Showing What It Means to Have Bipolar Disorder

JUN. 06, 2016

By Luna Greenstein

People often portray bipolar disorder as a condition that causes someone to have constant and extreme mood swings at any given moment, but that doesn’t truly capture the nature of this condition. Representing bipolar disorder in popular culture accurately is critical toward achieving awareness, understanding and acceptance. One way to learn and promote understanding is to imagine yourself going through the symptoms. Here are two books that show what living with bipolar disorder is like.


Lily and Dunkin By Donna Gephart Delacorte Books for Young Readers (2016)

Lily and Dunkin is easy to read, appropriate for kids and realistically depicts what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. The story switches between the perspectives of two eighth-graders facing incredible challenges—being transgender and living with bipolar disorder.

Norbert Dorfman, also known as Dunkin, moves to south Florida with his mom, where they live with his exercise-obsessed grandmother, Bubbe. Although we don’t get the whole picture until later, it is clear that Dunkin’s father is the reason they had to move. His father also lives with bipolar disorder and seems to have done something drastic, prompting the move. Dunkin is trying to block out thoughts that pass through his mind about his dad’s behavior.

Upon arriving in south Florida, Dunkin quickly makes a friend, Tim/Lily McGrother, an androgynous transgender person who spends her time reading in a Banyan tree named Bob. Their friendship quickly encounters obstacles, including when Dunkin is invited to be friends with the popular basketball players, who continuously bully Tim/Lily for her lack of a clearly defined gender.

Dunkin is initiated into the cool crowd due to his height, which leads them to believe that he’s going to be a great basketball player. To impress his new friends, Dunkin lies about his basketball-playing skills and agrees to try out for the team. His natural ability is less than satisfactory, even after many training sessions with Bubbe. But Dunkin knows an easy shortcut to becoming a better player: He could “forget” to take his medication.

Taking medication decreases Dunkin’s energy, so he believes that by stopping he’ll have more energy and play better. But when he starts skipping doses and his energy starts to skyrocket, so do the symptoms of his mania.

The author of the book, Donna Gephart, tells this story in a way that’s both simple and profound. To be able to take on two  distinct and unique challenges and concisely put those troubles into the minds and bodies of kids is worthy of recognition. This is a true teaching novel, perfect for young people first learning about mental health and mental illness and for adults who want to learn more.


Liar: A Memoir By Rob Roberge Crown (2016)

Liar, a memoir with an adult audience in mind, opens up the experience of a writer undergoing personal crises, substance abuse, and the harrowing symptoms of bipolar disorder. Each chapter contains a non-chronological listing of dates. Each vignette contains an event or memory that provides a piece of the total picture of his life. Author Rob Roberge is sharing his personal story with the reader. He’s telling the story of his life in the order that makes the most sense to him. The book is Roberge’s method of preserving his identity through recording important pieces of his life. He does this after learning that his many concussions have increased his likelihood of developing a memory-eroding disease.

Roberge tells his story in the second person as if he is outside of his life looking in. While discussing his bipolar disorder, he says, “Technically, to be diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar, you need to have four manic episodes within a calendar year. But four episodes a year doesn’t seem very rapid to you at all. In the year leading up to the release of your fourth novel you are firing off a few a month.”

Roberge details how both bipolar disorder and his substance abuse affected various aspects of his life and explains the biggest difference he noticed between the two: “Using addicts know how they’re going to feel in five minutes. Mental illness, on the other hand, is the ultimate loss of control.”

This book is not a traditional, feel-good memoir; it shows struggles in a light that is raw and real. Roberge has a lot of wisdom to share, and you can learn a lot about mental illness, substance abuse and stigma from reading his powerful words.


JUN, 29, 2016 08:02:18 PM
Linda North
My brother committed suicide from his severe illness and my nephew has lived with it for many years. I have not seen significant benefit from medications they have used until my son began to get ill. He has been going through Neurofeedback and I am seeing great benefit. He is managing his health vey well with no medication at this point. We are just beginning his journey, but I only see him getting better, where I watched both my brother and nephew grow worse. Mi am very hopeful. Research is very good!

JUN, 29, 2016 07:48:14 PM
Dara I can so relate with you but I took a major step and didn't think about it and divorced my husband. My bipolar gets in the way of me having friends and trusting people and being very paranoid.

JUN, 29, 2016 07:25:16 PM
Dolores Brandon
If I may add my own book to this list: THE ROOT IS BITTER, THE ROOT IS SWEET In the Shadow of Madness, A Memoir traces the life a young girl and her family as they cope with life in a home where the father suffers manic-depressive disease. Available on AMAZON. I am presently doing readings and presentations for local NAMI chapters leading interactive conversations with my book as a catalyst.

JUN, 29, 2016 07:13:06 PM
Dorothy Ruppert
Bipolar is extremely difficult for those who experience it and also for their entire family. "God Placed Her in My Path" is my story of walking alongside my daughter. Only available at

JUN, 29, 2016 06:17:24 PM
I have a sister who has been diagnosed with BiPolar Disorder I, has been in and out of hospitals, on and off meds and is currently off meds and has been in a manic cycle for 10 months, and has completely self destructed - no job, no home, no medical coverage, no transportation and will not get help. This country seems to have unlimited resources/plans/programs for those with addiction problems, but the resources for the indigent who are mentally ill are woefully lacking.

JUN, 29, 2016 06:01:10 PM
Katie Perttunen
I also wrote a book, "Bits" published by Black Rose Writing, which came out June 9, detailing my struggle to come to terms with bipolar with psychotic features as a single mom. It's available on Amazon Prime and also at Barnes and Noble by special order.

JUN, 29, 2016 10:47:02 AM
Sean Boggiano
Carol I perfectly agree with you I was misdiagnosed and until i was in prison I did not get the proper diagnosis. It caused a lot of problems

JUN, 19, 2016 03:55:13 PM
I agree with you, Carol. I work with a mental Health Facility and I see many treatments that are the same with different mental issues. There is more that needs to be done.

JUN, 15, 2016 10:36:55 PM
Marquita Whiting
Recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder with depression. However, got the past 20 years I was diagnosed as depressed. Not until I tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized for the second time did I get the proper diagnosis and meds. Proper diagnosis is critical. I'm doing so much better after 20 years of a regretful life.

JUN, 10, 2016 07:33:46 PM
Please consider an amazing memoir that came out last year called, It's Not Your Journey. It's available on Amazon. It tells an incredible story of survival through mental illness and a suicide attempt. It's based on the life of the author.

JUN, 09, 2016 06:26:00 AM
Dara Chepan
Good resources!! Having difficulty constantly explaining myself and being bipolar to my significant other...Dara

JUN, 08, 2016 12:03:28 PM
I lived with the Heartbreak of my Son whom I believed had Bipolar Disorder! He self medicated with many things, to fight the deep dark depression he felt! It finally overcame him, after many Types of Treatment and multiple Hospitalizations! They never diagnosed him correctly, that is what I believe! He passed away 2004 @ 33yrs of age! I am a retired Psychiatric Nurse and they need to give more, do more, research more on Mental Illness! I saw many times how these people are mis-diagnosed and everyone given same treatments! Healthcare for People with Mental health issues in this country is found wanting!

JUN, 07, 2016 06:18:19 AM
Laura Gray
" The Isolated Variable" by Timothy Gray, published by Tate publishing. Release March1 2016.
Has thought and mood disorder member of NAMI

JUN, 07, 2016 06:15:01 AM
Laura Gray
The Isolated Variable release March 1 2016 published by Tate publishing co. Author Timothy Gray
thought and mood disorder

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