September 4, 2012

Guest Post: Teens, Bipolar, and a Very Different Ghost Story

I'm happy to welcome Jeannine Garsee, author of The Unquiet, to the blog today for a Psychtember guest post!  

The UnquietFirst, a little bit about the novel: 

"Sixteen-year-old Rinn Jacobs has secrets: One, she’s bipolar. Two, she killed her grandmother.

After a suicide attempt, and now her parents' separation, Rinn and her mom move from California to the rural Ohio town where her mother grew up. Back on her medications and hoping to stay well, Rinn settles into her new home, undaunted by the fact that the previous owner hanged herself in Rinn's bedroom. At school, her classmates believe the school pool is haunted by Annaliese, a girl who drowned there. But when a reckless séance goes awry, and terrible things start happening to her new friends—yet not to her—Rinn is determined to find out why she can’t be "touched" by Annaliese...or if Annaliese even exists.

With the help of Nate Brenner, the hunky “farmer boy” she’s rapidly falling for, Rinn devises a dangerous plan to uncover the truth. Soon reality and fantasy meld into one, till Rinn finds it nearly impossible to tell the difference. When a malevolent force threatens the lives of everyone she cares about--not to mention her own--she can't help wondering: who should she really be afraid of?

Annaliese? Or herself?" (from Goodreads)

Jeannine Garsee

I notice people often casually toss around psychiatric terms, like “I’m feeling kind of schizophrenic today.” Or, “God, I’m so moody—I must be bipolar.” For years, my own knowledge of mental illness was strictly limited to movies like Sybil and The Three Face of Eve…or the occasional patient I’d have (I’m a RN) that all us of nurses labeled as “totally nuts”—often because they rang their call bell fifty times a shift, demanded steak dinners, or cussed us out for no reason.
As far as bipolar goes, I thought it was a pretty cut-and-dried mental disorder. You were either high and happy or very low and depressed, right?

Wrong. Until I started working in a psych unit back in 2008, I had no idea that bipolar disorder was such a serious disability, and that people who go untreated can become as actively psychotic as any schizophrenic.
Bipolar disorder is sometimes referred to as a disease of judgment—poor judgment. The belief that there’s nothing wrong with you, that it’s everyone else. The risk-taking behavior. The reluctance to take any mood-stabilizers because it knocks you out or dulls your senses. After all, it’s fun to feel high, and productive, on top of the world—that is, until you lose your friends, your job, and even your family support because, frankly, no one can put up with you anymore. Not only does your “high” behavior pose a danger to your life, but the depression that often follows can sometimes lead to suicide.
When I started The Unquiet back in 2005, it was to be strictly a ghost story. But after working on a psychiatric unit, and spending many hours around people who saw things and heard things no one could see or hear, who insisted they were speaking to “spirits” and “demons”—and observing their bizarre reactions to these hallucinations—I decided to up the ante and give my main character a mental illness, leaving the reader to wonder at certain points: is this really happening, or is Rinn, imagining it?  

Rinn is complex character. She’s unique in the sense that she accepts her illness and is motivated to stay well, and still very typical of many others with bipolar disorder. No one “wants” to depend on medication, especially psychotropics, for the rest of their lives. Sadly, there is still a stigma connected to mental illness; often the strange, destructive, and socially unaccepted behaviors are viewed as attempts to garner attention or as a weakness in one’s self-control. The reluctance to take medication may be due to embarrassment (Rinn’s terrified her friends will find out she is on antipsychotics). Psych drugs also have some very unwanted side effects: Some cause weight gain and some decrease your sex drive, while others can affect your body’s metabolism as well as your immune system. Many require regular blood work to monitor the drugs levels and to make sure you’re not susceptible to infections. Who wants to be stuck with needles all the time?

Teens are particularly vulnerable to medication non-compliance. Take the raging hormones of adolescence and the not-quite-mature brain of a teenager, add to his or her never-ending quest for self-identity and acceptance, and you can imagine why they’re reluctant to admit the need to take medications that might label them as “crazy.”

Bipolar disorder is not something you outgrow. It’s not something that can be controlled with willpower, or diet, or merely ignored in the hope it’ll disappear. Rinn learned this the hard way; her refusal to stay on her medications led to the loss of all of her friends. Her behavior was obnoxious, and often illegal. She used drugs and acted out sexually. She broke into a home, and later, into a stable to ride her favorite horse—an incident that could have ended in tragedy. It takes a real tragedy, the death of her grandmother—inadvertently caused by Rinn while in an acutely psychotic state—to make her realize that staying on her medications is the only way to keep her, and everyone around, safe. It’s also this incident that triggers her parents’ separation and her subsequent move to River Hills, Ohio, where her best intentions to stay on her medications is compromised by a ghost named Annaliese.

Because bipolar disorder is now being diagnosed very early in some cases (source: Reuters--, children as young as preschool age are now are able to receive the proper treatment. It’s my hope that young adults will not only pick up The Unquiet to discover an entertaining ghost story, but that some of them—those with bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses—will see a bit of themselves in Rinn…and realize they can control their illness and lead normal, happy lives. 

Copyright 2012 by Jeannine Garsee

"Jeannine Garsee has been telling stories since before she could write. "I was addicted to the Sunday funnies," she says, "and my dad worked in a book-binding factory. He'd bring home a slew of paper every week, and I'd draw scenes on every page. Later, when I learned to write, I'd add the captions--and then the captions just grew longer and longer till I didn't have any room left for the pictures." Jeannine, known as "Jen" to her friends, works as a psych nurse in a busy inner-city hospital. Born and raised in Ohio, she lives with her family in a southwest suburb of Cleveland." (from her website)

Thanks, Jeannine, for dropping by and discussing bipolar disorder and your novel The Unquiet! 


  1. Thanks for the informative post! I'm glad more people are writing about the bipolar disorder and mental illness in general. There's so much stigma and misinformation out there.

  2. I have bipolar disorder myself and I can not wait to read this book. It's very rare to find a paranormal book that has a main book character with a mental illness like bipolar, so thank you Jeannine for going that extra mile to write a book like this. Also thank you Danya for Psychtember.

  3. And thank you, Dayna, for allowing me to participate! :)

  4. It's so great to see a book that features a character with bipolar disorder, or any kind of condition at all. (It's something I'm always ecstatic to see, as a diabetic.) There's not enough of 'em, IMO. The Unquiet will no doubt help readers cope with having a mental illness like Rinn, and will also help those who don't become more knowledgeable and understanding of those who do!

  5. What a treat to be introduced to a fellow author whose novel features a character with bipolar disorder. Can't wait to check out The Unquiet.

    When I hear people use psychiatric labels to describe fleeting emotions like you mentioned in your opening paragraph, I just cringe. It diminishes the gravity of these diseases.

    Callie Kingston


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