Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sylvia Harris: "My Bipolar Life, and the Horses Who Saved Me"

Can Blacks have mental illnesses?
I am certain that my older brother, Danny, died of bipolar/manic-depressive illness and the psychosis that so often accompanies the illness. I, too, have been diagnosed as manic-depressive or "hypo-manic" (kind of manic but not all the way out there).

"Danny" was last seen alive in 1989.  When I think of him, I wish I had learned earlier what I see mirrored in the book I review today.

Sylvia Harris, with an amazing autobiography just out, is a Black woman who achieved her dream of riding a winning horse in a nationally famous derby, in spite of (and perhaps partially because of) her bipolar/manic depression.  She outlines her struggle in the two preface pages below, but her entire autobiography holds details and experiences that can help all Americans better understand bipolar/manic-depressive illness.

I've been diagnosed with bipolar illness, but I've learned (as Sylvia Harris did) to be suspicious of my flights of fancy, my whims and grandiosity, and to be sure that I do not outrageously exaggerate my abilities to myself and others.

Like Harris, I've also learned to have a healthy doubt of the voices in my head that tell me that I'm worse than not worth anything at all, and that I would be less unhappy if I were dead. 

The author and I have both learned that the appropriate medication can be as crucial as the steering wheel in your car:  It's no guarantee against accidents, but your a lot safer having it than not.

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Sylvia Harris autobiography is a road map of bipolar illness, but it signals the way clearly so that other bipolars, their families and friends need not spend Sylvia's forty years learning what they could learn by reading her autobiography in a couple of afternoons.

Some people are so fortunate as to learn by reading of others' experiences, and thereby avoid some of the hurt and pain that they would otherwise cause to themselves and others. If you are one of those who can learn from others, then this book is for you and for the bipolar people you love.

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