During her 16-year career as a topflight intellectual property and entertainment law attorney, Terri Cheney worked for prominent clients including Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures, Michael Jackson, and Quincy Jones; but when she wasn't impressing clients, she was driving herself crazy. As this memoir demonstrates, her bipolar disorder hit her more like a train wreck than a rollercoaster ride; she gobbled down prescription pills; binges and purges; attempts suicide; resorts to electroshock treatment. Nothing worked until words: "I grew angry, first at the illness, then at the doctors, then at the patients themselves. Just spit it out! I wanted to say. Then it finally dawned on me: It wasn't their fault. The patients simply didn't have a vocabulary for their illness. Why should they? Mania, suicide, psychosis-such things were hardly the stuff of polite conversation. None of us knew how to express ourselves, because madness was one long, inarticulate howl. It needed a voice. It needed words. And so I started to write."
Cheney, a former L.A. entertainment lawyer, pointedly dispels expectations of a "safe ride" through this turbulent account of bipolar disorder. With evocative imagery-time-shuffled recollections meant to mirror her disorienting extremes of mood-Cheney conjures life at the mercy of a brain chemistry that yanks her from "soul-starving" despair to raucous exuberance, impetuous pursuits to paralyzing lethargy. Caught in a riptide of febrile impulse, she caroms from seductions to suicide attempts while flirting recklessly with men, danger and death, only to find more hazards in the drastic side effects of treatment. More than a train-wreck tearjerker, the memoir draws strength from salient observations that expose the frustrations of bipolar disorder, from its brutal sabotage of romance and friendship to the challenge it poses to the simplest emotions, such as "the terrors of being happy" that augur mania's onset. Though she sustains an ominous mood and relays horrifying incidents with icy candor, Cheney lightens up at times, as when she marvels at the ease of masking her condition at an office that brings out everyone's manic side. But the narrative hopscotch frustrates readers' need for grounding and context that might clear up Cheney's muddled history and satisfy readers' urge to learn the fallout of her impulse-driven episodes. Her startlingly lucid descriptions of illness merit a more concise chronology. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
An attorney writes about her decades-long struggle with manic depression. It would be easier to feel sorry about the degradations, depressions and rejections Cheney has endured if she didn't spend so much time making sure that we also know how hot she is. She was a high-school varsity cheerleader, has spectacular red hair (all hers-no highlights), attracts males like moths and elicits catty comments from jealous women. She can steal your boyfriend-and will, even if you're her best friend-and out-rev you at the stoplight with her Porsche. (She got a vintage Corvette for her Sweet 16; one boyfriend drove a Lamborghini.) She graduated with honors from Vassar College, where during one of her bad periods she prowled late-night dorm corridors and ate from garbage cans. After law school, she quickly landed a prestigious job with an L.A. firm specializing in celebrity cases. For years she deceived her employers about her addiction to various prescription drugs. For years she practiced the yo-yo diet, binging and purging. She had a dozen electroshock treatments. She tried to kill herself in a variety of ways. Again, we'd feel worse for Cheney if her tortured accounts of fate's blows weren't accompanied by a parade of attractive men who find her irresistible, except for that darn mental illness of hers. The book is almost more embarrassing when she tries to tell us What She Has Learned. A Masai girl covered in sores who can nonetheless smile and a horribly disfigured woman whom Cheney comforts by stroking her beautiful blonde hair appear to exist solely to demonstrate the author's ability to see that others are actually worse off than she is. Pedestrian epiphanies like these suggest that, whileCheney may have conquered mental illness, she hasn't yet overcome the solipsism manifest on every page of her boundlessly self-absorbed memoir. Agent: Lydia Wills/Paradigm Literary Agency
“Cheney’s chilling account of her struggle with bipolar disorder brilliantly evokes the brutal nature of her disease...Edgy, dark and often cynical, MANIC is not an easy book to read, but it has heart and soul to spare.”
Los Angeles Times
“Written in episodic chapters that mimic the ups and downs of bipolar depression—hypomania, mania, depression—Cheney’s book is a gut-churning ride.”
“Cheney...writes with passionate clarity about depression and the lure of suicide but with especially keen intensity about mania...”
Orange County Register
“Amazing and powerful...[MANIC] forces the reader into Cheney’s bipolar world, into her deep and fearful depressions mixed with her giddy, high-flying manic moods.”
“Superb...Cheney’s remarkable chronicle of her painful odyssey is as eloquent as it is brave. It is also profoundly necessary, both for her and for us.”
Peter C Whybrow MD author A Mood Apart
“[a] gritty, vibrant, memoir brings this chaotic frenzy to life...through disaster and despair to end in hope. ”
Dr. Lori Altshuler
“This is a poignant and compelling memoir ...The writing is outstanding, the story is gripping.”
“Cheney brilliantly brings us along on her haunting and riveting journey of bipolar disorder. ...MANIC is extremely powerful.”
Demitri F. Papolos. M.D. and Janice Papolos
“Filled with gorgeous writing...Echoes of William Styron abound.”
"Cheney’s chilling account of her struggle with bipolar disorder brilliantly evokes the brutal nature of her disease...Edgy, dark and often cynical, MANIC is not an easy book to read, but it has heart and soul to spare."
