SMEDMERTS: Ellen Forney Copes with “Bipolar Life”

SMEDMERTS (“Sleep Meds Eat Doctor Mindfulness Exercise Routine Tools Support system”): Acronym created by author Ellen Forney, Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life

The same author who wrote the memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (2012), cartoonist Ellen Forney, now follows up with Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life. Publishers Weekly calls it “mental health literacy at its best, making it a must-read for those with mood disorders and their loved ones, health professionals, and anyone looking to gain a greater understanding of an often misunderstood but common condition.”

SMEDMERTS says it all in one word, er, acronym: the regimen she’s worked so hard to cultivate, the coping system she’s honed over the past couple decades since her diagnosis.

More about SMEDMERTS from Etelka Lehoczky, NPR: “…Forney puts it out there with nerdy aplomb, drawing an adorable, awkward little monster to serve as its mascot. Once you’ve seen snaggle-toothed Smedmerts pop up throughout the book, even appearing in the form of a Pez dispenser/pillbox, it’s easy to run through the litany of Sleep, Meds, Eat, Doctor, Mindfulness, Exercise, Routine, Tools, Support System. Well, easier, anyway.”

“Not that Forney’s all whimsy,” adds Lehoczky.

She covers the basics thoroughly. She describes a multitude of different therapies, from traditional and not-so-traditional ‘talk’ options (psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy) to less-common measures (electroconvulsive therapy, acupuncture, hospitalization). A long chapter on medications discusses making sure you take your pills on time (a surprisingly burdensome problem), coping with side effects and determining whether it’s safe to go off meds. Chapter 6, ‘The Danger Zone,’ tells how to recognize manic or depressive episodes and what to do when you have one. Forney knows that this illness doesn’t go away just because you’re popping the right pills.

A book excerpt on TheLily.com offers Forney’s guide to therapy, starting off with this line: “There are many approaches to mental health care. It’s tricky to find the right one(s) for you.”

This chapter on therapy is worth perusing as a representative sample of her style of writing/drawing.

Reviewing Rock Steady, Martyn Pedler, TCJ.com:

Psychological coping tools are presented as a kind of Batmanesque Utility Belt. A quote from ‘Fluffy’ Flaubert shows him as a cartoon rabbit. Yet Rock Steady is careful and precise, too. It knows no amount of fun diminishes the amount of work mental stability can take. Getting stable is really tough,’ writes Forney.’Maintaining stability over the long term is a whole other challenge. Ideally, it’s less dramatic, but it’s just as demanding.’

Rob Salkowitz, Forbes:

Forney.. explains it with the patience of a wise older sister…Her guidance is sound, reasonable and non-judgmental. The openness and honesty of her approach also make it easier for neurotypical readers to identify with those suffering from mood disorders, demystifying the condition and clarifying how they can best help and support loved ones with bipolar disorder.

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