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On Research and Life

Bipolar Disorder. Noun. Defined as a mental disorder marked by alternating periods of elation and depression. Someone who swings between manic and depressive stages. There are so many ways to look at this state of mental health, yet even the experts don’t fully understand what it entails because brain chemistries vary.

To me bipolar disorder had a face. A handsome young man who believed in the potential of others. Someone who showed me what it meant to be positive. I say “had” because like many who have sadly joined the staggering statistic, he took his life. I miss him every damn day, and as I write this post I think he wouldn’t want me to bog you down with stats. If you believe you or someone you know is undiagnosed as having bipolar disorder you can find more information by visiting the National Institute of Mental Health website and many others like it. But, most importantly, you are not alone. You are never alone.

For this post I want to focus on the prep I did for writing No Love Allowed and developing Didi’s character—who happens to have bipolar disorder.

When the story for No Love Allowed first came to me I saw the image of a girl falling off a cliff. Immediately I wanted to know what happened. That was when Didi introduced herself. Caleb came along soon after. And their love story was born.

Once Didi told me she had bipolar disorder I immediately knew I needed to do my research. Like many people, my knowledge extended to mood swings, but as I soon found out, bipolar disorder was more than just mood swings.

With the multitude of information on the internet alone, it was very easy to become overwhelmed. Besides the general definition of what having bipolar disorder meant, I had no idea how to understand someone who lived with it on a daily basis despite knowing someone who lived with it. Reading articles seemed impersonal, but I wasn’t ready for face-to-face interviews just yet.

This was when I turned to documentaries. Hours and hours of video made it so hard to think why so many of us were still in the dark. The best one, in my opinion, would have to be Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. It’s a two-part documentary that chronicles Stephen Fry’s journey in understanding the disorder—of which he had been diagnosed with. At the same time, he interviews doctors, celebrities, and families who live with the disorder. It was such an eye opening couple of hours that helped me gain a better sense of who Didi was. No wonder it won Best Documentary at the 35th International Emmys in 2007. I highly recommend that you watch it.

Armed with more questions than answers, I was ready to conduct personal interviews of my own. I asked a therapist friend of mine if she could introduce me to a few people. A couple of them were gracious enough to let me buy them coffee.

I asked about how they were diagnosed. I asked about how they felt right after they were given the diagnosis. And I asked about how they coped with the knowledge that they had bipolar disorder. Each conversation gave me a different answer. Some said the diagnosis was a lifesaver. They got on the proper medication and are now living their lives as best they can. Others thought of the disorder as a curse. Medication for life and the side effects that came with it. This was where Didi’s internal struggle came from. No matter how much she wanted to live her life the way she wanted, having bipolar disorder always seemed in the way. It was a push and pull in her life, which you will get a better sense of as you read No Love Allowed.

Reading articles, watching documentaries, and conducting interviews helped me get to know Didi. She’s resistant to group sessions, no matter how beneficial they could be. She’s creative. And there are days when the medication doesn’t seem to be working. But at the end of the day, Didi told me her story wasn’t about having bipolar disorder. And I agreed with her.

So, armed with what I knew, I began writing and editing. There were moments when I was bogged down by too much information and had to step back. But, eventually, we (and by this I mean along with the amazing team at Swoon Reads) found the right balance, which you will see in the finished product. It is my hope that I’ve done Didi’s and Caleb’s story justice. And maybe, dare I hope, No Love Allowed could spark a conversation we should be having about mental health. Then maybe, just maybe, a loved one who is diagnosed knows there is still a future to hold on to.

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Kate
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