20 Books to Understand What Bipolar Is REALLY Like

Last Updated: 29 Jul 2020

Whether you live with bipolar or love someone who does, you can find comfort, wisdom, and strategies (maybe even a good laugh!) in these inspirational books.

woman reading about book or memoir about bipolar disorder

We can lose ourselves in the power of the written word, compelled by the raw emotions, deep insights, and humorous takes offered by others like us—people who share our experiences with bipolar but come from different walks of life and have their own unique perspectives.

The books below range from the first-person memoir of one man’s sudden psychosis, his bipolar diagnosis, and his journey to stability, to a Pulitzer Prize finalist’s journalistic approach to understanding his son’s bipolar and unraveling the legal and mental health industries.

When we need a glimpse of our peers’ successes and challenges to fuel our hope, build resilience, and inspire us to keep moving forward and triumph with bipolar, these are the authors to turn to. With them, we learn and take to heart that we are not alone, and there is always a reason to hold onto hope.

Broken Open and A Better Life

By Craig Hamilton (Bantam Books, 2004; Allen & Unwin, 2012)

On the eve of the biggest event of his career, covering the Sydney Olympics, Australian ABC sports broadcaster Craig Hamilton experienced a break. He never made it to the Olympics and was later diagnosed with bipolar. In his first book, Broken Open, Hamilton details the experience—the warning signs he had missed, insights into his mind, and his gradual journey toward stability. His tale continues in the inspiring follow-up, A Better Life. Focusing on the vitally important shifts Hamilton made to his lifestyle to manage bipolar and overall health, A Better Life is, at its core, a story of hope. A story of finding yourself at the bottom of a deep, dark pit, then finding your way back.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

By Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD (Vintage, 1995)

Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, is an accomplished woman with academic credentials who works as a professor of psychiatry at the prestigious John Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Jamison’s bestselling memoir An Unquiet Mind is a raw and honest story of her own battles with bipolar, including a diagnosis that came after she joined the UCLA faculty as an assistant professor of psychiatry and her own resistance to treatment.

Wishful Drinking

By Carrie Fisher (Simon & Schuster, 2008)

Wishful Drinking is an autobiographical collage that originated as a highly praised one-woman performance by the late Carrie Fisher. Then it became an HBO special, and it was published in book form in 2008. Through her books, her avid social media presence, and in her shows, Fisher used her much-loved humor and honesty to offer hope and healing for many in the bipolar community.

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life

By Ellen Forney (Fantagraphics Books, 2018)

Rock Steady is the Ellen Forney’s sequel to her 2012 bestselling graphic memoir, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me. In this companion book, she provides more elements of self-help, with grounding advice, all in a humorous, creative package.

Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life

By Melody Moezzi (Avery, 2014)

In Haldol and Hyacinths, a powerful, funny, and moving narrative that pays tribute to the healing power of hope and humor, writer Melody Moezzi speaks out against the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder. Moezzi’s latest book, The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life, was released in the spring of 2020. There, she explores Rumi’s poetry, with her father’s help, to gain wisdom and insight against our modern struggles.

Crazy: A Father’s Search through America’s Mental Health Madness

By Pete Earley (Putnam, 2006)

Award-winning journalist and author Pete Earley earned the title of Pulitzer Prize finalist with Crazy. In it, he provides a father’s account of his experience with his college-aged son who is diagnosed with bipolar. Earley takes a hard look at the mental health and legal systems, and he shares the frustrations and helplessness faced by many parents.

Manic: A Memoir

By Terri Cheney (Harper, 2009)

Once a successful entertainment attorney representing the likes of Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, Terri Cheney has chronicled her lifelong journey with bipolar in this New York Times bestseller, Manic: A Memoir. In it, she recounts her despair, roller-coaster episodes, and reckless flirting. Her latest book, a collection of personal essays, called Tell Me Where It Hurts: A Manual to Modern Madness, is scheduled to be published in the fall of 2020.

Puppy Chow Is Better Than Prozac: The True Story of a Man and the Dog Who Saved His Life

By Bruce Goldstein (Da Capo Press, 2008)

The bestselling Puppy Chow Is Better Than Prozac has received wide praise for its inspirational and humorous look at how pets—in Bruce Goldstein’s case, a black Labrador retriever puppy—can soothe our souls with their unconditional love. This former New York City ad executive tells of how caring for his canine pal, Ozzy, gave him a sense of purpose and helped him get out of bed each day.

