Haldol and Hyacinths
A Bipolar Life
ISBN 9781583334683 | 304 pages | 01 Aug 2013 | Avery | 9.25 x 6.25in | 18 - AND UP
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With candor and humor, a manic-depressive Iranian-American Muslim woman chronicles her experiences with both clinical and cultural bipolarity.
Melody Moezzi was born to Persian parents at the height of the Islamic Revolution and raised amid a vibrant, loving, and gossipy Iranian diaspora in the American heartland. When at eighteen, she began battling a severe physical illness, her community stepped up, filling her hospital rooms with roses, lilies, and hyacinths.
But when she attempted suicide and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there were no flowers. Despite several stays in psychiatric hospitals, bombarded with tranquilizers, mood-stabilizers, and antipsychotics, she was encouraged to keep her illness a secret—by both her family and an increasingly callous and indifferent medical establishment. Refusing to be ashamed, Moezzi became an outspoken advocate, determined to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness and reclaim her life along the way.
Both an irreverent memoir and a rousing call to action, Haldol and Hyacinths is the moving story of a woman who refused to become torn across cultural and social lines. Moezzi reports from the front lines of the no-man’s land between sickness and sanity, and the Midwest and the Middle East. A powerful, funny, and poignant narrative told through a unique and fascinating cultural lens, Haldol and Hyacinths is a tribute to the healing power of hope, humor, and acceptance.
A CONVERSATION WITH MELODY MOEZZI, author of HALDOL AND HYACINTHS
Why did you write this book?
I wrote the book in an effort to combat the shame, stigma and silence surrounding mental illness—both in the general public and within my own respective communities, as an Iranian-American Muslim. Should this book inspire even one person to lose the shame and share her or his own story, I would consider it an overwhelming success.
What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
The most difficult part of writing this book was the “research” phase—that is, reading my own medical records, as well as the meticulous notes my husband kept at the time. The medical records were full of massive oversights and outright falsehoods, such as references to my “delusions” about being an attorney and author.
When were you diagnosed with bipolar disorder?
I was diagnosed in the fall of 2008, immediately after an acute manic episode and psychotic break, and I was misdiagnosed with unipolar depression for roughly a decade before that.
How do you treat/manage your bipolar disorder?
I take a mood stabilizer every day, and I try to eat well, exercise and most importantly, maintain a fairly regular sleep cycle. Since my first manic episode, I’ve become significantly more prone to hallucinations (both visual and auditory). Thankfully, they make only rare guest appearances, and I’m able to control them at home by taking one of the newer anti-psychotics on an as needed basis.
What do you think is the most common misconception about bipolar disorder?
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the following: “But you look so normal.” People seem to have so many preconceived notions about what a person with a serious mental illness should look like, and more often than not, they’re wrong. For the most part, we look just like any allegedly normal person, but because most of us hide our status, few people realize how many “normal” people they know who are living with a mental illness.
Why is it so important that people understand what it’s like to have a mental illness?
Once people better understand what it’s like to have a mental illness, fears dissipate and compassion rushes in. Stigma and shame know no greater enemy than compassion.
You discuss a lot of very personal details of your highs and lows – what was the process of recalling these episodes to write for the book?
It wasn’t easy to say the least, but I’d been writing about mental illness for years by that point and had received hundreds of messages encouraging me to continue. Among all of those messages, one stood out: a father who wrote to thank me for an article I’d written about suicide, told me it inspired him to organize a local suicide-awareness event, and included a photo of his beautiful 27-year-old daughter, Alexis, whom he’d recently lost to suicide. I looked at Alexis’ photo God-knows-how-many times in the process of writing this book, and every time, it gave me strength and the sense that I was writing it for her, a complete stranger and yet a comrade-in-arms.
Has your family read the book? What has their reaction been?
Yes. They’ve all been ridiculously supportive.
Have you read other accounts of bipolar disorder in books? What is your favorite/why/and why is your book different from theirs?
Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind is hands-down my favorite memoir about bipolar disorder. Our stories have bipolar disorder in common, but little else. My experiences with this illness, like all of my experiences, have been heavily influenced by my cultural identity as an Iranian-American Muslimah.
You discuss your religious and activist beliefs in the book. Do you see similarities in religion and activism?
To me, religion and activism aren’t similar; they’re one and the same. This book is an exercise in activism, an expression of my personal jihad—that is, my struggle to fight oppression wherever I find it, both internally and externally. In this case, that oppression manifests itself through discrimination, fear, stigma and shame, and as a Muslim, it is my moral duty to stand against it.
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