As I am writing my memoirs and reading other books about mental illness and disorders, I am hard-pressed to find books that encompassed the whole person, not just the one in the grips of their disorder. Most of the books make it sound as if there is no moderate ground, that the writers were always in turmoil. Many of these books were all about unbridled sex and substance abuse like they were the only part worth mentioning. I can understand wanting to write about that life.
BUT, I am not writing that book.
I have Bipolar 1 and ADHD. I have also had anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, body dysmorphia, PTSD, anxiety, complicated grief, panic attacks, dissociative disorder, agoraphobia, intermittent explosive disorder, and was a hoarder. Whew.
I have had a very productive, although scattered and crazy life dealing with these. And I want to offer hope. I searched for help, did the hard work; made decisions, stayed on medication, and changed my life to reach contentment and a life full of joy. And I went through a lot of shit to get to where I am.
Deciding what to put in my memoirs is difficult. There is so much to write about, but what actually lends itself to a good essay might be totally different.
Any mental illness does not affect all its targets in the same way. Its “victims” rise or fall independently of each other. However, I am not a victim. But I played one for decades.
I think I have started up and rewritten the beginning of my memoir fifteen times and I still haven’t arrived at a point where I can say, Ah-Ha, I have my path.
I know what I want to write about and I know how I want to say it. But I just haven’t figured out how to pull it all together… yet.
I am thinking that dictating conversations with my husband and transcribing them may be a way to lay down the foundation of my essays. Writing on the computer has me stopping to edit, or second guess myself. Instead, I need to talk it out.
My memoir is not an “oh poor me” book. It isn’t a book filled with one drunken, pill-filled orgy after another. I have not taken pills other than the ones to manage a headache, lessen pain, or prescriptions to keep my life in balance. My addictions manifested in other forms.
Much of my life has been a shit storm, but I have also had “there-but-the-grace” moments and karma stepping in when I least expect it. I have had one-hundred and sixty-five pounds on my five-foot-five-inch frame. And I have been in the throes of anorexia, bingeing and bulimia, plummeting down to 78 pounds.
I love who I am now. I have emerged; I have survived.
I want others in similar situations to learn that they can too.
I didn’t know what was creeping into me was a slew of disorders. I was oblivious and thought I was weird, stupid, and crazy. I hid myself. I couldn’t understand how others around me had lives that looked put together. Or could do simple tasks that were so far beyond me. I would stare blankly when a friend tried to explain the merits of calendars and lists and self-control or tell me to “just hang in there.” That has got to be the absolute worst thing someone could say to the suicidal. Really? I wanted to ask, and “don’t give me ideas” floated out next.
Mental health challenges should not be a competition to find the worst in yourself and announce it from the rooftop or try to get a best seller out of it. I am tired of people wearing their disorders like badges to get into the pity parties of life. Although I am recognizing that is what sometimes sells books.
It is like sitting around a fire pit at a hostel in a foreign locale and trying to worst up the others travel horror stories. The one with the biggest risk gets a prize.
I have read enough memoirs that seem to mimic the ones that came before. A month, a year or several go by hopping from one bed to another, one snort or bottle or syringe. One failed semester, one rebellion, one car crash. It is getting monotonous, and it sometimes sounds like people think once they get a diagnosis it is free range to create a life of chaos. I can’t even finish those books now. For me, they are tiring and energy draining. It is not that these books shouldn’t be written, any book will appeal to someone. They just aren’t working for me NOW. But some have in the past.
I want to tell an original story.
Diagnosed and aware, or undiagnosed and searching, a mental illness like Bipolar 1 does not have to mean your life goes down the toilet forever. Yes, that may happen, and there are definitely people who rail between extremes every day. But in my experience, there are days where I can just be a “normal folk.” Share a walk or a moonlit dinner with a bottle of wine. Settle down to read a book on one of my “god, I can focus” days. Go into a store to buy that one item and not leave ten pounds heavier with a new wardrobe under my coat. Keep a bank account. Ok, I have had two bankruptcies but I have also had times when I could save a year for travel and hold down two jobs.
My life has been like the stock market, I have had life-changing highs, steady middles, and vicious crashes.
Someone diagnosed with Bipolar does not have to think when reading a book they are not a true bipolar, they are a fraud or they need to become sicker. It is not a competition. Each person is unique.
