As a psychology major who knows how serious mental illness can be, I never thought stories about bipolar disorder would make me laugh. While bipolar disorder itself isn’t actually funny at all, in Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life, Melody Moezzi brings humor to even the harshest realities of her disorder.
Melody’s memoir chronicles the events of her life both prior to and following her bipolar diagnosis. I was able to learn a lot about the nature of the disorder through unique eyes. Even through depression, pain, and untamed mania, Melody had me laughing and rooting for her with the turn of every page. Not only did she find optimism in her hardships, but she also found a way to make her all of her experiences relatable to any reader.
Melody truly is a character, claiming that her dreams to enforce international human rights laws are about as realistic as enforcing a teenage virginity pledge. Her veracity and snarky zest for life are contagious and rare in the mental health world. It is not every day you find a person willing to admit that they played with happy meal toys or stripped naked in a crisis center amidst a manic episode. The most inspiring part of the memoir is that Melody never lets her disorder define her. While much of the book may focus on time spent in psychiatric offices or hospitals, Melody’s other characteristics were the ones that shined through. She rises above those who doubt her time and again, crushing the stigmas that surround her disorder.
Melody’s long list of accomplishments both scholastically and politically makes her a role model, and not just for people living with mental illnesses. In addition to being an award-winning author, Melody is also an attorney, speaker and activist, having done work with the State Department’s “Generation Change” initiative and is a recognized United Nations Global Expert. She is living proof that no diagnosis should ever stand in the way of trying to change the world.
I was fortunate to have a chance to talk to Melody about her new book and other accomplishments.
NAMI: While sharing your story, you shared a lot of very personal moments ranging from inspiring, to painful, to embarrassing. What made you decide to be this open with your readers?
Moezzi: I respect and treasure my readers. If they’re willing to spend their free time reading one of my books, I owe them the truth. Plus, I couldn’t live with myself if I weren’t brutally honest about the entirety of my experience. Writing Haldol and Hyacinths wasn’t easy, but then again, neither is most anything worth doing well. In the end, sharing my story without reservation has liberated me. Knowing that my work has played some small part in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness or in giving hope to another person living with it—that’s a good feeling.
Many parts of your story had me literally laughing out loud. How were you able to bring such humor and light-heartedness to some of the darkest parts of your life?
My ability to find humor in tragedy has saved my life on several occasions. It’s more than a defense mechanism. It’s a survival technique. So yeah, I take comedy very seriously.
You said that your husband, Matthew, took detailed notes of your actions and the things you said during one of your manic episodes in hopes of helping both of you better understand your disorder. How did it feel, after the fact, reading those notes about you?
I hated it. His notes helped me recognize the toll that my mental illness took on the person I loved most in the world—as well as on the rest of my family. But I couldn’t have written the book without his detailed documentation. Mania and depression tend to carve out giant chunks of my memory, and my hospital records were far from thorough or even accurate in some cases. I needed Matthew’s notes—and more importantly, his support—to write this book. In a lot of ways, this book is a love story.
At one point in your book you said that you are generally a little skeptical of the effectiveness of psychotherapy. What suggestions do you have for people that may feel similarly? Have you found an alternative that you feel works better for you?
Psychotherapy doesn’t really work for me—at least not at this point in my life. I know it works wonders for others, and I’ve witnessed it firsthand. It’s just not for me. Partly at least, I think it’s on account of the fact that the whole process is such a culturally foreign concept to me. What has most helped in my case has been the support of others living with mental illness. I regularly attended support group meetings for nearly two years after being diagnosed. Today, writing and public speaking are my therapy. I still attend support groups from time to time, but as I’ve become less “anonymous,” they have become less practical.
But I get my support through my activism now. In truth, I have a huge support group now that spans countries and cultures. I can’t tell you how many emails and other messages of support I’ve received from readers and folks who’ve attended my talks. In fact, I’ve stayed in touch with a few of them and built real friendships. I have a dear friend in Indonesia, for example, whom I’ve never met in person, but with whom I’ve spoken on Skype—I even met her mom—and we stay in touch through email and Facebook now. She has even invited me to stay with her in Jakarta, and she too has an open invitation to stay with us in Raleigh. The world is so much smaller now, and I’m grateful and better for it.
Where do you find the strength to speak out against the constant negativity and advocate for both the mental health and the Muslim communities, especially in bouts of depression? When it gets really rough, what keeps you going?
I received this question once when I was speaking at an Amnesty International conference. The topic was the Arab Spring, and I’m pretty sure no one in the room even knew about my mental health advocacy, let alone my illness. So when a young woman in the audience asked me how I avoid burnout, I answered honestly: “I don’t. It happens. I’ve found that psychiatric hospitals can be very helpful.” I was hoping for a laugh, but everyone just shifted uncomfortably in their seats. I should have known better. Mental illness tends to make people feel uncomfortable. I proceeded to explain a bit more about living with and accepting my mental illness, as well as becoming a mental health advocate.
I have no idea how many people came up to me afterward to talk and ask questions, but most of them asked little or nothing about the Arab Spring. Instead, they confided in me, sharing their experiences with mental illness, sometimes for the first time, and they praised me for my courage to speak about my mental illness in front of so many people. The thing is though, to me, it’s all about human rights. I’m a human rights activist, and mental health is a human rights issue. So whether I’m fighting for the rights of Muslims or Iranians or the LGBT community or people living with mental illness, it’s all the same to me in the end. It’s part of the same fight. You ask what keeps me going. I say love, which to me is no different than God. It all comes down to that. I truly believe that love is stronger than hate, that love always wins. Sometimes, it just takes a while.
You founded the social movement Hooping for Peace in order to promote fun and uplifting protests in support of social justice. You also mentioned hula hooping many times in your book, specifically during manic episodes. Is this movement something you have continued to work on? Also, why hula hooping?
I do very few things well. Chief among those: writing, speaking and yes, hula hooping. As an activist, you need to play to your strengths. Hooping is just one thing I do fairly well, and turns out, it’s a pretty good way to draw attention to an issue. I know it seems weird, and I admit, I was manic when I came up with the idea for Hooping for Peace. At the time, I was sure that getting enough people to hula-hoop at once would lead to world peace. Yeah, like I said, I was manic. Still, I believe that some of our manic insights are worth paying attention to. Granted, most of mine are total crap, but still, someare pretty good. Hooping for Peace was one of those, so I hung on to it even after the mania faded because I found that it worked—not in achieving world peace sadly, but as an effective way to draw attention to a given social or political issue. We haven’t actively protested anywhere for a while, and I haven’t heard from the two chapters I knew about since 2008 and I’m letting the website expire, so I guess you could stay it’s defunct as an organization. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep hooping for peace though…and should anyone want to join me, they’re more than welcome. That includes you.