Madness. Hornbacher does an incredible job of taking the reader on the roller coaster ride that is bipolar disorder, revealing the wreckage that bipolar leaves in its wake, and filling those who battle it in their own lives with an appreciation of the positive aspects of the disorder and hope for a better future.
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on November 7, 2008
Marya is an amazing writer and her literary gift puts you right in the middle of her psychotic episodes. So on sheer literary value, this book would get 5 stars for me. It was gripping, emotionally intense, and very well-written.

That being said, this book is being hailed as an end-all, be-all for Bipolar disorder and as a female with exactly the same diagnosis as Marya (Ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar I) but without an eighth of the crazy that she has, it's important to remember that Bipolar is a SPECTRUM disorder and she is at the FAR crazy end of it, a near worst case possibility that is not typical in the least. This is yet another book that makes the general population terrified of people with Bipolar disorder. I haven't seen many books at ALL that will gently remind you that Bipolar is a spectrum disorder and there ARE people out there with these tragic diagnoses (like myself) who still get up every day, go to work, and function as productive members of our society. Just because she needs a visit to the funny farm a few times a year and about 18 different chemicals in her bloodstream at any given moment doesn't mean that all or even MOST people who live with Manic Depression are the same.

On that basis, I deduct a point from the book because it focuses on her experience, her diagnosis, her reckless abandon, and her low functionality in a world that expects she at least get out of her pj's every day, without acknowledging that she is indeed, out of her mind. She never takes more than a sentence to remind the world that she's on the far end of a SPECTRUM disorder. She just writes down her experiences with the disorder, a bunch of jumbled facts, and closes the book out. And on fear factor alone (my MIL started hovering over me every time I used a steak knife for a month after reading this book), this book barely keeps the four stars I'm giving it. It'll scare the crap out of you... make you think that Bipolar = crazy... and tell you ALL about how she's dealt with her crazy (Coke and booze binges anyone??). But it's hardly the end-all, be-all memoir on living with Manic Depression.

Bipolar people... Read it to remind yourself... I might be out of my mind but at least I'm not THAT bad (and DO be warned that every bipolar person I know has had an episode triggered by reading this book Including myself!!). Supporters of Bipolar people... read it and remind yourself that this is the worst case scenario. And for all others interested in how Bipolar people think or are... Check out Detour by Lizzie Simon... a MUCH better read on the spectrum of Bipolar Disorder and the disorganized world of a Manic Depressive mind... WITHOUT the fear factor this and most other books on the subject give you.
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on January 24, 2010
I eagerly purchased "Madness" after its release; "Wasted" was one of the most compelling memoirs I've ever read and Hornbacher is a fascinating and incredibly talented writer. After reading about a third of the book, I found myself struck by the disparity between Marya Hornbacher the writer and Marya Hornbacher the person.

Marya the writer is thoughtful and shockingly insightful; she is hyper self-aware, almost to the point of being self-obsessed, able to write chapter after chapter of intricate prose about her own history, thoughts, and actions.

Marya the person seems to lack any self-awareness. She acts on impulse alone, jumping from one whim to the next, rarely stopping to pause and think about what she's doing. She is sucked into her own emotions and compulsions easily; she easily slips back into patterns drug & alcohol habits, compulsive spending, self-mutilation, sex-addicted behavior.

Both Maryas are interesting, and make for a hardy memoir, but there's something missing in the writing. "Madness" is extremely detached, written as if "Marya" is a fictional character being written about by an impartial observer. It's often hard to believe that Marya the writer actually did the things Marya the person did. There's plenty of pretty prose, plenty of insight, but there's no connectivity. Hornbacher is a great writer, but she is a clinical and analytical one. Sometimes that works in a memoirist's favor (see, "Darkness Visible," "Girl Interrupted") but it's just sort of strange to read someone writing about themselves in a cold, mathematical, detached sort of what when they are trying to relate periods of extreme passion & mental illness. She'll write about an epic mental breakdown or temper tantrum, but there is no fervor in the narrative that pulls you into the writer's mind & into the moment with her. I mean, say what you will about Elizabeth Wurtzel (another person who has published multiple books concerning herself & her struggles with mental illness), but she has a deeply idiosyncratic and conversational writing style that makes it very easy to imagine her acting in the temperamental, selfish, impossible, moody ways she describes. Marya Hornbacher seems like two different people in her books. It worked well in "Wasted," in which she discussed her detachment from her body and her emotions, but it just falls a little flat in "Madness." She is describing CAPSLOCK EMOTIONS, but they don't feel CAPSLOCK to the reader.

