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A finely wrought memoir of mental health, Detour takes a genre explored by Susanna Kaysen and Kay Redfield Jamison and propels it in a revelatory and rebellious new direction. Detour is the extraordinary first book by Lizzie Simon, a twenty-three-year-old woman with bipolar disorder. We meet her as she is set to abandon her successful career as a theatrical producer in New York City, with plans to hit the road and find other bipolars like herself -- young, ambitious, opinionated, and truth-seeking. Her goal: to speak with them candidly without judgment, fear, or the slightest trace of anything clinical or jargon-laden. She wants their stories in their words. But after falling in love with her first interviewee, a troubled millionaire, the truth and the path become increasingly difficult to find. She indeed finds inspiring bipolars. Marissa, a twenty-something African-American adoptee; Jan, a popular rock 'n' roll radio deejay and mother of two; Matt, a quiet college student from the South. Each is resilient, wise, healthy, and hopeful. Yet each harbors stories of mania and depression that defy the limits of human experience and survival. But if she's achieving what she set out to do, then why does she feel more alien and alone than ever? Part road trip, part love story, part mystery, Simon has created a heartbreaking narrative of her cross-country quest. With brave humor, Simon writes guilelessly about herself, her past, and her search for "a herd of her own." She explores that shifting gray area where illness and identity intersect and blur, with the eye of an insider and the heart and soul of a survivor. Accessible and unique, Detour not only opens an intimate window on the day-to-day condition of living with a mood disorder, it also speaks to our universally human struggle to become whole.
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Lizzie Simon grew up in Providence and earned her B.A. from Columbia University. Formerly the creative producer at the Obie Award-winning Flea Theater in the Tribeca section of Manhattan, she is now a freelance writer, producer, and frequent guest speaker. Simon is the recipient of a 1999 grant from the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health. Visit her Web site at www.lizziesimon.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It all started the day after I had been accepted for early admission to Columbia College.
December 19, 1993.
I was seventeen years old.
I had left my family at home in Providence, Rhode Island, and was attending my senior year of high school abroad at an international school in Paris. I was having a great time, living with friends of my parents, Edgar and Linda Phillips.
I don't remember everything that happened.
Some memories I've forgotten over time.
Some events I blocked out as soon as they happened.
And I suppose it didn't start on that exact day,
that it started in high school,
much before maybe,
or pre-birth; it started with my grandfather, who had this illness, or with the relative of his who passed it along to him.
What started the day after I found out I was accepted to college was an episode so horrific that it would become impossible for me to deny that I had a mental illness for the rest of my life.
Though I had always known that something was wrong with me, what started that day was evidence, concrete evidence.
Hold on. Rewind.
The history of the inside of my head is the hardest to tell, because it is nonlinear, because it is fractured, because there are so many subplots, and because I have spent so much of my energy in my young life hiding that history from the outside world.
I was born on March 23, 1976, and was loved immediately by many many daring and dazzling people. First, by my mother and father. Imagine her a stunning and leggy rebel, and him a quiet and good-natured community man. She is a sex expert, a college administrator, a coordinator with Haitian Voodoo priests in their native land and tongue, a marathon runner. He is a pediatrician, a Little League baseball coach, a napper.
My parents' mothers are extraordinary women. My mother's mother was a lifetime social worker, who chased people off the dunes near her summer home in Cape Cod, and made quilts, and supported public radio, and recycled, like, decades before anyone else, and read revolutionary poetry, and worried angrily about everything but loved me with tremendous ferocity from moment one. Those hugs! Would my ribs make it through her hugs! She is still alive, though currently in very advanced stages of dementia.
My father's mother is a hot-shot theater producer. Her father and uncle started the dance hall Roseland in Philadelphia and New York City, so she grew up around nightclubs and live performance. She can be a mean lady; don't cross her or be silly or forget for a moment who you are dealing with, but oh the soft spot...when I turned one she wrote me a birthday card: "Have your mother show you this when you're older and I make more sense to you: My love for you is irrational and uncategorical." As a teenager I spent many summers living with her. Our relationship is intense and spirited.