MD author A Mood Apart - Peter C Whybrow
"[a] gritty, vibrant, memoir brings this chaotic frenzy to life...through disaster and despair to end in hope. "
Doctor - Lori Altshuler
"This is a poignant and compelling memoir ...The writing is outstanding, the story is gripping."
M.D. - Demitri F. Papolos and Janice Papolos
"Filled with gorgeous writing...Echoes of William Styron abound."
Read an Excerpt
I didn't tell anyone that I was going to Santa Fe to kill myself. I figured that was more information than people needed, plus it might interfere with my travel plans if anyone found out the truth. People always mean well, but they don't understand that when you're seriously depressed, suicidal ideation can be the only thing that keeps you alive. Just knowing there's an out—even if it's bloody, even if it's permanent—makes the pain almost bearable for one more day.
Five months had passed since my father's death from lung cancer, and the world was not a fit place to live in. As long as Daddy was still alive, it made sense to get up every morning, depressed or not. There was a war on. But the day I gave the order to titrate his morphine to a lethal dose, the fight lost all meaning for me.
So I wanted to die. I saw nothing odd about this desire, even though I was only thirty-eight years old. It seemed like a perfectly natural response, under the circumstances. I was bone-tired, terminally weary, and death sounded like a vacation to me, a holiday. A somewhere else, which is all I really wanted.
When I was offered the chance to leave L.A. to take an extended trip by myself to Santa Fe, I was ecstatic. I leased a charming little hacienda just off Canyon Road, the artsiest part of town, bursting with galleries, jazz clubs, and eccentric, cat-ridden bookstore/cafés. It was a good place to live, especially in December, when the snow fell thick and deep on the cobblestones, muffling the street noise so thoroughly that the city seemed to dance its own soft-shoe.
There was anexceptional amount of snowfall that particular December. Everything seemed a study in contrast: the fierce round desert sun, blazing while I shivered; blue-white snow shadows against thick red adobe walls; and always, everywhere I looked, the sagging spine of the old city pressing up against the sleek curves of the new. But the most striking contrast by far was me: thrilled to tears simply to be alive in such surroundings, and determined as ever to die.
I never felt so bipolar in my life.
The mania came at me in four-day spurts. Four days of not eating, not sleeping, barely sitting in one place for more than a few minutes at a time. Four days of constant shopping—and Canyon Road is all about commerce, however artsy its facade. And four days of indiscriminate, nonstop talking: first to everyone I knew on the West Coast, then to anyone still awake on the East Coast, then to Santa Fe itself, whoever would listen. The truth was, I didn't just need to talk. I was afraid to be alone. There were things hovering in the air around me that didn't want to be remembered: the expression on my father's face when I told him it was stage IV cancer, already metastasized; the bewildered look in his eyes when I couldn't take away the pain; and the way those eyes kept watching me at the end, trailing my every move, fixed on me, begging for the comfort I wasn't able to give. I never thought I could be haunted by anything so familiar, so beloved, as my father's eyes.
Mostly, however, I talked to men. Canyon Road has a number of extremely lively, extremely friendly bars and clubs, all of which were within walking distance of my hacienda. It wasn't hard for a redhead with a ready smile and a feverish glow in her eyes to strike up a conversation and then continue that conversation well into the early-morning hours, at his place or mine. The only word I couldn't seem to say was "no." I ease my conscience by reminding myself that manic sex isn't really intercourse. It's discourse, just another way to ease the insatiable need for contact and communication. In place of words, I simply spoke with my skin.
I had long since decided that Christmas Eve would be my last day on this earth. I chose Christmas Eve precisely because it had meaning and beauty—nowhere more so than in Santa Fe, with its enchanting festival of the farolitos. Every Christmas Eve, carolers come from all over the world to stroll the lantern-lit streets until dawn. All doors are open to them, and the air is pungent with the smell of warm cider and piñon.
I wanted to die at such a moment, when the world was at its best, when I could offer up my heart to God and say, thank you, truly, for all of it. It's not that I'm ungrateful. It's just that I'm not capable anymore of the joy a night like this deserves. Joy is blasphemy now that Daddy's dead; your world is simply wasted on me. And that, I think, is reason enough to die.
This unwritten prayer was the only suicide note I intended to leave.
Christmas Eve dawned bright and cold, with snow in the forecast for early that afternoon. I was on the fourth day of my latest manic spree, which meant my mind was speeding so fast I had to make shorthand lists to keep up with it. I'd already carefully laid out what I was going to wear as my farewell attire: a long black cashmere dress—not to be macabre, but because cashmere would never wrinkle and black would hide any unexpected blood or vomit. I'd also laid out all the pills I'd saved up over the past year, including all the heavy-duty cancer meds my father had never lived long enough to take. They were neatly arranged in probable order of lethality, and grouped into manageable mouthfuls, approximately ten pills per swallow. Counting them one last time, I realized I had well over three hundred assorted tablets and capsules, which meant an awful lot of swallows. What I didn't have was sufficient tequila to wash them all down. Water wasn't an option. I needed the interaction. Manic
A Memoir. Copyright © by Terri Cheney. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.