Monday, February 25, 2013

Bipolar Disorder & Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot

Bipolar disorder has been in the news a few times this month.

The film Silver Linings Playbook, which won the Oscar for Best Actress last night, revolves around Patrizio Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) and how he copes with bipolar disorder after leaving a mental health facility and moving in with his parents.

The disorder also featured in last week's Jesse Jackson Jr. story.  Here's a Chicago Tribune article from February 20th, “How much weight does Jesse Jackson Jr.'s illness deserve in the scales of justice?:”
You've probably heard the Jesse Jackson Jr. shopping list. The furniture, the furs, the $43,000 Rolex... All in all, according to federal prosecutors, the former Illinois congressman spent $750,000 of his campaign funds on personal purchases... What made him do it? Greed. Arrogance. Entitlement. Those are the easy, familiar explanations. But Jackson's family and the Mayo Clinic say he suffers from bipolar disorder, and if we take that claim on faith — I do — the answer to what made him do it is more complicated. And if it's more complicated, is he guilty in the usual criminal way? How responsible is any mentally ill person for his or her behavior?... Bipolar disorder brings wild mood swings. People with the condition go from depression to impulsive behavior. They may fluctuate between grandiosity and feelings of worthlessness. "Spending sprees" is on the list of symptoms. So is "poor judgment." But bipolar disorder is not insanity. People with the illness may not be able to control what they do, but that doesn't mean they're not aware of what they're doing. (Emphasis mine.)

If you would like to read a novel that features bipolar disorder prominently, try Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, described by The Daily Beast thusly:
In the book, Eugenides delves into the psychology of three college seniors (who, like the author, went to Brown) as they graduate in 1982 into a recession and a love triangle. There’s Mitchell, who loves Christian mysticism and his classmate Madeleine Hanna; Madeleine, who loves romantic idealism and her classmate Leonard Bankhead; and Leonard, a polymathic biology student and manic-depressive, who loves lithium [note: bipolar disorder was historically known as manic–depressive disorder]. “Being called to on to describe Leonard’s depression called for as much experimental writing as anything I’ve written,” Eugenides said.
How accurate is Eugenides' depiction of bipolar disorder? UCLA psychology professor David Miklowitz found it very accurate:
Many depictions of bipolar disorder have appeared in books and films, but few (in my opinion) accurately portray the ups and downs of bipolar I disorder. Instead, they tend to capitalize on Hollywood-style depictions that may be dramatic, funny or even tear-jerking, but rarely capture the pain caused by the illness for the sufferer or his or her family members, or the difficult decisions that have to be made. A notable exception is the novel “The Marriage Plot”... Leonard, one of the novel’s main characters, cycles from mania to hypomania to depression and back several times, and the descriptions of these different states are dead-on. What’s more, Eugenides shows us bipolar disorder through the eyes of a spouse, Madeleine, who is well-meaning and loves Leonard deeply, but is way out of her league in dealing with his disorder.

1 comment:

  1. Well written with a great concept. Never crude in his writings, the author is always insightful and well-spoken with a great vocabulary.