A cross-country road trip—mostly lucid, sometimes scary: the bipolar Simon interviews other bipolar people who have been successfully treated and now lead highly functional lives, while she regularly gets pounded by her own disorder.
She opens with a guided tour into her mental illness, telling how in high school she became jittery, then confused, layering anxieties upon anxieties, finding it increasingly difficult to speak or stop the tears, moving toward a paranoia that convinced her the CIA was out to kidnap her cat. The tour is impressive—with its darting sentences, stops and starts, gasped breaths—for the way it conveys the smothering, agitated brain fever Simon was feeling. She gets help, is given medication to bring the chemistry into a semblance of balance, and it isn’t long before she formulates the idea of a road trip to find her herd of people: bipolars who have laid siege to their disorder. She swings low out of New York and west across the southern tier, talking to others about the circumstances of their disorder, what went right for them, what things they did that gave them a leg up. This is no easy road; Simon knows, as do her interviewees, that one’s mercurial nature can leak through the medication, and she knows the fear that comes with hearing the biochemical and psychological cues that that’s happening. Each time, she does what’s needed to reestablish her sense of self: sob, or soak in the sun and read a magazine, or flee. She learns to give herself a break, to cast a wary eye on guilt, shame, and stigma: “I made my top priority to be OK in my body and in my mind. . . .” It sounds simple. But it wasn’t.
It’s no easy thing to provide a glimpse into the churning melancholia of bipolar lows, but Simon manages it—with considerable effect indeed.