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Hacking Your Way Out of the Jungle

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— July 15, 2017

Hacking Your Way Out of the Jungle

  • Having a mental illness does not make life—in all its messy, awful, beautiful glory—a pathological event.
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Feeling either so wired you can’t sleep or so depressed you can’t really wake up is bad enough. But when you try to get help, you wind up with a diagnosis of “bipolar disorder” and a med script. Is that it?

No, it’s not, says Hilary Smith. She remembers feeling “tainted” by the voice-of-doom tomes to be found on bookshelves after she was diagnosed while in college; she wanted a book “that was a little more honest, a little more badass.” Eventually, she wrote one herself.

Welcome to the Jungle: Facing Bipolar Without Freaking Out (Conari, redwheelweiser.com) is now in a second revised edition, which Smith says “has a greater focus on the human, not the diagnosis.” For the reader who wants to be seen as more than a walking medical code, that should come as a relief.

Welcome to the Jungle isn’t an anti-medication rant; Smith writes that such drugs are sometimes needed because “you can’t deal with the root causes of your illness if you’re too busy being crazy.” But she also advocates seeing the drugs as a first step, and that other treatment approaches, from psychiatry to such “ninja skills for the mentally chill” as using posture and exercise to regulate mood, play a crucial role in living with bipolar disorder without letting it take over your existence.

Having a mental illness does not make life—in all its messy, awful, beautiful glory—a pathological event. “If you categorize every intense experience in your life as being ‘bipolar,’” Smith writes, “you will do yourself a grave disservice.” And if that’s your biggest takeaway from the book, Welcome to the Jungle will have been worth the read.

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