Another Monday, another post about mental health! This week I’m intersecting Mental Health Monday and the Ramadan Readathon to bring you a review of Melody Moezzi’s autobiography Haldol and Hyacinths.
Melody Moezzi was born to Persian parents at the height of the Islamic Revolution and raised amid a vibrant, loving, and gossipy Iranian diaspora in the American heartland. When at eighteen, she began battling a severe physical illness, her community stepped up, filling her hospital rooms with roses, lilies, and hyacinths.
But when she attempted suicide and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there were no flowers. Despite several stays in psychiatric hospitals, bombarded with tranquilizers, mood-stabilizers, and antipsychotics, she was encouraged to keep her illness a secret—by both her family and an increasingly callous and indifferent medical establishment. Refusing to be ashamed, Moezzi became an outspoken advocate, determined to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness and reclaim her life along the way.
Both an irreverent memoir and a rousing call to action, Haldol and Hyacinths is the moving story of a woman who refused to become torn across cultural and social lines. Moezzi reports from the front lines of the no-man’s land between sickness and sanity, and the Midwest and the Middle East. A powerful, funny, and poignant narrative told through a unique and fascinating cultural lens, Haldol and Hyacinths is a tribute to the healing power of hope, humor, and acceptance.
I was so glad that I found this book – I absolutely adore it when mental health narratives intersect with other experiences, and I’ve wanted to read more Muslim literature! I set myself up for a fascinating read, and I can tell you that it absolutely was. Moezzi talks about her mental illness, physical illness, and faith with the same humour and frankness that I really came to respect and enjoy. (I’m a very big fan of dark humour, so if you find slightly irreverent ways of talking about mental health distressing, I would maybe give this one a skip. Personally, however, this is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to how I speak about mental health in my personal life.)
This is without a doubt the best portrayal of hypermania that I’ve ever read. In many of the books I’ve read about bipolar disorder, the author focuses on the depression aspect of it. I can understand that – obviously, the depression side of bipolar is dangerous, as suicidal thoughts often come with it. However, this really emphasises the dangers of mania. Moezzi frankly describes her delusions of grandeur, the dangers of lack of sleep and endless energy, and her hallucinations. I think a lot of people who aren’t familiar with bipolar find it easy to underestimate mania, and this book did a lot of mythbusting in that regard.
I found it particularly interesting that she focuses on how mental ill health can happen to anybody – even those who are amazing lawyers, have strong family connections, and are supported by incredibly patient partners. Again, she is busting the myth that there’s a certain ‘type’ of mentally ill person. She talks a bit about how there’s this idea within some immigrant communities that mental illness is a Western illness, and one that does not affect people from Iran, for example. This was put in the context of Moezzi’s physical illness, which was far more easily accepted by her family and friends than her mental one. (In regards of her physical illness, she also discusses what it is like to have a chronic physical illness, in comparison to a chronic mental illness, which was fascinating.) This is a topic that I don’t know too much about, and I’m very interested to read more about it.
I finally was really impressed by Moezzi’s message that although she is currently in a good place, mental health wise, this is extremely liable to change. It is very easy to read books like this as ‘recovery’ narratives, even though mental illnesses are often lifelong conditions. Moezzi clearly shows how even though she has improved, she is ready for more episodes of hypermania, which become statistically more likely, the more she has.
All in all, I would absolutely recommend this book to people whose experiences of mental ill health differs from the white narrative that authors often focus upon. I would also recommend it to people who are interested in learning about the nuances of bipolar disorder that are portrayed in simultaneously horrifying and amusing ways.
The trigger warnings for this book include attempted suicide, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, medical misdiagnosis, potential medical mistreatment (solitary confinement in particular) and distressing scenes of hypermania.