David Lovelace, writer, poet, carpenter and former bookstore owner, has bipolar disorder. So does his father, his mother and his younger brother. Only his sister escaped the illness. In his book Scattershot: A Memoir, My Bipolar Family he writes about growing up in a close-knit, religious family and the illness they shared.
“I’ve seen both my parents drown in the sickness,” Lovelace writes, “I’ve seen my brother sink down. I’ve denied my own madness and I’ve loved it almost to death.”
His mother, an artist, was the first to experience mental illness when, as a young woman, she received electroshock treatments. She suffered lifelong bouts of depression and paranoia. His father, an ever-increasingly eccentric theology professor, was hospitalized in 1986 with his first manic episode. Lovelace experienced his first paralyzing depression as a teen; his first manic episode in college. He was hospitalized within weeks of his father’s breakdown; his brother’s soon followed.
With lithium treatment, the family members began to gain control over their illness, but each at times gave into the temptation to go off the medication and relapsed. When on lithium, says Lovelace, he missed the “fluidity of thought, the expansive, even beautiful, mind that hypomaniabrings.”
In Scattershot, Lovelace writes in vivid and poetic detail of his attempts to escape his illness through harrowing experiences across the country and around the world, ultimately learning to accept his bipolar disorder.
Excerpts from Scattershot: A Memoir, My Bipolar Family:
“David, let me in. It’s Sarah. I have food.”
“Leave it.” I was so stupid and mean, such a mess she couldn’t see me.
“David,” she teased, “now don’t make me break in here.”
I saw her standing there, perfectly blonde, a sorority sister. – cute as hell and utterly different from me, from this. I’d flirted with her through the first week, through Loomings and Queequeg. I can’t see her, I thought, not like this, not wrapped in my shrouds. “Hi, Sarah. I’m sorry, just leave it. I’m sorry.”
“I won’t just leave it.”
So I stood slowly, naked and sick. I pulled up the sheet and covered my sickness and stood by the door. “Alright, Sarah. Alright.” I cracked open the door and she was shining. I took the tin foiled plate and she stopped the door with her foot.
“I’ll see you later, David. I’m coming to check.”
“No, please.” My old mind knew I should love this, anticipate this, her coming to me. But that was gone, I knew it. This cold, sharp piece of knowledge cut at my chest and I wanted to cut it out with knives….
I sat on the bed. I wanted to call Sarah and tell her not to come but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even do that, let alone stick my head in the stove. Sarah was wrong. She could get hurt, I could hurt her.
In Olympia that summer I fell into a bottomless, unpeopled hell – the absolute cold knowledge that I’d gone quite mad, that no one could ever hold me again. Still, I thought maybe I could work out the sense. I needed to remember it, write it and speak it. I needed to organize and so fell to my knees, gathering rocks and muttering. So what if I was mad? Of course I was mad. Everyone should be mad.
To hell with all the people who stared. I had done it, broken through Ahab’s pasteboard mask and harpooned my whale. I would justify my mania, all this quicksilver. I would speak it and write it before it all burnt, before it was smote down to ash and forgotten. The others would see, the ones who stared at the floor to avoid my ****ed eyes, who whispered while leaving and never came back. I wrote broken poetry. I spun and I shouted past all the sweet music.
I was a god and I was scared shitless.