Friday, October 31, 2008

Author Tackles Highs and Lows

The article:

For years, Mike Barnes would burn the midnight oil in a furious, almost desparate pursuit of art.

A poet and fiction writer, he mistakenly believed that he produced his best work during those manic episodes.

But 15 years ago, when he was in late 30s, Barnes discovered his experiences were much more serious and clinical than the romantic image he had created in his mind.

Barnes, 53, suffers from bipolar disorder, or as it was once known, manic depression. He has chronicled his harrowing experiences, and his efforts to make peace with himself and his family, in The Lily Pond: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, Myth and Metamorphosis, published by Windsor's Biblioasis Press.

Barnes will read from The Lily Pond and discuss the book Saturday at 1 p.m. at the 2008 BookFest Windsor at the Art Gallery of Windsor.

"For many years I did think that I could only write in my manic upswings," he said. "The depressive periods, pardon the expression, were pretty much a write-off."

His diagnosis when he was 38 followed years in and out of mental institutions, undergoing shock treatments, medication and clinical analysis. All the while, Barnes was a successful author with six works of poetry and fiction.

"It has just been in the last three years or so, since I've been seeing a new doctor, that she has encouraged me to start to question when I have those moments of inspiration."

His doctor suggested he write at times when he didn't feel inspired.

"The results were shocking," said Barnes. "I ended up writing less than before, but not that much less. And the really shocking part was what I ended up writing was just as good as the other stuff."

That experience occupies a key section of The Lily Pond, where Barnes describes how his 2006 book of poetry, A Thaw Foretold, also published by Biblioasis, came about.

"I realized just how much time was wasted in my periods of manic energy," he said.

The impetus for The Lily Pond came when Barnes' wife, Heather, also suffered a breakdown, and how they managed to survive takes up the final section of the book.

"It has been a struggle to get the word out about the book because people tend to categorize it as a bipolar book or a book about recovery," said Barnes.

"But one of the first reactions I had from someone who doesn't suffer from mental illness is that the book raises many issues that were more existential than psychiatric.

"It can apply to personal relationships, life stories, (and) to the choices you make in your life."

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