Strictly Bipolar by Darian Leader ***

Reading dates: 27 May 2013 – 20 August 2013

Some might find Darian Leader’s writing style unnerving but I think it comforting in its ease, the depth of its connections. Like ‘Why do women write more letters than they post?‘, ‘Promises Lovers Make When it Gets Late‘ and — my favourite – ‘Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us from Seeing‘, his narrative has no sections, it flows. This is part of the reason why it took me so long to read a very short book: I kept going back and forth, as in a tide. In Strictly Bipolar, he addresses the characteristics, psychic structure, cultural and medical perceptions of manic depression. This is a complex topic, more so at the time of the book’s release, as it coincides with the much dreaded 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Leader argues that the structure of manic depression, although certainly painful and reflecting suffering, is not something to be treated with pills, to be tamed, pushed down. This is backed by his opening remark, the fact that the diagnosis has expanded to cover a large proportion of the population, not making us bipolar (or not), but making us bipolar on a scale.

The book is rich with examples from his clinical work and from culture, but my problem with the book is its length. It feels too cursory, only getting to the threshold of ideas, arguments and counterarguments. The beautiful folds he crafts – there are numerous repetitions, like litanies – get lost in their brevity. And by God the topic deserves length and depth …