It was generous of Sady Doyle, a New York writer in her thirties, to use her real name when writing about her bipolar disorder for Rookie, the website for teenage girls. (“Because of this article, you’ll always be able to Google me and find out that I have this sickness.”) It is what I expect from Rookie to post this sort of thing — I was a big fan of Sassy, an earlier magazine for teenage girls that tried hard to be truthful. But I was surprised to see this:
Here’s the part of the story that matters: once I got the diagnosis, got the pills, and got in touch with a therapist I really liked, I woke up in the morning. And I was happy, genuinely happy, for the first time in a very long time. That’s what matters about my nervous breakdown—or yours, or anyone’s. When I got the help I needed, I was able to recover.
Okay, that’s what happened, as Brave New Worldish as it may sound. But is it true “that’s what matters” — meaning that’s all that matters? No, I don’t think so. I think it also matters (a lot) that Doyle has been told she must take pills (such as lithium) for the rest of her life and those pills usually have bad side effects (lithium causes weight gain, for example). It is seriously misleading for Doyle to fail to make these points. Doyle vaguely implies she has been told she will need to take pills for “a long time”, which is an understatement, and says nothing about side effects. Maybe she omitted this stuff because she didn’t want her readers “to be afraid to seek treatment” (as she might put it). That is the opposite of truth telling.
Here’s something about current treatments for bipolar disorder (a comment left on an article about drug company deception) that is as true now as when I quoted it three days ago:
Thirty years of bipolar disorder taking virtually every possible anti-depressant over time, and at times when hospitalized, forced to take them under the duress of threatened sectioning under the Mental Health Act. Throughout those years I told the psychiatrists that the drugs didn’t work beyond an initial “placebo effect” lasting about 2 weeks, and that the side effects were often awful.
I am not saying bipolar disorder drugs are worthless. I am saying they have bad side effects so often that any description of what it’s like to have bipolar disorder that makes claims of universality (“That’s what matters about my nervous breakdown—or yours, or anyone’s”) should point this out.