December 28, 2012 / 3:40 PM / in 5 years

Novel takes on the tumult of bipolar disorder

NEW YORK, Dec 28 (Reuters) - “Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See” is a work of fiction, but author Juliann Garey said the protagonist’s struggles with bipolar disorder are based on her own reality.

The debut novel from journalist and screenwriter Garey, which was published this week, centers on Hollywood executive Greyson Todd’s struggle to navigate life with bipolar disorder.

The story is told as a collection of memories that include Greyson’s childhood with his mentally ill father, the discord that his symptoms cause in his marriage and professional life, and his travels around the world that precede his stay in a New York psychiatric hospital.

Garey herself is bipolar and the illness runs in her family.

“There are components that are conceived from my life, but it’s certainly not autobiographical,” she said in an interview. “It’s definitely fiction in terms of the plot. In terms of the psychic rollercoaster that he (Greyson) goes through in the book, that is actually very much from my own life.”

Garey said the steep crests and drops of Greyson’s moods closely paralleled her own. Beginning at age 39, she experienced a seven-year, treatment-resistant bipolar episode during which she wrote the book.

“When Greyson was having a manic episode, it was because I was having a manic episode and I wrote it during that period,” she said. “During his very depressed periods, I was probably very depressed and I wrote it at that time, so I was feeling what he was feeling.”

Garey’s book coincides with the recent release of a critically acclaimed film, “Silver Linings Playbook,” which centers on a character who is bipolar. It also comes as a rash of mass shootings has prompted questions about the accessibility of mental healthcare in the United States.

Though Garey said there is still a “huge stigma” attached to mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, she considers open discussion a step in the right direction.

“People have to know that it’s a brain disorder, a matter of circuitry,” she said. “It’s an illness like diabetes or multiple sclerosis or any other medical illness, and it needs to be treated in the same way.”

Greyson’s difficulties with his illness might make for a compelling novel, but Garey believes that a few key changes could prevent many mentally ill people from similar suffering. She advocates integrating mental healthcare more closely with existing care.

“Kids get screened when they go to the pediatrician for their sight, their hearing, and they should get screened for mental health as well. It should be part of a regular annual physical,” she said.

She praised President Barack Obama for increasing research funding to the National Institute of Mental Health, and for backing mental healthcare parity. She also criticized politicians for their silence on mental health issues, particularly during the 2012 presidential election.

“There are 11 million Americans with a serious mental illness who were voting in that election, and mental illness never came up once during the campaign,” she said of the 2012 presidential election. “We have a long way to go.” (Editing by Patricia Reaney and Doina Chiacu)

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