With the re-release of his best-selling Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father’s Story of Love and Madness, Michael Greenberg updates and reflects upon his experiences parenting his daughter, who lives with bipolar.
A best seller when it was first published in 2008, the memoir Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father’s Story of Love and Madness, by Michael Greenberg, has been re-released, garnering accolades from Amazon, the New York Review of Books, Time magazine, and others. Greenberg tells of how in 1996 his daughter Sally, then 15, had a psychotic break in Greenwich Village, and how her bipolar disorder impacted him, their family, and others in their circle. Greenberg is a columnist for the Times Literary Supplement, published in London, and he writes fiction and essays that have appeared in top national publications in the United States.
Congratulations on the book’s re-release—and yet, it feels like this book has been “keepin’ on” very well on its own.
wasn’t out of print, and it’s kept an audience by word of mouth. It’s used in
college and university courses, too, as both a literary memoir and a psychology
reference. The book has had a long life and does keep sputtering along. I
absolutely conceived of it as a story for families, and after I surveyed the
literature, I really thought this was a missing link at that time—a memoir from
a person who’s living with a person with bipolar disorder.
What would you tell your younger self, back then, about Sally’s bipolar disorder?
I would tell my younger self that Sally’s psychosis isn’t forever—that with a combination and therapy and medication she would be able to live a full life with relationships and love. During her first episode, I knew much less about bipolar and its rich periods of remission. I did so much research about bipolar disorder before I wrote the book.
In the new afterword of this edition, you say Sally now “lives an engaged and purposeful life, brimming with rich relationships. In the best of times.”
Her illness was so shocking—that a person so close to me could go to another place that was impenetrable to me. It was like losing her while she was there. As with others with bipolar disorder, her manic depression—I prefer to call it that—is lifelong. She has to have medication, and she’s had some very serious relapses and episodes, along with periods of remission. She has to reassemble her life over and over again.
What is your best advice for other families helping a loved one manage bipolar disorder?
A person in the throes of mania can be very persuasive, with a lot of certainty, that life changes must be made and you must help. Resist those grand life plans because often they’re not realistic. Stay centered next to the whirlwind because that’s what the person needs from you. And, yes, it is hard to do when you love someone.
How far have we come with stigma—if we have—since you wrote the book more than 10 years ago?
There is a greater awareness among people that this is an illness and that it’s not “the person.” That’s hard for some people to accept, since it doesn’t look like diabetes. I think a general raising of consciousness has helped that, even though it’s a difficult thing to wrap your head around, [the idea] that another person can’t control their own behavior. And, of course, stigma does still exist, but it is also important to consider how bipolar disorder has contributed so much to humanity. Some of the world’s greatest mathematicians, scientists, artists, musicians, and literary geniuses have had bipolar disorder. This is not to discount the suffering that it can also cause.
And what does Sally’s life look like now?
Sally is married to a high-school biology teacher, a wonderful young man. She works in her mother’s lovely rural bakery in Vermont, where her apple pies and savories [a British term for pastries that aren’t sweet] are much prized. She is still working toward her goal: a professional degree in childcare and early child development.
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