National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Finding Truth about Bipolar Disorder through Fiction
By Hisaho Blair, NAMI Communications Intern
Juliann Garey’s debut novel Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See is the story of Greyson Todd, a successful Hollywood studio executive, and his battle with bipolar disorder. Garey, a journalist, screenwriter, and editor of Voices of Bipolar Disorder: The Healing Companion, pulls from her personal experiences with bipolar disorder as she describes Greyson’s plight. Some of her vivid depictions are disturbing and painful to read, but in the end, Garey leaves the reader feeling compassion and hope for Greyson and those like him.
Too Bright to Hear Too Loud To See
By Julian Garey
Greyson, who has been hiding his bipolar disorder for 20 years, leaves his wife and young daughter to travel around the world for 10 years before he is finally admitted to a hospital when he hurts himself badly. The book is divided into twelve chapters, each representing one of 12 electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments Greyson undergoes in the psychiatric ward. Each chapter travels back and forth through time, through Greyson’s memories—those from his childhood, his marriage, fatherhood and his travels—and gives the reader snapshots of what it is like to be affected by the disorder. These memories also shed light on how mental illness can affect relationships.
From the very beginning it is obvious that Greyson has a strong dislike for his father, Ray. As his memories are revealed, we learn that Ray had also lived with debilitating depression, and probably bipolar disorder. Between the terrible ordeals Ray put his family through, we see the occasional glimpse of the loving father and can feel the conflicting emotions Greyson must have experienced as a child. Garey also explores the marriage between Greyson and Ellen and the toll that mental illness can take on even the most loving and understanding of relationships.
Although Greyson is unable to sustain normalcy for extended periods time, we see that he still has the need and ability to form meaningful relationships with others—in particular, his relationship with Walt, a father figure, is very touching. Throughout the book, much family love and support can be felt. We sense Greyson’s strong love for his deceased mother through his recollections of her. We also see his sister Hannah’s continued support of Greyson through his illness. Finally, there is the most amazing relationship that Greyson is able to rediscover with his daughter Willa whom he had left.
Greyson and his doctor, Knight, discuss the goal of his treatment. It is stability. Knight explains, “Once we get you stable…you might get the chance to experience those unexpected minutes or days or, if you’re really lucky, weeks of honest-to-God happiness. And Greyson, if you think the rest of us so-called normal people get any more than that, I obviously need to prescribe you a stronger antipsychotic.”
“We are all of us…just getting by. We do our jobs and love our families and take pride in our kids’ accomplishment. Some people believe in God because that makes watching the nightly news a little easier. But our ups and downs stay within a manageable range. That’s what I want for you.”
Garey makes us realize that we are all humans who share similar struggles. Some individuals, for whatever biological reasons, have bigger ups and downs than others and need medical treatment to stabilize the fluctuations. But we are all trying to “get by” and grab what happiness we can. There are certain relationships and events we experience that leave lasting impressions that touch our hearts. And these memories and the real feelings they invoke shape who we are and hold the keys to growth and healing.