This Book Made Me Laugh at My Mood Disorder

TW/CW: mentions of mental illness

Bipolar disorder is no walk in the park, and I speak with the expert authority this mood disorder has given me. As if it takes an expert to know that. 

Bipolar disorder brushes nearly everyone that has ever lived because this consuming illness directly affects our relationships. An episode causes a spiral up or down, or seemingly straight into another dimension, and the collateral damage caused to everyone and everything around seems inevitable. 

But it’s not. It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to live like this. 

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life by cartoonist Ellen Forney was published the year I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. This is my most shining example of a godsend, ever. 

In short, Rock Steady kept me functional (I won’t go so far as to say stable) and sane (for the most part), even when I was unmedicated. For me, a little cocktail of psych meds is necessary for stability. Functional was a refreshing change of pace compared to the complete chaos that was my life before I found this book or knew I was bipolar. 

This is the bipolar guidebook to stability, but the information provided in this book is invaluable for any mood disorder.

We don’t achieve stability — arrive at it — and then have no need to work anymore. Stability is hard-won from life-long effort. Once we understand and accept this, we’re ready to receive the help we need.

The only constant is change, [and the] task of maintaining stability is never a done deal.
 — Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life, Ellen Forney

If you read this book:

You will learn the basics of self-care to manage a mood disorder

This wouldn’t be a very good self-help book if it didn’t teach you the tools to help yourself. As this is my absolute favorite book about self-help and bipolar disorder, I guarantee the basics of self-care are abundant.

The entire book is a targeted approach to self-care as a means to manage a mood disorder. Forney created a catchy acronym to describe her mental health philosophy, which is that “self-care entails a wide, interlocking, life-spanning range of essentials.” The system is called SMEDMERTS!

Sleep
Meds
Eat
Doctor
Mindfulness
Exercise
Routine
Tools
Support system
 — Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life, Ellen Forney

The first five chapters provide tons of information about how to live the SMEDMERTS system. After the basic principles of Forney’s mental health philosophy, you’ll find chapters on therapy, coping tools, insomnia, and medication management. 

The SMEDMERTS system is a holistic approach to managing bipolar disorder, although this strategy can be used to manage any mood disorder. Once you have down the basics, it’s time to consider the possibility of an episode.

You will learn how to face down a bipolar episode

An episode is any prolonged state of mind other than stability — depression, mania, and the lesser-known mixed episode when symptoms of depression and mania occur at the same time.

Forney uses intuitive analogies to describe the progression toward an episode. She details several common triggers for an episode and provides coping tools to combat each one. 

This chapter helped me recognize triggers I didn’t even realize were aggravating my disorder. It also validated me that, yes, it actually does make sense that losing sleep causes me to need less sleep, among other strange symptoms common in bipolar disorder.

We need to be able to predict, recognize, and prevent or stop an episode while there’s still time to check all the gauges, make a plan, take those steps, and/or get help.
 — Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life, Ellen Forney

You will find resources

The book in its entirety is an invaluable resource. Forney provides resources for finding support, but she goes beyond compiling a list of impersonal websites. There are lists of books, movies, and music, all curated by Forney herself, to make us feel seen, heard, and valid. 

Forney addresses ways to navigate the coming out process and how to squash stigma. There is an illustrated Mood Disorder Hall of Fame that includes dozens of celebrities. There is a resource for every need in this book, short of the vital things a book cannot give you. For what a book cannot give, Forney teaches you how to get it.

You will laugh…a lot

This graphic self-help guide is authentic. What makes this book so funny is Forney’s candid and transparent perspective of bipolar disorder that is so relatable. 

The comics that serve as personal narrative give you a glimpse into the psychotic hilarity that is bipolar disorder. Forney comedically humbles without degrading herself with such poignancy that I can’t help but feel light-hearted every time I open this book. 


It can be hard to see the bright side of a mood disorder, especially in the midst of a depressive episode. Rock Steady is an all-encompassing guide to living life with a mood disorder to the fullest without losing your sense of humor along the way. 


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Other articles that may help you manage bipolar disorder:

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