This is not a self-help book.
This is a field guide.
The problem with most books on mental illness is that they are written by doctors. That is a great approach if you want to perform some experiments, or learn words like “psychopharmacology,” but doctors are trained to treat patients like their illnesses—like a collection of symptoms. And I have never reacted very well to being treated like that.
In 2010, I lost my insurance, forcing me to go off my bipolar medications. To cope, I staged my own private Kilmerfest, burning my way through Val Kilmer’s filmography in lieu of lithium. And I wrote The Kilmer Cure, a book about my experience and a manual to bipolar disorder from the patient’s point of view, talking about the disease not just as a biological occurrence, but also as a day-to-day experience. I wrote in layman’s terms, and to illustrate my points I used examples from Val Kilmer movies, since he was there with me all the way in a way my doctors weren’t.
It is April 12, 2012, and I am sitting in my therapist’s office. I don’t normally go to therapy; this is part of my mandated aftercare after being released from the hospital. The office is filled with children’s games; the walls are covered with kindergarten illustrations, crayon scribbles. There is a book on the bookshelf titled Hands Are Not for Hitting. I text a picture to my mother, and she responds back, “No, they are for slapping.”
Today in therapy we are making lists, an exercise popular in second grade classrooms. The first list was Behaviors That Aggravate My Bipolar Disorder. I thought we were going to get philosophical, dig deep, but the first item my therapist put on the list was Not taking my medication, which set the tone for the exercise.