"Madness" also could have used some heavy-duty editing; the book's organization is difficult and, well, a little disorganized. And she does have a habit of presenting the same ideas and revelations with different wording over & over again. A lot could have been cut, which would have made "Madness" a more impactful read. I found it hard to get through at times. You know what they say about brevity being the soul of wit? Yeah, it's true.

None of this is to imply that "Madness" is a bad book. Far from. It's just a bit of a difficult and frustrating read at times. When it is good, it is really really good. And even when it's bad, it's not horrid.
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on July 7, 2008
Having recently entered into the confusing world of having a child diagnosed with bi-polar, trying to tease out a distinction between mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction, watching different psychiatrists prescribe different medications, along with the child being a hostile patient, i.e. doesn't want to talk about what's going on---this book is a brilliant insight into what's going on inside a rapid cycle bi-polar head. I recognized some actions of my son throughout this book and finally got a sense of what it must be like inside his brain. This book gave me a new appreciation for the pain he is trying to hide or run away from. And also gave me insight into how I can better be there for him in his mental illness while not enabling his addictive behavior. This illness is not fun and there seems to be a lot of differences in how to treat it, especially as the field of study on bi-polar appears to be expanding and new treatments are on the rise but not consistently throughout the psychiatric profession.

Marya Hornbacher has done a great service for me by writing in such vivid prose her ongoing dilemma. Admittedly, my reading on bi-polar is not exhaustive, but this is the first book I've read that truly captured the tyranny of this illness. Ms. Hornbacher is a truly gifted writer. I do not envy her the ongoing struggle she faces, but she sure dug deep to write this. Throughout the the painful descriptions of behavior and feelings shines a courage that lifts my hopes for my own son.
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on March 31, 2008
'Madness' lives up to Ms. Hornbacher's first memoir, 'Wasted', and in the same take-no-prisoner style that is hers almost exclusively, gives readers a first-hand glimpse inside the head and heart of a typical victim of the insanity that is (untreated) bipolar. She is honest and unapologetic, she is in-your-face, and she is raw. I sympathized with Marya so much in this memoir that I couldn't help but feel elated when she found moments of peace, and desperate during each of her countless hospitalizations...even if some of them were hastened by her own hand. She shows readers that a person can be both severely mentally ill and outrageously successful at the same time. She dispels many myths about mental illness in this book, as she did with eating disorders in 'Wasted.' Marya Horbacher is brilliant, and the unimaginable setbacks she has suffered in her young life have done nothing to change that; in fact, they have made her stronger and infinitely more compassionate. With a quick wit and self-deprecating humor, Ms. Hornbacher has penned another brilliantly intense memoir that, in my opinion, is on-par with any of Elizabeth Wurtzel's writings, and perhaps even better.
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on January 20, 2011
Although it was painful and sometimes terrifying to read, it did speak to so much of what is in the mind of someone who is living the "Bipolar life" and I do suggest this book as one of MANY first person accounts of their own journey through this illness. Each one is different. I will leave much of my response to Mr. Joe Kraynak with his review titled "Brutally Honest". While I did not read all 84 reviews, I also agree with some of what was posted from those who did not like the book. Some make valid points and I agree to disagree with many others. To "The Voyeur" I will simply say that if you are reading these books for the thrill of looking through the windows into our lives and have found us to be lacking, may I suggest some other genre of reading. It is very important for potential readers to realize that this is a memoir and is written by someone who, I believe, is at the far end of the Bipolar spectrum. She is sharing her story. Her reality.