Madness: A Bipolar Life

By Marya Hornbacher (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

On the heels of her Pulitzer Prize­–nominated memoir, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia (1998), Marya Hornbacher shows a triumphant effort to refocus her life’s narrative through the lens of her diagnosis. With Madness: A Bipolar Life, she once again considers her erratic behavior, crippling depressions, fits of rage and joy, and her battle with an eating disorder, but with new clarity and greater insight.

Mental: Lithium, Love and Losing My Mind

By Jaime Lowe (Blue Rider Press, 2017)

In Mental: Lithium, Love and Losing My Mind, Jaime Lowe, who is a frequent contributor to national publications, details her story of facing a manic episode and the treatment that helped her find stability. Looking at the history of bipolar with an inquisitive mind, she interviews scientists, psychiatrists, and patients. In a book review, one psychiatrist wrote that they learned more about bipolar from this book than from any textbook.

Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner

By Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, PsyD (New Harbinger Publications, 2012)

Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder is a thoughtful self-help guide for anyone whose partner’s bipolar symptoms are affecting their relationship. Writer and coach Julie A. Fast, who lives with bipolar, offers guidance for helping your partner manage mood swings and impulsive actions, while also taking time for yourself. All with the aim of helping you create a more balanced, fulfilling relationship.

Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love

By Zack McDermott (Little, Brown, 2017)

A former Brooklyn public defender turned writer/speaker, Zack McDermott (the Gorilla) details his freefall into psychosis, his struggle to regain his identity, and his mother (the Bird), who refuses to give up on him. Gorilla and the Bird is an honest and darkly humorous account of rebuilding a stable life. In 2018, HBO announced plans for a TV series based on the memoir.

All the Things We Never Knew

By Sheila Hamilton (Seal Press, 2015)

Within six weeks of her “once brilliant and passionate” husband’s diagnosis of bipolar, Sheila Hamilton lost him to the painfully real threat of suicidality that accompanies bipolar. All the Things We Never Knew is both a memoir and a guide for families in crisis, with dozens of resources to help anyone figure out where to turn for care and treatment.

When Someone You Love Is Bipolar: Help and Support for You and Your Partner

By Cynthia G. Last, PhD (Guilford Press, 2009)

Internationally known clinical psychologist Cynthia G. Last, PhD (who also lives with bipolar) shares stories and solutions both from her own experience and the couples she has treated, in her book When Someone You Love Is Bipolar. She provides practical direction to help loved ones come to terms with a diagnosis, get the most out of treatment, and reduce or prevent future mood episodes—all while also taking care of yourself.

Daughter of the Queen of Sheba: A Memoir

By Jacki Lyden (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)

Jacki Lyden, a National Public Radio foreign correspondent, chronicles her life growing up with a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder, in Daughter of the Queen of Sheba. During manic episodes, Lyden’s mother took on the personas of either Marie Antoinette or the Queen of Sheba. Although it had been frightening for Lyden as a child, she now marvels at her mother’s creativity in her mother-daughter memoir.

Yellow Tulips: One Woman’s Quest for Hope and Healing in the Darkness of Bipolar Disorder

By Helen Joy George (Cheerful Word, 2019)

In Yellow Tulips, a story of inspiring perseverance, Helen Joy George writes her raw and painful story about the “ugly truth” that is the mental healthcare system, while weaving through beautiful threads of family, hope, and resilience. Throughout her story, readers are offered gifts on how to both love and better understand those around us.

Sound Mind: My Bipolar Journey from Chaos to Composure

By Erika Nielsen (Trigger, 2018)

In Sound Mind, professional cellist Erika Nielsen (who has played with Grammy Award­–winning Kanye West, among others) takes readers through her discovery of her bipolar diagnosis and her insight into learning how to manage her day-to-day symptoms. Sound Mind is also the recipient of the 2019 Canada Book Award, a 2019 Nautilus Award (gold), and a finalist for an Indie Book Award.

