Thursday, January 11, 2007


I've read Lizzie Simon's Detour: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4-D before and while it's certainly far from the best book I've read about the experience of being bipolar, several things struck me going through it this time. First and foremost, Simon is shockingly immature and she lacks compassion in a way that seems disturbingly common and altogether disappointing. I remember feeling very hostile the first time I read this book and went through her caricatures of people she met at support group meetings. I didn't understand and perhaps still don't understand why she would include passages of text that seem to perpetuate the very type of stigma that she claims to want to eradicate by writing her book. Overall, this reads more like the intellectual prattle of an overcoddled child than an articulate and well-considered treatise on living successfully with bipolar disorder. Simon perhaps unconsciously demonstrates one of the most pernicious aspects of bipolar disorder through her writing and that is a distinct inability to relate and engage the people around her in a way that doesn't center on their impact on her and her own life and dramas. She goes on the road trip to validate herself, not to function as some kind of conduit or scribe for the experience of bipolar disorder in the people. She writes the book for herself, to chronicle some personal journey to find meaning by identifying with the suffering and trials of other "successful" bipolar people. Except, predictably, she doesn't find what she was looking for because she's far too self-centered to experience the kind of empathic breakthrough she was hoping for. Lame.

At any rate, the book does have certain passages that I think everyone touched by bipolar disorder can relate to and for that, it has some value. For example, Simon writes:

"Mental illness interacts with the way you define yourself from the instant it enters your life. There was a whole seventeen and a half years of living before this horrible episode descended upon me. Seventeen and a half years of wondering why I never felt quite right anywhere. Not in my home, not in my schools, not in my cliques, not with my boyfriends. Did this mental illness explain everything that had ever happened to me?"

If only it were that simple.