One woman’s secondhand experience with bipolar disorder provided insight for the Penn State community.
“Bipolar is forever,” said Charlotte Pierce-Baker, professor of women’s and gender studies at Vanderbilt University, as she described her experiences with her son’s mental illness.
Pierce-Baker used her most recent book, “This Fragile Life: A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son,” to “engage [people] in a conversation about the conversation about mental illness.”
She spoke at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Nittany Lion Inn to help spread the message about bipolar disorder because “it changes the lives of those around you. Everyone is affected. Mental illness crosses every boundary.”
“Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape,” Pierce-Baker’s first memoir, was written in 1998. The memoir was hard for her to write but she said “black women weren’t talking about rape…I am a black woman and I am a rape survivor” and “this [book] was sort of my break through in trauma.”
Pierce-Baker said she generally writes about trauma.
“I write about the issues that people want to forget about…[I write] because I’m tired of the silences that confuse us, the silences that hurt us and the silences that turn us in on ourselves,” she said.
Pierce-Baker chose to tell her son Mark’s story about living with bipolar disorder type one because she knew she did not want to remain silent about the issue.
Pierce-Baker and her husband, Houston, found out that their son had bipolar disorder when he was 25 years old and had his first psychotic break. They have helped him since, battling challenges when dealing with the mental illness.
Pierce-Baker said she acknowledges the struggles but said her son is “a very courageous man” and that she does not know if she could endure the same challenges.
Pierce-Baker’s second memoir combines her prose as well as her son’s writing. Her son’s writing is used to help explain just how he was feeling at any given moment, she said.
“Our son has always been a writer,” she said. “He always sent me his writing, we always had that.”
She included his poetry because it balanced out her writing, she said.
The audience of adults, professors and students who listened to Pierce-Baker speak were read sections of her most recent book.
Crystal Sanders, assistant professor in the Department of History and African American Studies, came to listen to Pierce-Baker speak because she followed her for years and wanted to learn more about her new book.
Another listener, Susan Weeber (graduate-english) said she was impressed with Pierce-Baker’s openness.
“I think she is a very engaging speaker and it’s pretty wonderful to see someone be that vulnerable,” she said.