Zack McDermott and Jaime Lowe Discuss Their Memoirs

By on Tuesday, January 9th, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Bipolar disorder is the focus of two memoirs, Gorilla and the Bird, by Zack McDermott, and Mental, by Jaime Lowe. The Strand hosted both authors in the new 10th Floor reading space last month to discuss bipolar disorder and their books.

The first thing people often ask McDermott, he explains, is whether there were signs of his bipolar disorder. Maybe there was, but not necessarily: he did drive a car through a grocery as a child. “I did a lot of reckless things.”

But that isn’t necessarily a sign of bipolar disorder. People sometimes thought there was something wrong with him, McDermott says, but adds that adolescence is almost be definition of a mental illness. His first break would not come until he was older.

Jaime Lowe’s episode came when she was still a girl, something she sees as a benefit. “I was unformed,” she says, adding “I was less formed.” She didn’t have a choice about taking lithium in the same way McDermott at first felt he did. She was a child. For her, it was an event that was terrifying and she couldn’t go back.

McDermott observes they both benefited because their breaks were not violent. In his case, he believed he was the star of a reality show that had started shooting a pilot episode without bothering to tell him.

Lowe’s breakdown started at a high end restaurant–Prado, in Los Angeles. Even though she had a therapist before the episode, there weren’t signs of a potential problem.

During Lowe’s episode, she was placed in isolation. She found the isolation comforting, even though the space was very small. McDermott explains he felt discomfort just reading about Lowe’s confinement.

Writing the memoir was a challenge for McDermott because at times he felt like it was writing about a character rather than an experience.

In Lowe’s case, writing the book was the first time she spoke about the incidents with several people. She interview her parents for the book, but hadn’t talked about the first episode with them before. At the time of her break, she had accused her father of abusing her, and so they had to confront that.

McDermott says that reviewing his mother’s journals left him feeling emotional. He realized how much she had been through–divorced, raising kids–and how impressed he was with her ability to make it through that. His mother had received a call from the NYPD when he had his incident. He had been taken to Bellevue, and she came and visited him everyday.

Recovery is the hard part, Lowe says. Medication isn’t always easy. There is a romanticizing that lithium just works. There is a long time when people are uncertain of what is real and what isn’t real.

In some ways, psychotic breaks have eerily predicted the future. Lowe, during her break, thought people were tracking her with cellphones before that was something that happened. And now of course, cell phones can track people. The big problem now is its very easy to fuck everything up in a twenty-four hour period, she says.

McDermott agrees. At one point over the summer, he was trying to have a friend come visit him in Kansas. Trump had just ordered a travel ban from the country his friend was coming from, so the friend couldn’t make it. McDermott was having a bit of an episode. So he started writing media outlets working his contacts, including Ira Glass, to pick up the story. Later, some of his contacts described the idea as a little half baked as a story pitch, but not actually that bad.

Before his first incident, McDermott says you couldn’t have talked him into a psychiatrist. Now that he’s been forced to, he sees the value in it. As a society, he says, we need to be more aware of symptoms. It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of bipolarity in the same way we recognize symptoms of the common cold.

Zack McDermott and Jaime Lowe
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
The Strand

English Kills Review is an online magazine covering books, authors, and writing with an emphasis on New York City. Founded in 2012, English Kills Review engages the literary community while highlighting noteworthy books and authors