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.