Hemingway Wasn’t Bipolar?!

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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”?

via Daily Prompt: Premonition

9 thoughts on “Hemingway Wasn’t Bipolar?!

  1. Had no idea Hemingway was dealing with so many mental health issues. Though, to be fair, I just read him for the first time in 2017. Really interesting post, thanks for writing this.

  2. No, I never considered myself technically bipolar, just ptsd and depression and whatever else. The book does sound interesting. Brain injuries can really cause harm, as you mention about the sports–

  3. Stephen Fry ( well known British TV personality, intellectual and writer) has bipolar. I think Ruby Wax does too and she writes. I’ve been meaning to read Ruby’s work for some time now but haven’t yet. I mention them in case you are interested. I don’t think I have bipolar although I do think I get a bit manic at times. There seems to be a short period each year and then the rest of the time I spend managing anxiety and depression.

  4. Thank you for an accurate and thoughtful review of my book! I hate that the heavily publicized recent Dearborn-bio just perpetuates the bipolar myth. I also believe his popularity is not only due to his storytelling or iconic status but the transcendent nature of his works, both the well, and poorly executed work- I also emphasize in the book that the very worst aspects of his persona were solidified by his CTE- so what has been termed narcissism was, in late life, organically, not personality-driven.
    very best regards-
    Andrew Farah

    1. Hi, Dr. Farah.

      I’m sorry I couldn’t reply sooner. Ironically, I was in the hospital for severe depression. Thank you so much for leaving a comment. It’s very much appreciated, and I’m looking forward to your next book 😉

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