Book Review: The Devil Within.

Stephanie Merrit (2008). Published by Vermillion.

I do not have bipolar disorder (once called manic depression), yet I recognize so much of myself in Merrit’s terrifyingly honest memoir.

A part of me kept thinking – ‘how can you write this? … all this shame and humiliation. The irony is Merrit; before her bare all book, was locking the truth away from her friends and family, and in a way – even herself.  She  tells hilarious (in a laugh or you’ll throw yourself under the next bus kinda way) stories of faking it with therapists, and health workers sent to check on her.  What kind of lunatic tries to look good with a therapist?  Oh me, that is what kind of lunatic.  I am her, without the snappy intellect, awesome writing skills, or celebrity father to my illegitimate child.  I am also one year older.

The devil within is part autobiography, part research and awesome information on bipolar disorder, depression and post natal depression.  To me it still felt like a glorious novel.  I finished the book teary eyed, wondering desperately – what happened next?  Only to realize with glee she exists, Merrit is flesh and blood.  I can go and see what happened to her in the intervening nine years.  Of course she is one of those paradoxes, who shares everything while keeping herself private.  So I am stalking following her on twitter and hoping to learn ever more. Was there more love, did it undo her? did she move to sea? how is her wee man, (an almost gown one by now I guess)?

I was so taken aback with finding so much in this story. I could almost touch the image of myself young, wine in hand, glistening eyes, a look dangerously on the sexy/carefree – unhinged borderline.  Throwing myself at what-ever adventure the night held, dragging whomever and whatever was around with me.  Oh so young and free spirited and spontaneous … until the trauma of the dawn, full with its self-loathing and regret, fuzzy mouthed and fuzzy memory to match.  Oh but I was fun?  I identify too with the part of her that misses the highs (if not the lows).  There is something about mental illness – sometimes it’s like living in 3D while the rest of the world lives in black and white. Other times it is like living in black and grey when the rest of the world is in technicolor.

It’s as if there is a very small fence, or maybe thin piece of glass –  where my behaviors were just on one side of ‘normal’ and hers just on the other side.  But life had to draw a fence somewhere and label her and not me.  Of course my mental health is bang outside the normal range in terms of anxiety – so maybe there is something common to different mental illnesses that makes us still part of some ‘club’.  It’s a club where sometimes by joining you get pleased with the hand you were dealt.  There are others there with some better cards and some worse ones, but yours are yours and you’ve kinda got used to the shiters and its nice to think you might not get others.

Reading the Devil Within was more a deep journey for me personally than simply a book to read and share.  It took me into my own Devil, with dazzling glorious company that is Stephanie Merrit – even on a bad day.  I was sad to finish it.  I was sad to finish it and return to the world.  But pleased too, to realize another thing we have in common: the Devil within is quieter, more subdued, not yet left the party, but not dancing naked on the coffee table either.

I strongly recommend this book, not just for those of us battling the Devil within but also for those whose loved ones are, because it might just help you have a wee peek into a world they can’t or wont explain to you.

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