As my title indicates, I have Bipolar Disorder I w/hypo manic cycling. I have been struggling to find my "new normal" for 5 years now after years of an incorrect diagnosis. This illness washed over me like a Tsunami. I didn't see it coming and it left nothing but devastation in its wake. Nothing in my life was left untouched.

I would like to hop on my soap box for just a bit and share some thoughts about this illness I have named THE BEAST. I am not a Doctor. I'm just a regular person. My intention is to share some thoughts and will not offer any "what to do" or "what to take" information. It would be completely irresponsible to do so.

To all of those who are living with this. To the friends, family, neighbors and co-workers who want to learn more. To those in the medical community. To the curious and especially to those who reject most depictions and just can't/won't embrace the realities of mental illness.

We are not just having a bad day. We cannot just get over it. We are not lazy. For the ladies, we are not hormonal. We can't just suck it up. We are not contagious. We are not all homicidal maniacs. My favorite comment will always be "it's all in your head". At the risk of sounding juvenile...duh! We don't want your pity and we do not want to be ignored. This is the kind of stigma that keeps many of us silent or in denial.

The brain is one of the most amazing organs in the human body. Each one behaves differently and what we don't know about its inner workings far outweighs what we do know. Some things are part of our DNA while other behaviors are as a result of external influence. With us, it's a mixture of both. For me, external situations or events will almost always trigger my behavior to one side or the other.

Clinical depression, Bipolar, Schizophrenia and any other mood disorders are physical problems in the brain and should be treated as such. All are chronic conditions that have no cure. There is no magic pill and no magic wand that will miraculously make it all better. BUT THERE IS HOPE.

This illness does not discriminate. It doesn't care if you are rich or poor. Skinny or fat. Extremely intelligent or not very. Race and religion are irrelevant. It doesn't care how old you are or what gender you are.

Diagnosis is a tough call and often subjective. There is no blood test, x-ray, CT scan or MRI. I considered the opinions of many different Dr.'s within the Psychiatric profession before I accepted my diagnosis and took steps to get my "support team" assembled and my treatment plan organized so my journey to my "new normal" could begin. Treatment plans for one will not necessarily work for another. Treatment is not an exact science. It is essentially a crap shoot. BUT THERE IS HOPE.

The #1 for me was to learn as much as I could about my illness. I am thankful that I could do this during hypo manic periods. I read everything I could get my hands on, made phone calls, talked to people I ran into and spent countless hours online looking at every reputable Mood Disorders research and/or information group. Knowledge is power and it has helped me greatly in being able to participate almost completely in my journey towards a reasonable level of recovery.

#2 for me was to find a Psychiatrist and Cognitive therapist to add to my GP. The one major pre-requisite was they all had to have an open mind and a willing ear. I would tolerate no Dr's arrogance or lack of bedside manner. I was not the "little lady" who was going to just sit silently while being told they know best.

#3 I am a believer in "mind/body/spirit". I took a long look at my nutrition, exercise and spirituality and found that all were seriously lacking.

So as I write this, my treatment plan is in place. This includes some medication, cognitive therapy (very important)and I am working harder in every other area. Is everything working according to plan? Heck no. Still haven't found the right cocktail of meds that I know I can't be without. The therapy is going very slowly and the mind/body/spirit thing is also taking its sweet time. My frustrations are many. Am I a bit fearful? Sure. Am I sick and tired of being sick and tired? Absolutely. Some days I am in control. Other days it is THE BEAST. But I keep going because THERE IS HOPE.

Money is definitely an issue for most of us. So many of us don't have the financial resources to obtain the finest care imaginable. Mental Health services are underfunded and the ability to get help sometimes seems hopeless. BUT THERE IS HOPE.

There is help out there. You and/or someone that can assist you must move heaven and earth to get what you need. I swallowed a lot of pride and lost a good deal of my dignity while having to beg anyone who would listen to give me the help I so desperately needed.

You have undoubtedly seen yourself referred to "as" bipolar. I prefer to say I am someone who "has" bipolar. I refuse to back down from this illness and I refuse to have this illness define me as a person. That one word "has" is very powerful.

Never back down. Despite the fear, you must keep fighting to get well. The only other option is not an option at all.

