A friend of mine recommended that I read Hemingway’s Brain by forensic psychiatrist, Andrew Farah, because he was concerned about whether or not I needed so much ECT, and wondered if my memory problems were due to a different diagnosis instead of bipolar II, partly because I was a goaltender, who stopped the puck with my head several times. (Before my appointment, I had a premonition that my memory problems were because of ECT, and not from another diagnosis, which was confirmed by my doctor). I appreciate my friend’s concern, so I read the book, and wow, it was interesting! It’s an easy read, if you can keep track of all of the Hemingway family members!
For a long time, and maybe still, the iconic American writer, Ernest Hemingway, who died by suicide, is thought to have had bipolar. In his book, Farah turns this notion on its head. After researching the writer’s life and medical records for 17 years, he proves that Hemingway suffered from dementia spurred by his alcoholism and his numerous head injuries, rather than bipolar.
There weren’t many studies of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) during Hemingway’s lifetime. CTE, which is a degenerative disease caused by multiple brain trauma and which may eventually lead to dementia, has been on the news recently with regard to professional American football players and other athletes, like hockey players and boxers.
Farah believes Hemingway had CTE. In the book, he describes the numerous instances in which Hemingway suffered from head trauma and concussions, most, if not all, of which were left untreated.
Hemingway’s doctors thought that his paranoia and depression near the end of his life were caused by bipolar, so he was given ECT treatments. Farah, however, believes that ECT wouldn’t have helped his symptoms, which were caused by his alcoholism and CTE, both of which can manifest in paranoia and depression. He also states that “Hemingway never had a manic episode, and his name should be erased from every list of ‘famous bipolar patients'” (p. 41). Interestingly, the last chapter extensively outlines how Hemingway would be medically treated today.
What I find most interesting is that Hemingway wasn’t, according to Farah, bipolar. I’m not a huge Hemingway fan, though I admire his writing. The guy was a legend! But I guess I felt some sort of connection to him, as a fiction writer with bipolar.
Honestly, besides the people I know within the mental health community, I feel a connection to many “famous bipolar patients,” particularly writers, and especially the American actress/writer, Carrie Fisher. I may not be famous, but I know what it’s like to be a writer living with bipolar.
Do you feel any connection to “famous bipolar patients”?