Cheney (Manic: A Memoir, 2008) writes with brutal honesty about her tumultuous childhood trapped in the clutches of the “Black Beast”—her metaphor for the out-of-control emotional states she now recognizes as early-childhood bipolar disorder.
The author begins with a disturbing incident that occurred when she was seven. When her brother refused to relinquish his seat at the dinner table, she rammed a fork through his hand. In answer to her father's query about her violent behavior, she answered honestly, “he made me do it.” In Cheney’s mind, “he” referred not to her brother but to the monster, who “lived inside my heart and head, leaving little room for hope or joy or any emotion lighter than sorrow.” The author was only diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her late 30s. Even though she had been jailed, hospitalized and suffered a series of broken relationships, she had managed to conceal her aberrant behavior and lead an apparently successful life as an entertainment attorney. In her debut memoir, Cheney chronicled her time in college and the years that followed; here she examines her childhood and adolescence for keys to the onset of her disorder. Despite the fact that an estimated 800,000 American children have been diagnosed as bipolar, the author explains that it is easy to confuse with other mental ailments such as ADHD, or even to simply overlook it. “Given the inherent volatility of childhood and the volcanic eruptions of adolescence, how can you tell when it's bipolar disorder?” she writes. “Early-onset bipolar disorder is notoriously difficult to diagnose.” In Cheney’s case, the fact that she was an honor student with a full social life caused her parents and teachers to overlook withdrawn or bizarre behavior. By exploring her past, she hopes to make parents and educators more aware of the problems that young people may be secretly trying to deal with.
A compelling coming-of-age follow-up to Manic.