Runaway Mind by Maggie Reese was a thoroughly enjoyable, engaging and educational book filled with firsthand accounts of what life can be like with bipolar disorder. Maggie invites us into her life during this very trying time and gives the reader an intimate description, through diary entries and family recollections, of a mind spinning out of control into the world of manic depression. Mrs. Reese shares with the reader very personal details in an attempt to offer “invaluable help to families (in) understand(ing) what their child is going through — and to provide the hope that there can be a future.”
Maggie was a cross-country star, on her way to tackle the running world in her first year of college. A beautiful young woman from a loving family with all of the promise of the future ahead of her, neither Maggie nor her family had any idea what challenges lay ahead of them. Although hard to pinpoint exactly, her changes seemed to begin with her transition into college life (in the book’s notes we are reminded that “stress can be a major trigger for anxiety and depression”) and the demise of her running career due to a major injury. We see what seems to be normal freshman jitters quickly turn into the battle of a lifetime.
As the author struggles to maintain her sense of self and her path through college, it becomes apparent there is something very wrong and a whole family is soon forced to fight their way through mental illness, from diagnosis to survival strategies. Maggie finds her way in and out of various mental health facilities, relaying to the reader the wrongdoings of “Nurse Ratcheds” and the challenges provided by fellow patients. Her accounts are often filled with either rage and uncontrollable anger or sentiments of grandeur. We spiral with the author, as she survives on a mere two hours of sleep per night and questions whether she will ever feel like the old Maggie Hurst again.
Although sometimes hard to follow due to the fragmented nature in which the material is presented, I found this story incredibly interesting and hopeful in nature and would highly recommend it to those interested in learning more about the struggles of living with a mental illness. Having read other works dealing with bipolar disorder, including Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind (wonderful book!), I would add Runaway Mind to essential readings in the subject matter. Beyond the information the reader gathers from personal accounts and interesting details learned during the turmoil, the book offers a truly inspirational message of love. We see love within a family and from friends and a community which all push Maggie to keep working toward health. We are also privy to the beginning of a blossoming love between Maggie and her bodyguard, who years later will become her husband.
I could not help but think while reading this book of a dear friend who also has struggled with bipolar disorder. She has gone on to be a successful pediatrician and is certainly one of the most interesting, warm and intelligent women I know. She was also, luckily, surrounded by a warm, caring and tenacious family, but one of the contributors to Runaway Mind, Maggie’s mom, reminds us that not everyone dealing with mental health issues is so fortunate. Toward the end of the book Mrs. Hurst encounters an apparently homeless woman who was a fellow patient in a treatment center with Maggie. The disheveled woman joins Mrs. Hurst for lunch and describes a life of turmoil and pandemonium, working her way in and out of police custody just to enjoy a shower and procure needed medication.
This is one of the strengths, in my estimation, of this work. It offers many different perspectives and sentiments that stem from one beloved person’s fight to regain clarity in a mind that is providing nothing but a roller coaster of emotion.
One of my favorite accounts in the entire book is that of Carrie, Maggie’s best friend through childhood and beyond. Carrie describes a terrifying barrage of anger directed at her as she deals with her own grief in losing someone who was like a sister to her, not knowing whether or not she would ever have her best friend in her life again. Her role in Maggie’s life evolves into one full of stability and calm non-response, probably the best thing she could have offered her dear friend whose unhealthy mind was desperately seeking more chaos and commotion.
Carrie likens her role to that of someone attempting to save from shore someone they care about deeply from drowning. As the reader, a similar role is assumed. We stand witness to a young woman with promise and seemingly limitless possibilities ahead of her and hope for a happy ending or at least a larger sense of peace in her life. If the reader stands by through the final chapters, Maggie’s quest for harmony will be found in a family of her own, appropriate medication and a better understanding of bipolar disorder, including optimal weather conditions and locales for living. Maggie leads the reader through a fulfilling maze detailing her experience with a trying mental illness that gives the reader not only an increased awareness of the topic, but also a sense of camaraderie with her.
“My memoirs prove that you can go away… and then come back again.”
Runaway Mind: My Own Race with Bipolar Disorder
By Maggie Reese
Xlibris Corporation: October 29, 2009
Hardcover, 172 pages