By Leslie Lindsay
Understanding what it’s really like to live with bipolar disorder (BD) is impossible to share with someone who doesn’t have experience with serious mental illness. Natasha Tracy, a writer living with bipolar takes you under her wing and walks you through the labyrinth of questions and quandaries as if she were your cool, more experienced older sister. She gets it; she’s lived it for the last 18 years.
And we all need to care.
At some point in our lives, we will know someone with a major mental illness. It might be invisible to the naked eye; you may never see the affects, but it might still be there, lurking under the surface and it may very well be your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your coworker. And in my case: my mother.
I was just ten years old when she had her first major manic episode. It was about the time when The Bangles song, “Just Another Manic Monday” was playing on the radio. We had a cute house in the suburbs, a so-called ‘normal’ life until one day…it wasn’t. My mom was in the throes of her first manic break and as a child, it was scary. She struggled with bipolar disorder for many years until she finally took her life about eighteen months ago.
All along, I was fascinated with psychiatry and became a child/adolescent psych R.N. My interest hasn’t ended just because I decided to pursue another dream, but instead has continued to be a strong part of my life; it’s pretty hard to sever a connection that strong.
Natasha’s writing style is accessible, easy to follow; she’s honest and maybe not always politically correct, but that’s okay; she talks about that, too. But mostly, the book is expertly researched, laid out, and was…dare I say, a joy to read. While that sounds a little over-enthusiastic, I think you get what I’m saying; there’s no gobblety-gook.
Join me as we welcome Natasha Tracy to the blog couch. She calls herself, “a professional crazy person.” She doesn’t mean to be insensitive or glib, but authentic, engaging, honest. She tells you how it is to live with bipolar and depression, she answers your most pressing questions about these serious mental illnesses, things like: How do I know if I’m hypomanic or just feeling better? What is hypersexuality all about? What should someone say (0r not) to someone with a serious disorder? What’s it *really* like in a psych ward? It’s all there and so, so much more.
Leslie Lindsay: Natasha, thank you so very much for being here. I am just in awe with LOST MARBLES. You spell things out so clearly, so effortlessly. Though I am sure it wasn’t exactly easy. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for writing this book and a bit about the process?
Natasha Tracy:Hi Leslie, thank you for inviting me onto your couch.Thirteen years ago I started writing about my own mental illness and after a year, a writer friend of mine told me that my work was saving lives. Quite frankly, I didn’t believe him. But then I got a comment from someone saying just that – my work had saved her life. It was beyond incredible to me that someone would look at work that way. Eventually, I realized people really were helped by my work and I knew a book was in me.
When it came to actually writing it, it was a matter of picking the best of what I had already written, the most powerful things for readers, and filling in the gaps where they existed. And then it was about rewriting almost everything to get it “book-ready.” Book-ready is a much higher standard than “blog-ready.”
L.L.: But you’re not a doctor. Or therapist. You’re a writer living with bipolar disorder. Can you talk a bit about the research you did for LOST MARBLES? About how much time did it take you to write it?
Natasha Tracy: You could say that LOST MARBLES took me six years or it took me six months, it sort of depends on how you look at it. Certainly, the content came about over a six-year time span but putting it together took an extremely concerted six months.
As for the research, for the technical parts of the book it was intense. I needed to get it absolutely right. I needed to help people with mental illness decide on treatment in the right way. Luckily, one of my early readers was Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist who pointed me in the right direction and suggested some research tidbits that I didn’t know about.
Although the technical research felt like slogging through a swamp at the time, now that it’s done I’m happy to have answered the question, “What medication should I take?” for many people.
L.L.: You talk about mental illness with such candor; I find it very refreshing. I feel like you are helping break that stigma of mental illness. Can you talk to that, please?
Natasha Tracy: One of my strengths, I feel, is to write about mental illness in a way that is real, honest, gritty and not sugar-coated. I say the things that people with mental illness think but don’t have the words to express. This is why people identify with my work so strongly.
I don’t believe in the concept of “stigma” per se. What I believe in fighting is prejudice and the inevitable discrimination that follows it. I believe that by making people with mental illness three-dimensional people with real emotions and real struggles, we actually start to sound just like everyone else – just amplified. And prejudice is always fueled by fear, usually fear of the unknown, so my job is to make it known.
L.L.: What advice would you give a person who has just been diagnosed with BD? How can they make sense of the diagnosis, what coping skills might help?
Natasha Tracy: When you’re diagnosed with a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder it feels like the end of the world. It feels like there is no tomorrow. It feels like everything you were is gone. This is normal and natural. There are ways to work through this, though.
