WHAT I WANT TO DO:
Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic-depression) is, and can be, a beast. A monster. Unspeakably cruel. It ruins lives, and sometimes, it kills people.
I'm not going to let this happen to me, and I don't think it should happen to anyone else with this disorder, either.
I've been browsing the ever-growing collection of books about bipolar disorder since I was diagnosed with it almost a decade ago, and to be frank, the selection is disappointing for a lady like me. Many of these books are designed for people who have just been diagnosed with their disorder; for example, spending ten pages explaining what a manic episode is, or defining the term "major depression." This is important for a certain audience, and may have been helpful to me ten years ago, but where do I turn to now when I'm faced with questions like, Should I have a child? and How do I deal with symptoms that aren't part of the textbook diagnosis? What is it like to see suicide in the news? After all these years, do I yet know when in a friendship to disclose my condition?
I know I can't be the only one with these questions, and though I may not have all of the answers, I have certainly written about and am exploring them. For example, the following is an excerpt from one essay about the question of having and raising children ("Thirteen Times"):
Once, I wanted children. And then, hours after pausing in front of a children’s clothing store, I did not. I’d watched women purchase tiny peacoats and miniature blouses with peter pan collars, my own shopping bags hanging at my sides. Later I called Chris, my then-boyfriend and now-husband, to say, “I was at Gymboree, and I thought of you.” Though he’d spoken several times of wanting to have children with me, this was the first time that I had, however vaguely, returned the sentiment.
He was quiet. “I talked to my mom,” he said.
I didn’t understand.
“She said that mental illness is genetic.”
“Oh. Never mind, then,” I said. “Forget I said anything. I didn’t mean it.”
Six years later, I found myself working at Camp Wish, a summer camp for children with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar I disorder, formerly known as manic-depression, is primarily characterized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Manual Disorders IV (DSM-IV) as a combination of alternating manic and depressive episodes. Symptoms of mania include a week or more of the following: grandiosity, such as believing one has magical powers; severely decreased or a nonexistent need for sleep; flight of ideas or racing thoughts; risky behaviors; impairment; in some cases, psychosis. Depression is characterized by two weeks or more of symptoms such as depressed mood, diminished interest or pleasure in nearly all activities, fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness. But writing about these textbook symptoms is like drawing Guernica on an Etch-A-Sketch; as Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., writes, “There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness and terror involved in this kind of madness.” I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder immediately prior to my freshman year at Yale University.
I read in the New York Times that the child of a parent with bipolar disorder is thirteen times more likely to develop the disorder than one of parents who do not. A piece in the online magazine Salon about madness and motherhood, written by a woman with bipolar disorder, evoked the following reader responses: “I grew up with a bipolar mother, and it made my childhood nightmarish”; “Someone who is mentally unstable enough to require psychotropics should NOT, under any circumstances, even consider having a child.” I read all sixty-eight comments. These, I remember.
HOW I PLAN TO DO IT:
I plan to combine my love of writing with my passion for photography to create a photoessay book, entitled Enitens: The Day-to-Day of Bipolar Disorder (Latin, essentially, for "the act of trying harder"). The photographs in the book will be professionally printed. Example photos might include different methods of tracking medications, portraits of interview subjects, and portraits of couples dealing with the illness. (See http://www.meggywang.com/ for examples of my photography.) I plan to spend my final year in my MFA Writing program writing these essays and taking these photographs.
WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR:
Much of the money will be for buying a Canon 40D and a 4 gig flash card. (Mine was, I believe, stolen from a Burger King near Sacramento.) ETA: Due to issues of first rights and copyright, I am no longer able to distribute the finished product myself. However, any remaining money will be invested toward the book and its publication; 25% of the royalties of the book will be donated to mental-health related charities, which the backers will help me decide. In the case that the book never be picked up by a publisher, I will print Enitens myself and distribute it for the purposes of Backer Rewards.
ETA AS OF SEPTEMBER 1, 2009
With almost 60 days left, and having already reached/surpassed our goal, I'm amending my dream to buying a more high-quality camera (Canon 5D -- professional grade). A Canon 5D is approximately $2,649. Will we make it? Time will tell!
- (71 days)