Book Review: Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain

birth of a new brain

Dyane Harwood’s brilliant memoir, Birth of a New Brain.

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.

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About Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.
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11 Responses to Book Review: Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain

  1. dyane says:

    Cass, thank you SO much for writing this AWESOME review—I’m so moved by what you wrote!
    Wow – you’ve totally made my day & naturally I shall have to blog this and retweet it – hurrah!
    This is especially cool & meaningful to read because you’re an amazing author/writer & someone who understands these health issues so well from a personal & journalistic perspective.

    Many moons ago, I remember asking if you’d write a review & you kindly said yes….and you kept your word! This is a big deal for me. I’ve been faced with being disappointed by lot of flakes over the past year when it comes to this book and other things in my life (I know that’s blunt & sounds mean, but it’s true!) & the fact you took time to read the book, let alone write such a beautiful review, means A LOT to me! 😊

    I’m off to retweet and re-blog and, oh yes, wake up.
    Thanks again for really lifting my spirits.

    Lots of love,
    Dy

    p.s. Just a wee note; my last name, which is my married name, is “Harwood” and when I say it out loud to people,**** everyone****thinks it’s Hardwood!!!!! It’s a tricky one, just like my husband, LOL!!!!!

    • Hi, Dyane,

      Doing the review was my pleasure! I’m sorry you’ve been disappointed by other people. That sucks. But, as I’ve said, I was happy to read and review your brilliant memoir.

      I can’t believe I spelled your name wrong in so many places in my review! I know better! Many apologies. I have edited the post and hope that I’ve caught all of the typos.

      I will post this review on Amazon–and your asking isn’t obnoxious at all! I completely understand why you want reviews on Amazon. I’ll have to remember my password. Thank you so much for the offer to do the same for Committed!

      I sent you an email a couple of weeks ago–maybe it went into your spam folder? The gist was me asking if I could use your photo for this post, and also asking about your experience with Post Hill Press. I’m hoping to query them in the near future. Thanks for checking!

      Take care of yourself and have a great weekend!

      Cassandra Stout

      • dyane says:

        Hello, my dear! Thank God I haven’t been disappointed (yet, gulp…) by other reviews. That will be awful when it happens and I’m bracing myself.

        Nah, I was bummed that I had friends and some people & organizations that were ***heavily promoted in my book*** promise me they’d take 10 minutes out of their life to write a one or two-line Amazon review. Then there were crickets even after I asked a second or sometimes third time. I hated asking in the first place! It sounds petty. I know it! But when I found out more about the importance of every review (even the meh ones or the bad ones would actually help in terms of the #) I had to put my pride to the side and ask some folks and all I can say about that is that it is not fun!

        I never got your email and that totally freaks me out!!!!!!!!
        I’m so sorry; please know that I totally would’ve answered you asap. I still will.
        I wonder what else didn’t reach me.😱 becauseI check my spam folders religiously.

        I have two emails as I’m phasing out this one:
        dyane@baymoon.com
        because the ISP sucks.
        The new email is:
        dyaneleshinharwood@gmail.com
        so if you could please re-send it to that email (if it’s not hard to find) that would be awesome. I definitely want to share info. with you!

        THANKS a MILLION for being willing to stick a review Amazon – I hope you remember the password! 🙏And thanks also for the name adjustment; that’s absolutely no biggie – as I mentioned you’re not the only one who does it. Everyone does, LOL! 😺

        I’ll be on the lookout for your email!
        Thanks again, my dear Cass!!!!!
        XOXOOXOXOX
        Dy

        • Dear Dyane,

          I remembered my password, and have posted the review! Your book is such an excellent read, and you’ve been such a staunch supporter of me and my blog, that I was happy to do so.

          I’m so sorry that those people you promoted haven’t returned the favor, even after being asked several times. That must be inordinately frustrating.

          I’ll send you the email again, though I’ll probably cut the bits relavent to this post. 🙂 Thanks so much for being willing to share! That means a lot to me, a neophyte in the publishing world.

          Thanks again,
          Cass

  2. dyane says:

    p.p.s. please excuse the typos above – I meant to write “author/journalist” and “re-blog,” not “blog” ! 😺

  3. dyane says:

    Reblogged this on Dyane Harwood and commented:
    I’m still on blogging hiatus BUT I could not resist sharing this wonderful review by fellow author/blogger extraordinaire Cassandra Stout.

    Her blog is one of THE best blogs about bipolar disorder & even if you’re not a parent. And she’ll have a book of her own coming out which I can’t wait to read! So pease go take a look at her blog & follow it. Cass is also on Twitter.

    Sending everyone lots of love & have a great weekend!!!

    Xo, Dyane

  4. dyane says:

    p.p.p.s. This is super-obnoxious to ask you after all you’ve done, but if you have an Amazon account and you’re REALLY bored, you have my blessing to copy this glorious review onto the “Birth of a New Brain” book review page!

    According the Amazon’s horrible algorithms, the more reviews there are, the better. I keep getting told that’s hwo it works by more experienced authors. Yes, they claim the more reviews a book has, the more likely Amazon will suggest one’s book to readers buying similar-themed books.

    I promise I’ll do the same for you when “Committed” is released – I shall post reviews wherever you want me to post them! 🌟You have my word in writing!

  5. Pingback: What is Hypergraphia, and How Does It Relate to Bipolar Disorder? | The Bipolar Parent

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