4 Memoirs by BIPOC Authors With Bipolar Disorder You Need to Read
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After I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I started reading a lot of books on the subject, mostly memoirs by fellow people with bipolar disorder. I was trying to learn more about the illness and perhaps feel less alone in it, and I did to an extent, but all the most well-known bipolar memoirs are by white people. Which is fine, I can relate to people who aren’t of the same ethnicity as me, frankly I find it weird that apparently a lot of people can’t… But even though I recognize myself in a lot of white bipolar memoirs, I will concede it is extra nice to read about the experiences of other people of color with bipolar and get to relate to them in more than one way.
Here is a short list of bipolar memoirs whose authors are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. I hope these books find their way into the hands of my fellow non-white people with bipolar disorder, and I encourage white people to read them too.
**Content warning: These books speak of mental illness with sometimes brutal honesty, and so there are mentions of specific methods of suicide, self-harm, eating disorder behaviors and the like. Please take care of yourselves if you choose to read them.
1. “Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life“ by Melody Moezzi
Melody Moezzi is an Iranian-American Muslim activist, attorney and writer. In “Haldol and Hyacinths,” she compares her experiences of physical and mental health crises, how she was treated by professionals, and how the people around her reacted to them. She also dives deep into the ways her cultural identity and activism work interact with her bipolar disorder.
“There isn’t even an agreed-upon label for bipolar disorder in Farsi. If anything, people just steal from English or French, saying bi-polar or maniaco-dépression with a Persian accent.”
Manic or not, Melody is intense and exuberant, and I love her for it. Her judging other hospital patients reminds me of my own hospital days when I ranked everyone on the ward from most to least self-aware — always putting myself at the top of the list. It also warms my heart whenever she writes with elements of her parents’ accent, which happens to sound a lot like my father’s.
2. “That’s Mental: Painfully Funny Things That Drive Me Crazy About Being Mentally Ill“ by Amanda Rosenberg
Amanda Rosenberg is a mixed Chinese comedy writer with bipolar type II. In “That’s Mental,” she copes with the nightmare of navigating hypomania, depression, suicidality, psychosis and hospitalization in the only way she knows how: by finding ways to laugh about it. In an unapologetically honest and darkly humorous tone, she confesses some of the most embarrassing aspects of living with bipolar disorder and other forms of mental illness. This book is peak relatable, and strikes a really good balance between humor and serious subject matter.
“[My mom] told me that […] one time Jackie drove her car into a wall because she was bipolar. I was like, what the fuck? (Not out loud. My mom isn’t white.)”
Being a mixed Asian person with bipolar II myself, the part of this book that stuck with me the most was the very specific and confusing way one’s Asian mom gets mad at them for… getting a diagnosis? Getting help? If you know, you know.
3. “I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying” by Bassey Ikpi
Bassey Ikpi is Nigerian American and has been diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar II with mixed features. She is a spoken word artist, and it shows. The essays that make up “I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying” are poetic, raw, and make you feel like you are living it, like you are in her brain while it misfires. She takes us through the roller coaster ride of her rapid cycling moods, how they affect her relationship with her Nigerian family, the shame, the pretending, all with artfully chosen and skillfully placed words.
“I wrote a list of all the disasters, personal and global, that were my fault. I filled the entire page with the guilt I carried.”
This book about bipolar disorder written by a person of color is probably my favorite of the bunch. I love the way it captures how mental illness can mess with your memory and lead you to invent new facts to fill the gaps. Like Bassey, there are things I know have happened but can’t remember for the life of me, and other things I pretend are real even though a small part of me knows I made them up.
4. “My Body Is a Book of Rules” by Elissa Washuta
Elissa Washuta is an Indigenous author, of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. “My Body is a Book of Rules” is a deeply personal memoir in which she plays with form to recount her experiences of bipolar disorder, sexual assault, and all that comes with. The result is a collection of incredibly self-aware reflections that really capture what it is like to be a young adult trying to come to terms with so much personal tragedy.
“One day I woke up and had been bipolar my whole life.”
I particularly appreciate the details of Elissa’s experiences with medication — a double-edged sword that brings its own set of difficult choices to make — as well as her inner conflict and journey to feeling at home in her identity as an Indigenous person despite being fairly assimilated and white-passing.
If you have other such books to recommend, including ones in other languages, or if you are a bipolar person of color and have written a book about it, please share them in the comments, I would love to read them!
Lead image via Bassey Ikpi’s Official Facebook