Anyone who’s read Melody Moezzi’s memoir, Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life, knows that she is articulate, strong-minded, observant, and wry. Anyone who heard her read and speak at Scuppernong Books last Friday knows that she’s also passionate about mental health reform, brilliant, and straight-talking.
A self-described “Iranian-American bipolar feminist,” Melody was born to Persian parents at the height of the Islamic revolution. Her parents, both doctors, raised her in Dayton, Ohio, in a tight-knit Iranian-American community. At 18, when Melody began battling pancreatitis, her family and community rallied around her. But when she attempted suicide and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there were no flowers. Keep your illness quiet was the message she got from her family and the medical establishment.
Telling Melody Moezzi to keep quiet is like telling a songbird to stop warbling. She won’t be hushed, nor will she put up with stigma, shame, mistreatment, and stereotyping around mental illness. “The silence is what ends up costing us in the end. People need to speak out,” she said in a question-and-answer session following her Friday reading. “The crux of the problem is that we don’t treat mental health as a human right.”
Of her own bipolar diagnosis, Melody said, “I don’t pretend to be okay. I still struggle with this daily, especially with depression. It’s a journey, and I’m learning as I go.”
“What’s in your daily toolbox?” an audience member asked her.
She listed a number of tools, including prayer, walking, keeping a structured schedule, writing daily, and seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. “For me, always, love is at the center of everything. That’s what I mean by prayer—it’s about love.”
After speaking for more than an hour, Melody signed copies of Haldol and Hyacinths, newly released in paperback, and talked with each person who approached her. People shared their experiences with mental health challenges while she listened closely, occasionally pushing back a thick strand of her hair.
There was no silence at the table where she sat. Instead there was a warm, easy flow of words. There was camaraderie and kindness. Most of all there was understanding.
When I got to Stillbrook [psychiatric institute], I was drowning in an ocean of despair. All the people I loved—all the sane, strong and sturdy people who wanted to save me—were stuck on a steady shore. Once at Stillbrook, I noticed a bunch of other people drowning around me, all within reach. It wasn’t just me in the abyss anymore, and now that I knew I wasn’t alone, I had a reason to tread water. Killing myself meant I couldn’t save them. Killing myself meant killing them. Suddenly, I had no choice. I had to swim. So, I swam to save the others, only to find, upon reaching shore, that they had saved me.
–Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life, chapter five