Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review: Sylvia Harris' Autobiography of Bipolar Disorser and Salvation at the Horse Tracks

The new book, "Long Shot: My Bipolar Life and the Horses Who Saved Me," is a must-read for those like me who struggle with bipolar illness, as well as for professionals caregivers and family members who want to understand Bipolar patients and have a sincere desire to help. As someone who has seen this process from the inside, I can and do vouch for the anguish it causes in the patient, family and career.

The author, Sylvia Harris, describes exactly what it was like to be somewhat manic, floridly manic, psychotically manic and depressed. She recalls a time when she cycled through these stages with no idea of what has happening to her, clueless as to the exit from the perpetual emotional roller coaster.

Through her painfully honest autobiography, she gives readers an inside view of her manic-depressive problem and how she overcame its worst aspects by striving for meaning and healthy excitement. Desiring to become a horse trainer and eventually a jockey, she demonstrates that we need not achieve all that we want in order to benefit from the pursuit of our dreams.

Without specifically saying so, she demonstrates the similarities between Bipolar illness, alcoholism and drug addiction, in which many sufferers, their families, circle of friends and employers must often acknowledge the illness and their personal powerlessness over it, before they can find relief and redemption.

Harris courageously describes learning to realize when an attack of mania was beginning and what--for her--triggered those attacks.

Not all readers (including myself) will identify with Harris' love for horses and the essential role they came to have in Harris' rehabilitation. But, everyone perceives that having a personally meaningful goal toward which we strive helps us to find meaning in life when our lives would otherwise seem to us to be meaningless.

Essentially, Bipolars often have a necessity for a goal and aspiration larger than life, lest we be overcome by depression and the conviction that our lives are meaningless.

As in any worthwhile autobiography, Sylvia Harris brings the reader along on the trail to overcoming the worst her difficulties, while acknowledging that some "wreckage of the past" is inevitable but not utterly insoluble.

I personally do not read prefaces or introductions to autobiographies, because of their tendency to remove the mystery and discovery process from the narrative itself. Sylvia Harris's "Long Shot: My Bipolar Life and the Horses Who Saved Me" ends realistically, in a manner with which we may all be able to identify.

If you enjoy the thrill of discovering what happens at the end of Sylvia Harris' autobiography, then don't read the introduction and preface at the beginning.

Read the whole autobiography and learn what happens just as Sylvia Harris did: one day and one experience at a time.

You can't be of help to a Bipolar person or patient unless you understand their world from their perspective, as well as from your own (probably) vastly different perspective on the patient and the illness. This is maddeningly frustrating, but true nonetheless.

This book provides a heartfelt, and searingly honest account of life for those like me who struggle with bipolar illness, as well as for professionals, caregivers and family members who want to understand
Bipolar patients and who have a sincere desire to help.

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