What would you most like to be asked?

That, to me, is the perfect opening question to any interview.  I wish more people would ask me about my writing process, rather than just about the content of my books.  I certainly don’t mind being an advocate for bipolar disorder, but I consider myself a writer first.

 

Okay, fine.  Where are you at this very moment, as you write this interview?

The same place I always write at — a little café in Beverly Hills called Le Pain Quotidien.  I find I write better out of the house, away from tempting distractions.  They let me sit here and scribble for hours, just me and a latte and a cup of gazpacho.  I’m so grateful to the café I mention it in the acknowledgements of my last book.  Come to think of it, I also referred to it in the epilogue of my first book.  I’m a café junkie, I guess.

 

It’s a pretty crowded place.  Isn’t it too noisy to write?

I wear earplugs, plus they always play classical music, which doesn’t bother me.  I have a certain rhythm in my head when I write, and classical doesn’t interfere with that.  Rock and jazz and more contemporary types of music, especially anything with lyrics, totally wreck my pacing.  Some people’s voices, if they’re too loud and nasal, also derail me.  Since when did it become okay to shout in public?  I think everybody should whisper — the world would be a much nicer place, full of secrets.

 

So the café gave birth to two books.  What are they about?

The Dark Side of Innocence:  Growing Up Bipolar is a childhood memoir about what it was like to grow up with a disease that at that time had no name.  I had no diagnosis, I just knew that there was something very, very wrong with me.  The book starts with a suicide attempt when I was seven years old, and continues with my increasing struggles with mood swings, alcohol, cutting and other self-destructive behaviors.  It ends when I’m eighteen years old, on my way to college.  I had gained a certain amount of insight by then, and was sure I was leaving all my problems behind me — which of course, I didn’t.

Manic:  A Memoir covers my adult life with bipolar disorder.  I describe how I managed to be a successful entertainment attorney, representing the likes of Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones and major motion picture studios, while secretly battling this devastating illness.  I also examine the impact of the illness — and my secrecy — on my relationships with various men.  I like to say that Manic was written from the inside out:  I tried to give the reader a visceral sense of what it’s really like to be bipolar.

 

Are you manic right now?

Nobody ever asks me that, although I think they secretly want to.  I suspect they’re afraid of insulting me.  The answer is no, I’m not manic at this time.  You would know if I was:  I’d be writing so fast there’d be no time for punctuation or grammar.  When you’re manic, you have to get your thoughts out of your head THIS VERY MINUTE, or you feel like you’ll explode.  Although I get an awful lot down on the page when I’m manic, I later discover that most of it is gibberish.

 

Do you think there’s a reason that you’re bipolar?

You mean like a higher purpose, a destiny?  At the risk of sounding pretentious, absolutely.  I attempted suicide on a grand scale on a number of occasions.  I never should have survived, never in a million years.  I think there has to be a reason why I’m still alive.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s to tell my story and allow others to learn from it, and to feel less alone.  It’s possible that I’m deluding myself, but I rather like this delusion, so I’m sticking with it.

 

 

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TERRI CHENEY is the author of Manic: A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar.

As a successful entertainment attorney in Beverly Hills, Terri represented the likes of Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, and major motion picture studios. But beneath her seemingly flawless façade she was struggling with a dangerous secret: ever since childhood, Terri had been battling a debilitating case of bipolar disorder.

Despite wild mood swings and repeated suicide attempts (the earliest at age seven), Terri managed to keep her condition secret from everyone – but at a terrible price. Finally, in an effort to save her own life, she wrote a searing account of her mental illness. Manic: A Memoir quickly became a New York Times bestseller, was optioned by HBO, and translated into eight foreign languages.

Following Manic’s publication, Terri received hundreds of emails from parents of bipolar children, asking about her own childhood. In response, she wrote The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar – a groundbreaking personal portrayal of the emerging phenomenon of childhood bipolar disorder.

Terri’s writings and commentary about bipolar disorder have also been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, NPR, PsychologyToday.com, and countless articles and popular blogs.

Terri now devotes her advocacy skills to the cause of mental illness. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics at USC, the Honorary Board of Directors of the International Bipolar Foundation, and the Board of Directors of Project Return Peer Support Network. She also served on the Community Advisory Board of the UCLA Mood Disorders Research Program. In recognition of her public service, she received an official commendation from the County of Los Angeles, as well as the annual Advocates Award from Mental Health Advocacy Services, and the 2011 Imagine Award. She founded and facilitates a weekly mental health support group at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute.

Terri graduated with honors from Vassar College, and attended UCLA School of Law. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *