Book Review – The Up and Down Life

After reading any of my books about any topic, I want to write down my immediate feedback about the book.  I am into researching bipolar in order to help my oldest son, Eric, learn how to manage the condition.  This is the first one I read aloud to him so that we can learn together, since I am his support person.  It’s called, “The Up and Down Life:  The Truth about Bipolar Disorder – the Good, the Bad, and the Funny”, by Paul E. Jones.

This is an account of Jones’ own story about coming to terms with the knowledge that he lives with bipolar disorder.  Because he had classic manic ups, he is probably diagnosed with Bipolar I.  Jones is a comedian by trade, and he also dabbled in music.  He now advocates for fighting the stigma of a mental health disorder, and bipolar in particular, “a mind at a time”.

There are two main things I liked personally about this book.  Because it is coming from someone who is living it, Eric seemed to take his advice much more seriously.  Each time there was a section on something a person with bipolar needs to do in order to manage the illness effectively, Eric wanted to create a goal about it.  That is a good thing.

The second thing I liked about it is that Jones believes in getting the topic of bipolar out in the open.  He believes in disclosure and being a strong advocate so that the negative stigma of this disorder can be minimized through positive education and knowledge.  So many don’t seek help because they don’t want to be considered “nuts”.  Yet, drug and alcohol abuse are prolific among those who do not seek effective treatment.  There is anywhere from a 20-30% suicide rate among those diagnosed with bipolar as well.  It’s a tough illness!  I’ve always been one to believe in talking about the tough issues.  Luckily, upon discussing this with Eric, he feels the same way and has given me permission to blog about it.

What I didn’t like about the book is the same reason I liked it:  because it is a personal account, and Jones’ bipolar is not the same as Eric’s bipolar.  First of all, Eric is Bipolar II, which means he more experiences what they call hypomanias.  That means his ups are more “productive” in that he tends to go into creative projects or will spend money in order to entertain himself (though luckily he keeps this within limits).  He spends more time, like 80% of the time, in a depressive mode.  Though this is the “better” form of bipolar, it is also the harder one to treat because of the depression aspect.  There are more effective treatments for classic manias.  That said, so much of what made Jones’ life difficult as it pertains to bipolar were his manias, and the opposite is true for Eric.  So, we weren’t able to pick up a lot of good information about managing that side of things.

We both liked Jones’ “tell it like it is” attitude and humor he uses in telling his story.  The one thing that is the same for most people with bipolar are management tools needed for sleep patterns, eating habits, and exercise.  Being aware of what triggers are part of what makes things better or worse is also universal, as well as keeping track of moods in comparison to these things.  Jones talks about all these things in this book.

For me, it is not the type of book I like to begin with because it doesn’t necessarily give you a good grasp of what bipolar is and how it is treated medically.  Jones steers away from this because he understands the importance of a competent medical professional being involved with effective treatment.  But, it is a great book from a personal experience with bipolar and living with it well.  It offers hope to those of us wondering what the future holds.  And I like his open attitude about not hiding it, yet being smart about how you portray it in your life and to whom.

I asked Eric what his view on the book was.  His answer:  it was comforting and amusing.  It made having bipolar feel like less of a curse.  The negative for him was that when Jones brought up the management tools aspect of what he needed to do, it wasn’t specific enough.  For instance, it is brought up that having an appropriate and healthy sleep schedule is important, but it didn’t really share how to do that.  Same with eating or exercise.

Overall, it appears we had a similar reaction to the book.

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