Anorexics do not have to become thinner than someone else to be a better anorexic. They don’t have to read a book and then use it as a textbook to become worse in order to wear the shame or to feel that their diagnosis is correct. I still do that, though. I still have trigger thoughts that make me want to exercise non-stop, restrict what to eat, or whether I eat, or am afraid to look in the mirror. I will read a memoir of anorexia and think back to my own days with comparison.
I want to write memoirs that offer a different, realistic perspective of a journey and hope. Maybe that is my grandiosity coming out, but I think it is a good goal.
When I am done, I hope there is a market for them and they challenge the stereotypes. That would be a wonderful thing.
Nikki RodwellJanuary 19, 2021 at 12:18 pm
Oh wow, love, love, love this article. I look forward to reading more. Well done. x
Ria TalkenJanuary 19, 2021 at 1:55 pm
Thank you!! I’ve had a lot of lessons to learn during the beginning of this whole writing thing. But slowly figuring it out and that all things don’t have to be completed by tomorrow. I can relax and enjoy the process. And I don’t have any need to beat myself up if need time to regroup.
Pat HallAugust 21, 2020 at 10:23 pm
I finally told my story, my first book — published this past January, 2020. The worst thing about me is that I have a compulsion to learn every language I see or hear. So I’ve travelled lots just to to learn the language there. Right now I’m living in Mexico and studying Nahuatl (I’ve already learned Spanish fifty years ago and am fluent in it.). Nahuatl is the language that the Aztecs spoke before the Spaniards came to Mexico and forced Spanish on them. But there are many, many words in Mexican Spanish that no other Spanish-speaking country has. Did you know that the words tomato, avocado, chile, coyote, tamale, and chicklet all come from Nahuatl? The word for avocado in Nahuatl actually means testacle because of the shape of it. The name of the famous Mexican resort town, Mazatlán, comes from the Nahuatl, meaning where the deer are. My book is called Speak To Me: Travels and Exploits of a Language Lover. It’s available on Amazon. Unfortunately no mention of Nahuatl in my book. I’ve just started learning Nahuatl since the book was written.
Ria TalkenAugust 21, 2020 at 10:49 pm
Congratulations on publishing.
Pat HallAugust 22, 2020 at 12:06 am
I self-published with Amazon. It was a bit of a chore. But I finally did it. The only way I ever wrote the book was because I joined a writers’ critique group here in San Miguel and we met every week. Every week we were expected to read something we had written the week before. So I wrote a chapter every week and after 17 weeks my book was done. I’d never have written it if I hadn’t moved to San Miguel.
Ria TalkenAugust 22, 2020 at 12:23 am
I am in the Wednesday SMA writer’s group along with 2 outside ones. Great for accountability.
Lisa Meltzer PennAugust 20, 2020 at 7:17 pm
Wow, thank you for sharing this story here. If it’s a preview of your memoir, then I believe in your voice.
Ria TalkenAugust 20, 2020 at 7:23 pm
Thank you so much for your nice words about my writing. I am hoping that when the memoirs are finished they help with expanding the conversation about mental illness and its treatment. I will be watching for your new blog posts. Congratulations.
Anne BaderJuly 14, 2020 at 4:28 am
Ria, There is so much about you I don’t know. I can’t wait to read your book. You are a damn courageous woman, and your story is powerful. I hope I can come and see you and Glenn someday in San Miguel. xoxo
Ria TalkenJuly 14, 2020 at 9:39 am
I am glad you are enjoying the posts. Yes, there is quite a lot that I hid from everyone. I just felt too embarrassed, crazy, and out of control. I am hoping I can change some attitudes about these illnesses and disorders by writing about them realistically.
San Miguel is lovely as always. It is a fabulous place to visit.
BarbaraJuly 13, 2020 at 5:50 pm
Forget about the market. Tell your story. Love the life you’ve had, are living, and will be living. It is like no one else’s, yet someone needs to hear/read it.
Get it on paper or record in whatever form. Vomit verbally. Just like with other excrement, when you are finished, you can go back and clean it up to get it how you want it to be.
Write for yourself, not for others. You’ve got a good start so…onward.
Ria TalkenJuly 13, 2020 at 6:29 pm
I am trying to go back to that almost raw write everything down and leave the perfectionist behind. Just like in painting, it is difficult to undo habits and break down preconceived notions of what is right. I love outsider art, so difficult to attempt to do. One just needs to go for it. I am putting aside reading memoirs that follow the same path of “let me show you my destruction.” I just can’t get interested in them anymore.
You are always so encouraging and I thank you for it.