Monday, September 22, 2008

Author Interview: David Lovelace on Scattershot

To learn more about Scattershot: My Bipolar Family by David Lovelace (DL) visit the book's website here.

Click here to read Walt Mueller's review of Scattershot.

CPYU: Tell us a little bit about your motivation for writing Scattershot. How difficult was it to get over the hump of secrecy to become so vulnerable about your family’s struggle with mental illness?

DL: I’ve been open about my own struggles with bipolar disorder with my friends and some work associates for many years. On a more personal level, as a writer, I’ve been pretty gun-shy, unwilling to take apart the pain and look at it. I’m a poet and so in the past I’ve approached my illness obliquely, using metaphor and symbol. After a particularly harrowing crisis – the one portrayed in chapter 1 – I wrote another poem but it just didn’t have the emotional punch I wanted, the catharsis I needed. And so I began writing Scattershot. I’m glad to have my story out, in public, because I know it can help others.

Now, writing about my family is of course more complex, much more difficult for me. About twenty pages in I knew I’d have to write the whole, painful truth. To do this I knew I’d have to write a nuanced book, one shot through with love and empathy, otherwise I’d never sleep. My parents are both very proud of me, although we don’t discuss the more painful aspects of the book. My siblings love the book.

CPYU: You have firsthand experience with living with parents and siblings who battled mental illness, and you’ve gone deep down into it on a personal level yourself. As you interact with people who haven’t had your experience, what have you found to be their greatest misunderstanding?

DL: Both depression and mania are not volitional. No one chooses despair, you can’t just shake it off; no one chooses a manic high. It is not a moral failing and drugs such as lithium, the antidepressants, they’re not a kind of crutch; they don’t indicate weakness. They are a godsend, literally. Many people don’t understand that the crazy ends of bipolar disorder are not permanent, static. Many, many bipolar individuals are highly productive, creative and loving. You can’t cure this thing – it’s a brain disease, the inability of the brain to regulate emotion – but you can manage it with medicine and exercise.

CPYU: You grew up in a fairly high profile Christian family, with a dad who was well-known in Christian circles, and highly revered. You’re also very candid about your break from the faith of your parents. Where do you think Christianity, as you experienced it and/or Christians, as you experienced them, have failed in understanding and interacting with those who suffer from bipolar disorder?

DL: If pressed, I’d have to say I’ve broken with evangelicalism, not my faith. I mean no offense but the cultural vision I found at Wheaton College…well, it gave me the hives. When I hear the word inerrancy I reach for my revolver, so to speak. But at the same time, at least on my better days, I still believe.

As for the intersection between Christianity and bipolar disease or, in a wider sense, between spirituality and madness is action packed. My family’s disease is a deeply spiritual one. No doubt depression is a descent into hell, as close to damnation as you can get topside. And yes, mania trails a bit of glory behind it, a touch of the divine. One experiences – or at least I did – the infinite connections, some kind of great, cosmic web. Of course it makes you crazy, no one looks at the Lord’s face, so to speak.

On a practical level, I think many Christians emphasize the spiritual over the biochemical, trust prayer over secular psychiatry. It shouldn’t be either/or. It’s possible Satan isn’t tempting you in the wilderness; it’s possible your neurotransmitters are out of whack.

CPYU: As a bipolar teenager and young adult, you no doubt experienced a combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of interaction with Christian adults. What can church youth workers do to understand and help teenagers who are struggling with mental illness?

DL: I think psychotherapy is much more accepted by the church these days. I think a combination of pastoral guidance and secular psychotherapy is critical. I good therapist knows the ropes, is familiar with the biochemical component, and the types of denial and pain specific to the illness. You won’t get this insight from a doctor/psychiatrist by the way; all you’ll get is a few minutes and a pill. I think the proper order of care within the church is: pastoral to psychotherapy to psychiatrist.

CPYU: How and what are your parents doing now?

DL: My parents are both doing well. Last year their apartment got too much for them – grocery shopping, driving, and so forth. Now they live in an assisted living very close by my family. There’s a nurse on call, no chance of their medicine getting screwed up, etc. My mother’s painting watercolors again, thinking about teaching a class, actually. There’s another history professor living there and my father is getting him up to speed on Jonathan Edwards.

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