Madness isn’t Myra Hornbacher’s first book about her broken brain; her first book was Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bullemia, and her more recent non-fiction books are more general explorations of addiction and recovery, as well as how those things relate to spirituality/the higher power that addicts often seek as they begin the twelve steps.
Wasted and Madness are both extremely personal. The former is something of a prequel to the latter; Hornbacher’s anorexia started in adolescence and lasted into her 20s, and Wasted fits into the broader context of her lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder.
The Premise: Problems with food lead to problems with booze, all of which turned out to be self-medicating for thoughts and moods she couldn’t control. Even after her diagnosis, she would push herself to work too hard and end up melting down and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years.
Admittedly, Hornbacher can be frustrating to read, because—as she herself acknowledges—it takes her too long to take her illness seriously, and each psychotic episode that your brain suffers creates long-lasting damage that makes it more resistant to treatment going forward. As Hornbacher chronicles each break and half-assed attempt at treatment, she’s also tracing the mistakes that have lead her to her current fragile state.
Most authors who tackle the subject of severe mental illness write from the other side, but Hornbacher reports from within the thick of it. She’s stable for long-ish periods, but she deftly describes how fragile her mind is, and how frustrating that is for her and everyone who loves her. There’s still a touch of mania to her narrative. Grating at times, that mania also makes what she had to say that much more compelling; her style, while sometimes frantic and fragile, is never over the top, and is always organic to the story she’s telling. Hornbacher doesn’t just live with bipolar disorder, but she writes with it, and in a truly unique way.