Dyane Harwood’s brilliant breakout memoir, Birth of a New Brain, chronicles her heartbreaking struggle for stability after the onset of postpartum bipolar disorder. Dyane’s battle to reestablish her mental health from the ravages of mania and the pits of depression is recorded in a gripping account with an almost-journalistic flair.
An often overlooked and misunderstood perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), postpartum bipolar disorder is listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as part of the bipolar spectrum. In Dyane’s case, she suffers from a severe form of “treatment-resistant” bipolar I disorder, which spirals high into manic episodes and deep down into soul-sucking depressions.
Dyane deserves all of the praise her novel has received from various sources. It’s a fascinating account with a structure unique to memoir: Dyane takes us from her birth in the beautiful Pacific Palisades to her first boyfriends to her seven hospitalizations. She spends a great amount of time describing her attempts to live medication-free and the disastrous results. She deals with over-prescribing, unethical psychiatrists, powerful electroconvulsive therapy treatments to negate her suicidal thoughts, and, eventually, finds a medication that works: a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) called tranylcypromine. Other useful contributors to her mental health are getting enough sleep, exercising thirty minutes for six days a week, and “forest bathing”–taking frequent long walks in a redwood forest.
Above all, Dyane is honest. She’s candid about her many failures–as well as her many triumphs!–on the road to recovery. She tells us about her relationships with her father–who suffered from bipolar I himself–and her mother, and their relationship with each other. Dyane even tells us about the fights she had with her husband. All of this contributes to a beautifully-written memoir.
Harwood’s book is crucial for understanding the postpartum bipolar experience. She references writers and doctors with experience dealing with bipolar disorder. Her memoir, Birth of a New Brain, is one of the greats.
Disclaimer: Dyane is one of the frequent commenters on this site. She offered me a PDF of Birth of a New Brain for review, which I was glad to do. Dyane blogs at DyaneHarwood.wordpress.com.