Letters – Issue 99

The darker side of mania

In his recent review of my memoir Taming the Tiger (NZB, Winter 2012) David Cohen pays me several nice compliments. Yet, on the whole, the review is written with an asininely superior style typical of reviewers who regard themselves as ionospherically distant from the text. The result is a superficial display of shallow cleverness. Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” is more relevant than the less innovative Jerry Garcia.

Taming the Tiger is not a virtuoso piece of exhibitionism to entertain the author’s ego but intended for the 44,000 manic depressives in New Zealand, 70 million worldwide and for the families sorely tried by the extravagant, reckless and verbally abusive behaviour from someone with mania; for those interested in survival stories (I Shouldn’t Be Alive!) mania is more a shift in consciousness than a mental illness though it can produce psychotic behaviours. However, we need the genius of mania to reach the stars.

Kay Jamison’s Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament reveals that many artists, poets such as Keats, Coleridge, Byron (who considered all poets “melancholy-mad”), Shelley, Blake, Wordsworth were thus empowered. The relationship between creativity and mania has also been studied by Nancy Andreasen, Agop Akiskal, Adele Juda, and Arnold Ludwig. However, there have been relatively few autobiographical accounts of mania and those I have read don’t seem to do it full justice – probably because the writers are often young, inexperienced authors and not artists or poets etc. Many reviewers have commented on the humour in my memoir. Is it possible that Mr Cohen has had a humour bypass? Contrary to his comment about the manic-depression cycle, there is almost nothing about depression in Taming the Tiger, even though I have suffered from it (un-medicated by choice) most of my life. Manics are the only people who will truly understand the book. A former art dealer visited by manic depression expressed surprise at how accurately I had described the experience.

Medical authorities (backed up by family and friends) FORCE manic depressives to take lithium medication. Medication means a lessening of creativity and libido not to mention a feeling of physical weakness, frequent urination, mild tremor, plus possible weight gain. More serious side effects are possible. Treatment by the nurses in psychiatric wards has little tenderness or empathy. Surprisingly, many of the nicest and kindest nurses are the youngest. American psychiatrists I have met are much kinder, more considerate, and less judgmental than their New Zealand counterparts.

With plenty of sleep, good diet, deep breathing, exercise, relaxation, appropriate music, meditation or prayer and the support and understanding of friends and family and lots of self-discipline (maybe a dose of therapy) and a shift in cultural consciousness from the medical to the spiritual and artistic, it is possible to overcome the darker side of mania and even depression (and it helps to be a poet!). Drugs aren’t always the answer and were not the answer for thousands of years. It is time for a re-think about manic-depression and drugs (medication).


Michael Morrissey




Landscape of life

Opening any edition of New Zealand Books is a potentially shaming experience. My usual nightly bedtime routine is to open my current book, of whatever interest and quality, and fall asleep within two pages. It’s good that your periodical is too large a format to take to bed.

I take the time to read it sitting up because, while confronted with the many worthy volumes I will never stay awake to read, it does help me choose some books that I feel compelled to add to the pile. It also reduces the list of books I had thought I should read. Thank you for selecting fearless reviewers and publishing critical reviews in this small village of dense networks.

But reading New Zealand Books serves another even more valuable purpose for me. I am presented with a landscape – not only a literary landscape – of New Zealand life. I can think of no other platform that offers such an encompassing view.

There are the expected reviews of the publications that most book page editors would include within the orbit of “literature”: novels, poetry, short stories, history, biography, memoir, social, political and economic commentary, fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. The sheer number of titles shows how much writing and publishing is still happening in this country.

In addition, every issue stretches the boundaries of the usual range by reviewing books on topics that add colour and texture and depth and peculiarity to the view. In the last edition, for example, I was introduced to analysis of waiata, the New Zealand tax system and economy, early New Zealand photography, the musket wars, a history of unions, play scripts, first Maori-Pakeha conversations on paper, three crime novels and Dunedin rock music.

Thanks for marking the efforts of enthusiastic amateurs, assiduous researchers, creative academics, writers who could become popular and writers on the margins.

I have just noticed something missing from this panorama. We have standout stand-ups in this country. Any comic writers out there? A really funny New Zealand book might help me stay awake.


Rhonda Pritchard


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