Marbles by Ellen Forney
As the title suggests, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me is absolutely rooted in the author’s mental illness narrative. Ellen Forney illustrates her lifelong relationship with bipolar disorder, taking the reader from diagnosis, through the ups and downs, and finally reaching the point where she finds balance and peace.
The book opens with Ellen getting a full-back tattoo—the product of an electric vision—followed by her spontaneously kissing her tattooist and then walking out into the cold night, feeling everything was “magical, intense, and bursting with universal truth” (p. 11). Opening with this vivid portrayal of the manic side of bipolar disorder, we get a sense of what’s to come in the remaining pages.
Shortly thereafter, Ellen meets with a psychiatrist and receives the life-changing diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she first fights the appropriateness of the diagnosis, she eventually comes to terms with the fact that this is, indeed, what she’s experiencing. Refusing medication, Ellen resumes life as she knows it. We see her throw a big party and spend time with friends, all the while demonstrating classic markers for a manic state.
Although she initially refuses medication, the onset of a depressive episode changes everything. Ellen begins taking lithium, which unleashes some unbearable side-effects. Working with her psychiatrist, Ellen attempts to combat these side-effects by adjusting her medications and doses. Tinkering with her meds becomes a theme that lasts the length of the book, as does Ellen’s regular visits with her therapist.
The reader observes Ellen navigate through several more cycles of depression and mania, each cycle revealing a new tactic employed by Ellen to stay in control. We see her engage in cognitive behavioral therapy, start going to yoga, document her mood in a diary, and read the others’ mental illness narratives, all while trying to balance the responsibilities and engagements associated with her professional work.
After four years, Ellen believes she has finally found balance. She states: “for better or worse, bipolar disorder is an important part of who I am and how I think” (p. 226). The book concludes with her having an imagined conversation with a previous version of herself, assuring her that everything is going to be okay.
Publication Date: 2012-11-06