Once you are open to it, allow yourself some self-deprecating humor. I personally find it therapeutic.

With love and hope,

"Courage is not the absence of fear, rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear - Ambrose Redmoon
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on January 30, 2009
This book was important to me in nursing a broken heart as I had dated a bipolar man for two years and eventually we broke up due to his abrupt and extreme mood changes and his substance usage. I know that bipolar is a difficult diagnosis to have but I didn't realize the full reality of what it meant until coming upon this book. My boyfriend used to get so angry at me for walking slow, driving slow (the speed limit), or not doing anything up to his speed. In the book, the author explains that when she was in manic phase, EVERYONE seemed slow and it was excruciating to her to tolerate her perceived "slowness" of others as the thoughts inside her head were moving in warp speed. When my boyfriend was in his depressed stage he would literally disappear, not answer the phone, not talk to me, and drink. The author explains how devastating the depressive cycle was to her and how impossible it was to get up out of bed during this time, in fact she would use cocaine to get her going. She explains the relationship of the manic depressives cycles to substance usage. At times I would try to talk to my boyfriend about his "cycles" which were predictable and he would stare at me and act like he didn't know what I was talking about, which I couldn't believe, since it seemed so obvious. But in this book, the author explains her surprise as an adult when a psychologist asked her about how fast she cycled (changed moods) and she didn't know what he was talking about. To her, the moods were random and came and went without explanation. In fact the psychologist had to explain to her what a "cycle" was. She was so unaware about herself.
At the end of our relationship, my boyfriend found another woman in less than a month's time which truly hurt my feelings, and yet the author also reveals that after the breakup of her marriage she had found a new husband and moved across country in less than a month. Impulsivity, another aspect of bipolar manic phase.
Reading this revealing autobiography helped me to understand what demons my ex boyfriend was wrestling with and helped to heal some of my hurts that I had taken his behaviors personally and realized it wasn't like that. This book will not save our relationship as me and my ex have both moved on, but I applaud the author for her candid writing about a mental state that affects many of the most creative and loving people. It will also help me know ahead of time what I might be getting into should I ever be attracted to a man with bipolar again, which I actually don't think will happen, unless he is willing to take medication to treat it, which my ex expressed he did not want to do. Still, I think this is a good book to help understand friends and loved ones. I recommend it.
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on February 2, 2016
I am very interested in bi-polar disorder so read this eagerly, But it needed extensive editing......way too much repetition and long-winded stories that could have been shortened or left out. It shows 'in loving color" how devastating and life-destroying serious bi-polar is and how many other syndromes are associated with it.
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on May 15, 2008
Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder myself, I thought that reading another person's account would help to deepen my understanding of my own situation. That being said, I am glad this book wasn't around for me to read a year ago when I first found out. I would have been scared to death. If you have never encountered a bipolar person (there are many degrees of bipolar, some more serious than others) this is NOT the book for you. It may give you the wrong impression of the disorder.
Her chapters read like manic episodes, jumping from thought to thought which I found discomforting, despite my complete understanding of what that feels like(and didn't she mention throughout that she was working on this book while experiencing episodes?). Her multiple hospitalizations, wild road trips, and even more than one marriage can make one think that bipolar is too much to handle and is something to be scared of.
However, there were moments in there that floored me - that had me saying "Oh s**t. That is exactly how I felt before I was treating my disorder." She also details the inevitable process of denial that occurs when one is diagnosed with something as stigmatized as bipolar disorder. The continual self-abuse that makes treatment that much harder.
If you have already learned about bipolar and can handle a horrendous story of one woman's personal experience, then go ahead. There are many resources listed in the back which can be helpful if you havn't already found them on the web. However, I do not plan to re-read this book and plan to sell my copy.
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on March 16, 2009
As somebody who does have rapid cycling bipolar I disorder I loved this book because I have lived it. I know all to well what she went thru and the hospitals (I have sweet talked deals with dr's not to put me in & have gone to therapy everyday) and the horrible side effects that some medications have on one. Every account in her book reminded me of something that had happened to me kudos to her for writing it.
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