West Island woman shares her struggle with bipolar disorder in new memoir

​Merryl Hammond struggled with manic and depressive episodes, going from spending days on the couch unable to do anything to feeling like her neurons were firing practically out of her head.

Merryl Hammond was diagnosed as being bipolar in 2008 at age 51

​Merryl Hammond was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008. She details her journey toward stability in her new book, Mad Like Me: Travels in Bipolar Country. (merrylhammond.com)

As Merryl Hammond tells it, she never gave her mental health a moment's thought — until it all fell apart.

In her new book, Mad Like Me: Travels in Bipolar Country, the Baie-D'Urfé woman details what it was like to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 51, and its affect on her family.

​Hammond struggled with manic and depressive episodes, going from spending days on the couch unable to do anything, to feeling like her neurons were practically firing out of her head.

In 2008, during a period of extreme stress, she started working 17-hour days, seven days a week.

"It was not healthy," she told CBC's All in a Weekend. "Looking back, we realized it was a hypermanic episode. I just couldn't stop. But when I went into the depression, I had never been depressed in my life before. So that was a wake up call."

Merryl Hammond says she is grateful that her family was able to make it through the most difficult period of her illness. (merrylhammond.com)

Depression, she said, "was like being in a coffin."

"For somebody like me, who's always been very active, very academic, it was the worst possible fate."

Hammond said it was especially difficult on her family, who had to adapt to and help manage her condition when she was diagnosed in 2008.

She recounted one story of sneaking out of the house at 4 a.m., running down her street in sandals in the middle of November.

Erratic behaviour and even visual hallucinations were a low point, she said.

"The fact that our family came through it intact, and in fact maybe stronger than before, is an absolute miracle."

Book aims to help others, start a conversation

Despite working as a nurse in psychiatric wards in South Africa earlier in her career, Hammond said she felt ill-equipped to know how to handle her diagnosis and the stigma she felt was attached to it.

"I remember leaving [the doctor's] office and walking down the hall and feeling like a leper," she said. "It's like you were somebody before, and now you're nobody."

The book's cover art was drawn by one of Hammond's daughters. (merrylhammond.com)

The cover of her book is a combination of two portraits drawn by one of Hammond's daughters, depicting her in both manic and depressive states.

"I know that even though I'm stable now, that behind the curtain, those two states are waiting for me," she said.

"So if I don't take care of myself every single day… I have a recovery plan and I have to stay on that path."

She said she was able to get her illness under control with an effective balance of medication and lifestyle changes.

Hammond, who now works as a public health consultant, told CBC she hopes her book can help other people dealing with the condition, and bring some much-needed attention to the topic.

"We've got to put it on the table where it belongs so that more people will feel comfortable coming forward [and] getting the help that they need and deserve."​

In her new book, Merryl Hammond shares her highest highs, her lowest lows and her plea for more understanding of mental illness. 12:23

With files from CBC's All in a Weekend