First off, it’s important to know that world is not ending, there will be a tomorrow and there is an innate you that will not disappear. That said, the world, the tomorrows and even you, will change in response to the illness. Again, this is normal and natural. Most people never get back to a pre-bipolar state.
But this natural. No one’s life moves backwards. Things change but this is not a negative, this is just a challenge. Every person on the planet changes every day, it just happens that bipolar disorder is a wallop of a change all at once.
There are many things a newly-diagnosed person can do. Firstly, it’s important to get the best bipolar specialist psychiatrist and therapist one can find and create a treatment plan that makes sense for the individual. Then the treatment plan must be followed. It’s also important to lean on loved ones during this time as they will connect a person to who he or she really is.
L.L.: ….And medication. Oh, I feel as I’m opening a can of worms, but how can one reconcile the high cost of medication(s); are there options/resources for lowering the cost?
Natasha Tracy: It’s an unfortunate truth that for many in the United States the cost of medication is very high. That said, the drugs, while laden with issues like side effects, save lives every day. Many people would have taken their lives without these medications. Yes, there is no doubt that they are expensive and have other associated issues, but when it comes down to life or death, a functional life or a life spent in psychosis, there is no doubt that they are still worth it.
(I will say, however, that this is not such an issue in Canada where prices for drugs are regulated. This is what people in the United States should push for as well.)
L.L.: What’s the best thing a loved one/friend can do to help someone newly diagnosed?
Natasha Tracy: Learn, learn, learn. [LOST MARBLES] will tell people a lot of what it is like to live with a mental illness but it certainly should not be the entirety of the education one seeks. Books and websites, especially those written by healthcare professionals or subject matter experts who have bipolar disorder can also be invaluable. In addition to my site, which holds many more of my writings, I also recommend psycheducation.org, which is written by Jim Phelps MD and Medscape.com for medical facts, also written by doctors for doctors. In terms of books, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder by Julie Fast (who has bipolar disorder) and John D. Preston PsyD is great.
I always tell people you can’t fight an enemy that you don’t understand and this is as true for loved ones as it is for people with the illness.
L.L.: What’s captured your interest lately? It doesn’t have to be bipolar or literary, but if so, by all means…
Natasha Tracy: I love to cook and bake. Now that my book is published I have time for it again. I love meals you can make on a weeknight – short and to the point – like those by Judith Jones but I also love long and impossible recipes such as those by the great French chef Thomas Keller. I also love the challenge of doing things like making my own croissants (which can take days, seriously).
L.L.: What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
Natasha Tracy: Perhaps, what it’s like to manage bipolar while writing, editing and publishing a book?
In my case this was a huge challenge and I will honestly admit that it got the better of my bipolar. The whole process, perhaps because it was so short and intense, sent me into the worst mixed mood episode of my life. In short, the cost of this book was very, very high for me but I still consider it something worth doing (and something I’m planning on doing again). That said, net time I will take better care of my health and this is what I encourage everyone to do. We all face stressors, of our own making or otherwise, but without our health, we can’t face anything.
I am pleased to say, though, that with the help of my psychiatrist and medication changes, I was able to pull out of that episode and now look at it from the other side.
L.L.: Natasha, it’s been such a honor to connect. And insightful, too. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
Natasha Tracy: I truly appreciate your interest in the book. Thank you so much for having me.
Author Bio:Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. She is considered a subject matter expert in the area of bipolar disorder and has written hundreds of articles on it as well as hundreds of articles on other mental health issues. Natasha has spoken to groups from 30 to 300, from ages 12 and up across North America. She believes that education and honest, unvarnished storytelling are keys in fighting the prejudice that people with mental illness face.
Natasha’s first book, Lost Marbles, Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar, was released in October 2016 and has been ranked as a #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in the category of bipolar disorder.
Natasha currently writes the award-winning blogs Bipolar Burble on her own site and Breaking Bipolar on HealthyPlace. Her writing has also been featured on The Huffington Post, Daily Mail, PsychCentral, Sharecare and others. She has spoken at events and conferences including at the National Council’s annual conference as well as Mental Health America’s annual conference.
You can find Natasha:
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media sites:
LOVE IT? SHARE IT!
[Cover and author images courtesy of N.Tracy. LOVING SOMEONE WITH BIPOLAR D/O retrieved from Amazon. Croissant image retrieved from, sad/diagnosis image from, medication image from psychcentral.com, all retrieved 11.27.16]