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October 9, 2006

Book Review: Shifting Ground

In her recent autobiography, "Shifting Ground," Ruth McVeigh, documents the joy and the heartbreak of being married to an undiagnosed, unmedicated bipolar for 22 years.

The 22 years weren’t all bad. Ruth and Derry truly loved - and probably still love - each other despite the turmoil. Their life together was a whirlwind of adventure as they traveled to Guyana for Derry’s job as a forester, or to Ireland on vacation. They always managed to find wonderful places to live - Ruth describes the breathtakingly beautiful Canadian scenery so well, you’ll feel that you’ve been there.

But the beauty was often overshadowed by Derry’s depressions and manias. Ruth tells of the irratic behavior and careless decisions that estranged first her children from a previous marriage and then Derry’s own children. Knock wood, none of their children have inherited the illness.

The book is fascinating to me for a number of reasons, including the fact that the author founded a popular Canadian folk festival. She even got to meet Phil Ochs, a famous folk musician who happened to be bipolar! The list of musicians she mentions meeting at various points in the book is a veritable who’s who in folk music.

All-in-all, “Shifting Ground” was an excellent look into the lives and relationships in a family affected by one member’s bipolar disorder. I recommend that every spouse of a bipolar read this book. You’ll see your family there, and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes Ruth and Derry made. I hope that any bipolar who reads the book “gets” the cautionary tale contained in it; namely, that bipolar disorder is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. If we misbehave, if we are abusive or irresponsible, the people who love us *will* be hurt, and quite possibly driven away.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

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