“The problem with mania—even the milder hypomania I was experiencing during my visit to Connecticut—is that you can’t distinguish genius from crap. And I use ‘crap’ here to mean straight-up lunacy.”
Melody Moezzi grew up in an Iranian-American family that fled the Iranian Revolution in 1979. After some years of nomadic life, they were finally able to settle in the Midwest, where her doctor parents provided her with a first class education that led to university and then law school. At college, she faced an unexpected battle with pancreatitis, a disease that normally affects older men, often alcoholics. For many years, her physical illness masked her deteriorating mental state, and her battles with depression and mania. Institutionalized after a suicide attempt, it still took many years, and a full on psychotic break, for her doctors to realize that Moezzi was battling not merely depression, but bipolar disorder. Haldol and Hyacinths recounts the long journey to a correct diagnosis, and the effort of throwing off the shame of mental illness in order to advocate for better mental health care.
Much of Moezzi’s story is about struggling with the nature of the mental health system. Bipolar is notoriously difficult to identify and treat, and Moezzi, like many people with bipolar, was not properly diagnosed until after a severe bout of mania escalated into a severe psychotic break. Despite the fact that her parents and sister are doctors, the long struggle for a correct diagnosis leaves her distrustful of the medical system, wary of therapists, and resistant to taking certain types of medication. She got lucky in that once she had a correct diagnosis, her doctors were able to quickly find a medication that worked for her. For many bipolar people, it can take years of tweaking to get medications right. Moezzi’s resistance to therapy and taking certain medications could have become much more problematic if not for this luck.
Moezzi is persuasive and articulate, qualities that make her an engaging memoirist, but which also allowed her to mask her illness from others for many years. Her tone ranges from discursive to persuasive to chatty. At her most formal, she cites medical literature on pancreatitis and bipolar. At her chattiest, she can sound down-right gossipy, a trait she bemoans in the Persian community. Moezzi can be loud, opinionated, even abrasive, but this candour and willingness to be seen at her worst are anathema to the usual shame and silence that surround mental illness.
Moezzi is clearly a passionate and ambitious person, but it is perilously easy for her passions to slip over the edge into mania, whether she is campaigning for the election of Barack Obama, speaking out about Iran, or advocating for mental health. Even her religion can become a trap, as she belatedly realizes that the summer she spent passionately reconnecting with her faith while working in Montana, was in fact a bout of mild mania—not nearly so dangerous as the full blown mania that would later lead to a psychotic break, but a harbinger of things to come. Her highs are ecstatic, and her lows are demeaning, and her retrospective account is a balance of chagrin and self-compassion. Her account is supported by recollections from her family, and detailed notes her husband made as he tried to document her condition.
Beyond bipolar, Moezzi’s memoir also touches on other interesting facets of her life, including the unusual experience of being a young person with pancreatitis when she was at college, and what it is like to be a Muslim American, particularly post 9-11. She explores the duality of being both American and Iranian, and grapples with the fact that her outspoken advocacy means that she will never be able to return to Iran as long as the Islamic Republic exists. These other aspects of her life help fill out her character for the reader, an essential element of showing a person as more than their mental illness.
You might also like Marbles by Ellen Forney