Civil War in the Soul
By Jeremy Gluck
Key Themes: bi-polar, manic depression, auto-biographical, established novelist, poet and musician
“I’ve read your book and I am impressed – and obviously I relate. I hope it sells well because I am sure it will help many people.” – By Katy-Sara Culling, The Bipolar Foundation
Novelist, poet and musician Jeremy Gluck draws on his experiences of growing up in post-War Canada in a breath-takingly beautiful and poignant account of his battle with bipolar disorder (manic depression). He contrasts a depiction of his descent into depression and madness with the narrative innocence of his childhood.
Victim of Dreams can help others to understand what it is like to develop, have and/or survive a severe and enduring mental health condition. More than anything else service users want empathy: Manuals and guides are essential, good medical support crucial, medication crucial of course, but those with serious MH conditions are so plagued by feeling misunderstood and isolated that empathy is the key. Exploring in anecdotal and lay terms the genetic and environmental genesis of the disorder in me, the book is written in a highly professional literary style, including vivid memoir and especially penetrating accounts of depression and manic delusion – drawn largely from journals kept at the time and therefore vivid in their evocation of mania and depression – and is a new kind of survivor book that eschews “misery” for memory and asks, again and again, searching questions about the nature of our lives, minds, memory and capacity to endure what is, after all, a part of ourselves seemingly set to destroy another, more benign part.
The book is in three parts or “lives”. The first part is my innocence, when the illness lies dormant but shadowing. In the second part, I wrestle with madness as the illness reveals itself. Coming from a more balanced and objective viewpoint, in the final part I review both having brought myself back. I can now show myself as someone different, neither the innocent nor the madman, and importantly not the person I have been accused of being.
About the Author
I am 49, an expatriate Canadian with a background in the arts, now working in the voluntary sector in Wales as a mental health information and research worker. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002. My lifelong experience as a published writer/author has equipped me ideally to write an insightful literary account of my life leveraged to the impact upon it of the illness, my eventual diagnosis and coda heralding my recovery.
My First Life
I was sitting in my parents’ kitchen. Maybe it was 1971. Paper popped out of my three-ring binder was piled up on the table top. On the top page I’d written some disjointed but themed lines, beginning, Life is just one meaningless event after another. Others said more or less the same thing, and I read them again and again as they were written. My father came upstairs; for once he wasn’t working late. He paused by me, skimmed my lines and smiled to himself, or at least to a part of himself. I think he asked me if I meant it. He was proud of me: few things in a twelve year old can be more precocious than despair.
I remember almost every detail of that kitchen, the old round slots in the storm window frames I swung up a ladder every October. And what about the tall broom cupboard? I can see its door, but nothing inside it. I can see my life from the front, and nothing inside it, too. Memory is not unreliable or deceptive at all, it’s random. The average is nothing if not detailed. For example, the Sixties silver toaster, its shape and elements, its brittle black plastic, now primitive handle. I can see that but not any detail of my mother’s face of the time, not that isn’t copped and cropped from a long-lost photograph and clipped to something else, somewhere else in my mind and memory. Now that Mom is dead I don’t feel any need to remember her with clarity, but it does seem strange that I can’t. We can intimate from how we forget our parents how others will forget us. We can’t “remember” people dead, which is a shame, because that’s the one time most might make a lasting impression.
The fan over the stove was that very dull yellow you get with enamel made greasy. It matched the fridge. I think the floor was black. I can look out the kitchen window to the lawn, in winter when it didn’t condemn us with its neglect born of exertion other than emotional or intellectual exertion.
In those days the classrooms seemed to have genuine differences but come back to me as walls of drawers with scale toys rattling around them, with names and faces but no independent power. The whole place was like the Poseidon upright, but adrift and listing. Straight but slanted. I must have had a bad day at school, who knows what, and so I was in the kitchen churning out life-signs of the self-pity that would one day dictate many of my feelings and actions. I felt that nobody understood me, and I was as right as you get, but without the complementary, central realisation that nobody cares. The light in that kitchen with its begrudging introverted murkiness. That, when we ate together and my older brother wasn’t there to bend the mood, Dad was home and making faces so funny I gagged my food down between howls, could be radiant. What we feel moves our light around us I suppose. We feel and the light moves at it one way or another, not in a way science understands, but in way that accords with what certainty we’re permitted.
That’s just the kitchen, and it’s as bright as daylight. There were more rooms, and I can see and even feel them as they must have looked on the realtor’s drawings, blue-inked, plain but with promise, and also see and feel them with their individual and then collective glow. And how one joined or connected or led to another; never underestimate the significance of how one room joins another and how the rooms in one house join each other. Walking in and out of their light, down the always darker hallways, you feel the rooms in a very special way. The living room was full of light. The view across the street to Carol Anne’s split-level was okay. It was a small, beautiful house, and I discovered plenty there.