My mother's father died of a sudden heart attack when he was thirty-eight. My mother was eight years old at the time.
My father's father was a very successful orthopedic surgeon and involved community man. He was also bipolar, but our family kept it a secret. He was diagnosed the year I was born. I was diagnosed the year he died. We passed the baton.
Before he was treated, he would buy property manically in Florida or take outrageous trips into the ocean on his boat. His depressions were severe and terrifying for my grandmother, my aunt, and my father.
Like everybody else on the planet, my parents are not perfect people, nor are they perfect parents. But they loved me -- I'm sure of it -- from conception on forward to today. And they love each other, madly. They travel together and listen closely to each other and launch each other off into the world the way young lovers would.
I was loved and looked after by my older brother, Aaron, who was a prodigiously talented athlete and daredevil (at three he dove off of the Olympic-height diving platform at Brown University...yes, yes, an insight into my parents: they let him, they launch us too). And then later, eight years after me later, there came Ben, who seemed to emerge into the world in a cheery and mindful Buddha-like state, which he remains in now, even as a teenager. I taught him to talk and to walk, and when he mastered that, I made him dance and sing.
The atmosphere in my house growing up was always exciting and upbeat. During the week, we had dinner together every single night. My parents insisted. On weekends, my mom and dad blasted their rock and roll or folk or soul music from the moment they woke up. At parties, they were the first and last on the dance floor (my dad can actually do this thing where he swings my mother to either side of his hips and then dramatically above his head and into the air). We seemed to have an enormous network of friends from all over the world and from different parts of their lives: old hippie radicals from my father's medical student days; students from Brown, where my mom was Dean of Student Life; actors from the theater where my nana worked. Our home more often than not had guests.
I was a child actress from the age of three to thirteen, so I received an enormous amount of attention from my family and their friends. Show me your latest commercial! Lizzie, sing that Johnny One Note song!
There's so much more. Great-aunts and uncles, cousins -- there were dozens upon dozens of people ready and loving at my birth and around through my childhood and adolescence. All of them intense, complicated, but gentle. They are artists and dancers and writers; they are bankers and doctors and college professors.
My family was spread in New York and Los Angeles and Providence and Brazil. We seemed willing to go any distance for a wedding, a bar mitzvah, a reunion, an event. There was always gossip and secrets upstairs and children downstairs making up a show.
My great-aunt Ruth, the matriarch, told me at one meeting of the annual Kissing Cousins Brunch (which only the female members can attend) that mine was "a good generation." And we are. My cousins are all fun, loving, and creative. We are noisy, and we laugh hard. We make time for one another. And we have inherited our parents' and grandparents' gentle and protective nature.
In my family, and extended family, we might each of us be a little crazy, but our intentions are pure. We never set out to hurt one another, and so we rarely do.
This is where I come from.
The larger universe, as you might understand, has always seemed unnecessarily brutal.
Paris was wonderful. Knowing that I had successfully escaped my high school in Providence made it all the more delicious.
A beautiful elite private school, Providence Academy is set on a hill with rolling greens and beautiful facilities. I had gone to public school until ninth grade, and after nine years in the public school system, the Academy was a culture shock stranger than any before or since. This tribe I came upon at the age of fourteen, in CB jackets and polo shirts, had the oddest and most fierce codes of conduct for itself.
I suppose I was an insider, but I never felt that way. I was invited to all of the parties. I was friends with the right people. I dated popular guys -- but I never really got it. The ski trips. The parties where no one danced. The humor. The arrogance. The racism and homophobia. Everybody agreed about everything. Lacrosse players were demigods, kids drove Beamers, and the coolest guys in my class pissed on one of the most popular girls at a party our sophomore year. They were the sons and daughters of the wealthiest businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and Mafia leaders in Rhode Island. Everyone was imitating what prep school should be and had always been. But none of it came natura
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