Marbles : Mania, Depression, Michelangelo + Me : a Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

Ellen Forney is a successful comic artist in Seattle, Washington. She embraces the creative life and all it has to offer. One day, her therapist clues into her constantly “jazzed” state and refers her to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, her creative life was being fueled by a manic episode. The psychiatrist diagnoses her with manic depression as they go down the DSM-IV checklist of criteria. This shatters Ellen’s perception of herself and her future as an artist.

She struggles with coming to terms with a disease that has a terrible grip on her. At first she resists being medicated but when the mania finally bottoms out into a deep, dark depression, she finally concedes to the much feared and maligned gold standard: lithium. The side effects are harsh especially for an artist so in tune with the world around her. Memory loss, tremors, weight gain are just the tip of the iceberg. Her psychiatrist switches her to different medications although Ellen is not being 100% honest with her psychiatrist about her more than occasional use of marijuana. Eventually, through much trial and error they find the right mix of medications.

Luckily, Ellen has supportive friends and family. She does a great job holding on to whatever she can when her life is at the lowest. She still manages to swim a few times a week and reads books from her childhood to occupy her mind without overwhelming herself with the paralytic depression that encompasses her. She looks closely at the lives of many great artists who very possibly suffered from mood disorders and looks at their art with new eyes. She studies intensely the link between mood disorders and creativity.
This is a beautifully written and illustrated graphic memoir about Ellen’s journey to find the balance she once disparaged as boring, but needs so that she may exist as an artist.

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