On the sweltering summers of the soul

September’s New York Review of Books has an extended piece by Oliver Sacks where he reviews Hurry Down Sunshine, a memoir of a parent’s experience of seeing their daughter spiral into mania and psychosis.

In typical Sacks style it is more than just a book review, as it takes us through the history of manic-depression and discusses its the various literary treatments over the years.

I always thought manic-depression was a much better name for what is now diagnosed as bipolar disorder, precisely for the reason Sacks states in his review – that ‘bipolar’ suggests a kind of emotional see-saw, where you’re either up or down, where in reality, mixed emotional states occur in a significant minority of people with mood disorders.

Only one thing about the article made me roll my eyes (OK, two if you count the minor quibble that psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison is misdescribed as a psychiatrist).

Sacks says that “Mania is a biological condition that feels like a psychological one” and suggests it is due to “chemical imbalance in the brain”.

Of course, mania is both a biological and psychological condition (as we think with our brains, how could it not be?) and the references to a ‘chemical imbalance’ is a misleading oversimplification.

Otherwise, it’s as clear and engaging a piece as you’d expect from one of our best writers on the mind, brain and human condition.

Link to Sacks’ NYRB review ‘A Summer of Madness’ (via MeFi).
Link to more information on Hurry Down Sunshine.

3 Comments

  1. Posted September 8, 2008 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    You could say that chemical imbalances are what make the brain work.
    But I suppose we should cut Saks a bit of slack.

  2. longnow
    Posted September 9, 2008 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    As a person with scz I can tell you that Saks
    is right and he is wrong. Mania is biological
    even beyond the obvious fact that it occurs
    in the brain. IMO, BP and scz are mental conditions
    but they also occur and have origins in overall immunity. Scz and BP are systemic conditions and
    the cure will likewise be systemic in it’s effect.

  3. longnow
    Posted September 9, 2008 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    One of the symptoms of BP and scz is anxiety.
    The only way out of anxiety beyond strong
    medication is something called Transdermal
    Magnesium. The only other delivery system
    that works is to take the magnesium they
    use in emergency rooms by IV. It’s simple,
    direct and has no side effects. In fact,
    it’s so uncomplicated you will ignore
    what I said as the ravings of someone
    in delirium. In fact, the only real
    catch might be using Red Bull or
    coffee right afterward which would
    be a good way to screw up a good thing.
    (Mg supplements are good for constipation
    and not much else.)


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