Melody Moezzi once tried to commit suicide in a psychiatrist's office, and had hallucinations in which Joseph Stalin and her fourth-grade teacher were participants. How she struggled to understand her bipolar illness and became an advocate and spokesperson for mental illness is the subject of Moezzi's compelling memoir, "Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life."
Moezzi (who now lives in Raleigh with her husband, Matthew) is an attorney and writer whose previous book is "War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims." Her parents are Iranian, but she was born in Chicago in 1979 after the Islamic revolution, circumstances that "guaranteed a dual existence from the start." (Throughout the memoir, Moezzi, who practices her Muslim faith, uses quote marks and other qualifiers to drive home the point that Iran is not Islamic in any true sense.) Her book is really two stories - one about discovering and trying to understand her illness, the other about her struggles to connect the Iranian heritage she loves with being born and raised in the United States.
Moezzi is brutally honest when she chronicles her attempts at suicide, her bouts of depression, followed by manic energy and eventually, psychosis. After a manic episode that lands her in a crisis ward, Moezzi offers this insight: "The thing about being crazy is that you don't feel crazy. ... I really believed that I had single-handedly discovered the secret to life, that I had all the most important answers. I really believed that I was dying and that we had suddenly become disgustingly rich."
Moezzi also is bitingly funny in her narrative. She writes of a psychiatrist who failed to diagnose her correctly, "I may as well have spent my Tuesday afternoons talking to a Cabbage Patch Kid for all the good he did me." About some inaccurate medical records (included in the text), she writes that the medical professionals could have distinguished fact from delusion by using Google.
Moezzi also comments on the difficulties of being Iranian-American after the Sept. 11 attacks. "Just to clarify, I had nothing to do with 9/11, nor do I know anyone who did," she writes, and offers a catalogue of examples in which she was actually asked about a possible connection.
Her parents, Ahmad (who often recites Rumi and other Persian poets) and Jazbi, both doctors, are generous, interesting people you would like to meet, and her English-born husband, Matthew, has a deep well of empathy and patience.
These human connections offer the reader another way to approach and appreciate Moezzi's story. Not only is she pleading for better understanding and better public policies toward those with mental illness. Moezzi also wants Americans and Iranians to try to understand each other.
Her analysis of the U.S.-Iran relationship is brilliant: "Being Iranian and American is like being a child of divorced parents, both of whom have killed a bunch of your siblings on account of their disdain for each other and neither of whom has any interest in civility, for the sake of their children or anyone else." She believes that "the Iranian people will rise again" and "bring about a free and democratic Iran." You cannot read Moezzi's memoir without lamenting this continuing division between two peoples who really do have so much in common.