BookView Interview with Author Michelle McConnell

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed Michelle McConnell, about her writing and her recently released book, Memoirs of a Manic Depressant , a poignant, haunting memoir that reveals the inner universe of her struggles with mental illness.(Read the review here.)

Michelle McConnell lives in Atlanta with her son, mother, and two cats. Find out more at memoirsofamanicdepressant.com

What inspired the premise of your book?

I have been struggling with mental illness for so many years and have come to terms with it. I hope to help those also dealing with mental illness by giving them a voice.  Mental illness is often viewed with disdain and I wanted to humanize my experiences.

How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?

I often kept journals of my thoughts and experiences which gave me an idea to write a book in diary format.  Since I had gaps in my journals and I couldn’t use real people in the book, I decided to create a book of fiction. I filled in the gaps with real events in history. For example, I included news stories like when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison.

What life experiences have shaped your writing most?

Being alone with my bi-polar illness, especially before I was diagnosed, has influenced my writing. I had a difficult time making and keeping friends, so I poured my emotions into my journals which served as the primary influence. My writings began as scribbles, vignettes of experiences with little emotion. I felt that I had to document my life because no one was in my life, so no one knew what I was going through. My manic periods were the most fruitful when it came to writing about my emotions. I delved deeper into my feelings and experiences while manic. During times of depression, my writing was stilted, brief descriptions of some event which took place. When I became diagnosed, I understood the highs and lows much better and it improved my writing style. I incorporated more emotion into experiences and it helped me to see more clearly how much my life had spiraled out of control. Writing took back control of my bi-polar illness.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

The biggest challenge was not making the book too personal. I couldn’t use real people in my book so I came up with a host of fictional characters who could react to possible situations I found myself in.

Do you find writing therapeutic?

Yes, it is therapeutic sharing experiences and getting feelings down on paper instead of keeping them in my head.

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness by Patty Duke and Gloria Hochman was a strong influence because Patty Duke wrote about her illness, good times and bad, with such honesty. She wasn’t diagnosed until her mid-thirties, so she had a wide range of experiences, many of which I could relate to. Another book which was a strong source was Go Ask Alice, an anonymous diary.

Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?

Chapter 10, when I was 17, is my favorite because I strike out and live by myself for the first time. I was so proud of my accomplishments.

Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?

Chapter 23 was the most difficult to write since that was about the period in my life when I hit rock bottom. The experiences I had were extremely painful to rehash.

What makes this book important right now?

There are a lot of people suffering from mental illness, many of which are undiagnosed. I am hoping that some will read my story and seek help sooner than I did. Help was actually thrust upon me; I didn’t know how to stop the frightening cycle I was in by myself. I often took large quantities of sleeping pills when I was depressed. I felt suicidal and so bleak, I reached out to the one friend I had, and he called an ambulance for me because he could tell from my speech that I was on sleeping pills. I was taken to the hospital and finally received treatment for my bi-polar illness which, in turn, helped me to become a more functioning human being. It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually, as medications for bi-polar began to be given to me. Not all medications worked, so it was trial and error until the doctor found a favorable combination of medications. I have been on basically the same medication for a decade, which has stabilized my moods considerably.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

You can still have a fulfilling life after being diagnosed bipolar. There is still a stigma with mental illness, but not as much as previously. We are in a time when being yourself is more accepted, so I hope anyone reading the book can look at themselves without shame.

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