Poet David Lovelace in his memoir Scattershot: My Bipolar Family has a message for his fellow sufferers: Accept the neurological facts of your disease and take your pills! That central directive will be useful for anyone affected by bipolar disorder who may be harboring uninformed beliefs about its origin and cure.
Lovelace gives an insightful, sympathetic account of how members of his family struggled with the disease beginning in his early childhood. As the disease worsened for Lovelace's father, a minister, and his artist mother, they retreated to various coping solutions; then they found their sons also showing many of the same symptoms. Without any clear answers to his parents and brothers' problems, and with the disease becoming increasingly troublesome in his own life, Lovelace spent years out of contact with his family, self-medicating with a variety of drugs.
At first, Lovelace's parents interpreted their own unusual behaviors within the context of fundamentalist Christianity. Instead of seeking medical help, they tried to resolve their problems — including depressions, manic breaks and even involuntary hospitalizations — with prayer and hope.
As a young adult discovering his artistic gifts, Lovelace found justification for his disease in the biographies of well-known writers who also were bipolar. Eschewing conventional drug therapies for the excitement of rock star-style experimentation, Lovelace finally crashed and had to be rescued by his depressed father.
Lovelace offers this conclusion: "Some of us take lithium and antidepressants, and most everyone believes these pills are fundamentally wrong, a crutch, a sign of moral weakness, the surrender of art and individuality. Bulls---. Without medicine, 20 percent of us, one in five, will commit suicide. Denouncing these medicines makes as much sense as denouncing the immorality of motor oil."
Elizabeth Leib is a freelance writer in Tampa.