Lately I’ve found myself reading memoir after memoir. But I’m not into the “celebrity memoir” type of book; I prefer books about real people facing real-life challenges. Tara Meissner’s book, Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis, invites the reader into the world–and the soul–of a young woman enduring the effects of bipolar disorder.
The strength of this book lies in the author’s honest, no-holds-barred description of her psychotic break with reality and her journey toward recovery.
I am privileged to introduce Tara Meissner and her book via the Women on Writing Blog Book Tour. Here’s more about the book:
Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is a moving and honest psychology memoir about the things that break us and how we heal. It offers a raw view of a 33-year-old wife and mother swallowed by psychosis. The psychotic episode includes meeting Jesus Christ, dancing with Ellen DeGeneres, and narrowly escaping eternity in the underworld.
Casually called a nervous breakdown, psychosis is an entrapment outside of self where hallucinations and delusions anchor. Family, doctors, and fellow patients witnessed a nonverbal, confused, distraught shell of a woman. In the security of a psychiatric care center, the week-long psychosis broke and spit out a bipolar patient in the cushioned place of middle class medicine.
Outpatient recovery consumed the better part of a year with psychiatric treatment and spiritual contemplation. Left scarred and damaged, health returned allowing her to tentatively embrace a grace and peace earned through acceptance of bipolar disorder.
Accepting Bipolar and Finding Grace
I used to pray a lot. Almost like a zealot. Prayer alone was never enough to keep me at peace and allow me to live with grace. Grace to me is living with the capacity to tolerate, accommodate, and forgive people. Peace is sustaining a moment where I am dignified, elegant, and beautiful.
Christians use the word grace to mean a gift to humankind from God in the form of His infinite love, mercy and goodwill.
Disease of any sort makes us question an all knowing and all powerful God. Humans lack the capacity to understand what logic could allow disease from a loving God. Some even say the disease is the devil.
Certainly this is true in history concerning mental illness; some Christians consider mental illness spiritual warfare. This confuses people to think mental illnesses are the devil possessing someone. The cure then is prayer and fully accepting Jesus into one’s life.
In ancient times, a person with epilepsy may have appeared possessed by the devil. (Please note, that I am not discrediting with the concept of evil and that the devil can possess people; this is written on the first page of the bible.) I am only emphasizing the point that mental illness is an organic, biological condition. It is not a supernatural occurrence of evil residing in those afflicted.
I was raised Catholic, received the sacraments, attended Mass regularly, had my son in Catholic school, and habitually prayed the rosary. My transgressions, which I sought reconciliation from, did not invite the devil to take the form of a mental illness inside me. Still, I suffered from depression off and on for nearly 15 years and suffered a psychotic break from reality in 2010. This is commonly called a nervous breakdown.
Since then, I have accepted bipolar disorder as a part of my whole. It is not evil inside me; it does not make me unworthy of love. It is a disease that I can and do treat.
Without the complications of a mistreated and misunderstood mood disorder, I can wake each day with a sense of peace. I can stop pleading to God to cure me. I can stop promising to be a better Christian so that I do not have to suffer with mental illness. I can accept that bad things happen to good people.
With free will, I have chosen to treat the bad, my bipolar disorder. Because treatment for bipolar disorder can reduce and/or eliminate symptoms in up to 90 percent of people living with bipolar, I live well and have peace. I no longer deny the disease. I no longer feel guilty of having done something to deserve it.
I can pause long enough to enjoy the smile on my children’s faces, the array of colors in a sunset, my husband’s embrace, great belly laughs with girl friends, and many other pleasures of life. Living with grace doesn’t always mean the absence of bad days. I also fully experience pain, regret, and sadness. However, these emotions do not disturb the peace I have achieved by eliminating the symptoms of a mood disorder.
Maia Szalavitz, a health writer and author, said “Addiction and mental illness are not demons. Let’s stop acting as if prayer is the main answer.”
I am reminded of the serenity prayer, courage to changes the things we can and accept the things we can’t and know the difference. I must accept that I have bipolar disorder. I changed how it affected my life, by learning to understand it and treat it. Only now am I able to live gracefully.
About the author: Tara Meissner is a former journalist and a lifelong creative writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and works part-time at her local library. Tara lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Mike, and their three sons. She writes longhand in composition notebooks. Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis is her first book.