The Bipolar Expeditionist

By Keith Alan Steadman (iUniverse, 2008)

In the page-turner The Bipolar Expeditionist, author Keith Alan Steadman takes us through every level of mania, right up to a full-blown episode and including the flipside of depression. Filled with optimism, this is an inspiring and informative read for everyone: medical professionals, caregivers, and those living with bipolar.

Spiders, Vampires and Jail Keys: Bipolar Disorder: A Story of Hope, Recovery and Inspiration

By Brooke O’Neill (self-published 2019)

Author Brooke O’Neill was pursuing her career in nursing, was recently married, and had given birth to a daughter just five days before her symptoms of bipolar started to unfold. With a mix of humor and honesty, in Spiders, Vampires and Jail Keys, O’Neill takes the reader through her 13-year battle with bipolar—covering diagnosis, manic and depressive episodes (and their aftermath), and, finally, acceptance and stability.

The Up and Down Life: The Truth about Bipolar Disorder—the Good, the Bad, and the Funny

By Paul E. Jones (TarcherPerigee, 2008)

A stand-up comedian, Paul E. Jones aptly uses humor and honesty in The Up and Down Life to offer guidance about living with bipolar, covering every aspect from diagnosis, career, social life, and home life—all from his own hard-learned lessons. Jones also imparts advice for family and friends about the importance of understanding and support.

About the author
Tanya Hvilivitzky has spent almost 30 years in the communications field—a career that has included stints as an investigative journalist, magazine managing editor, corporate communications director, and researcher/writer. She has been with bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine since 2016, serving in roles such as interim editor and, currently, the features editor. She also writes for the bpBUZZ section of bphope.com, where she synthesizes complex information into a format that both inspires and informs. As an award-winning writer/editor, she received the Beyond Borders Media Award for her 2012 investigative exposé about human trafficking. Her work on this important topic also earned the Media Freedom Award “Honouring Canada’s Heroes” from the Joy Smith Foundation to Stop Human Trafficking.
  1. Thank you for for the list!! I would like to add a book that I recently read (the author is on the Board of my local NAMI chapter) and the book is called, “Defying the Verdict: My Bipolar Life”

  2. One of the best books I’ve read re: bipolar is the one written by actress Glenn Close about her sister’s struggles with the illness.
    Glenn is also a fierce advocate for mental health.

    1. YES! I also loved this book! What a great big sister is Glenn Close!

  3. Very disappointing to not see people of color represented here. Particularly disappointed not to see the wonderful, “I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying” by the brilliant Bassey Ikpi. I hope in the future you make an attempt to be inclusive as it is very important that people are able to see themselves in stories.

    1. I feel my highs high, and lows, so low you can see a snakes belly. My emotions are misdirected. I have been sleeping since my dad died three weeks ago. Then my daughter screamed at me what a loser I am. Just words can snap me into another place. I call it the Black and white illness. Either I’m ok or not. So when My life is confusion. I lay it down. For weeks…….what medicine is working for you? What’s not? I took out buspirone, trazodone, seroquel, etc……please replyl

      1. Also. I’ve been estranged from my kids for 20 years. I have been getting on better. I am afraid to say anything that might be offensive or what then those 20 years of dreaming of a reunion. My guilt and shame were deep. My question is ” how long do you beg to be in the family as a equal .like invited to weddings, xmas. Birthday parties.? After 20 years of destroying myself and those around me where enough is enough of the hateful? I am 63. I choose peace. Love, and most of all forgiveness.

  4. This is a great list – I’ve read many of these book. However, missing books by non-White authors here. Our stories of living, recovering and thriving with mental illness from people of color communities is very important as well and would love more representation.

  5. I appreciate all these books and the opportunities they provide. I’m adding one of my own, Tsunami of the Mind: Stories of Trauma, Recovery, and Hope, published in 2016 and on Amazon and Kindle. It’s true stories of ten women and men I interviewed who had different experiences with bipolar. Eight of the ten made suicide attempts, and all of them wanted to help others understand bipolar illnesses, including bipolar depression, and recovery.
    I’m grateful that more people know and care about these brain-based illnesses and are getting and giving help and support. I am in my seventies and fortunate to have had good medicine, exercise, and the chance to help others in a group called Peace of Mind Pacific County. Barbara

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