Words With My Father: A Bipolar Journey Through Turbulent Times by Lowell Klessig & Lukas Klessig

Words With My Father: A Bipolar Journey Through Turbulent Times by Lowell Klessig & Lukas Klessig
Publisher: Medley Park Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe


Lowell Klessig’s posthumously-released story, infused with reflections by his son Lukas, provides an intimate window into one man’s life in flux with bipolar disorder. As the author narrates a postwar upbringing and describes the manic-depressive travails of developing his identity, he offers us a view into the turmoil of the times – and of his mind.

Through mania- and danger-filled months fighting for Civil Rights, protesting the Vietnam War and furthering the Conservation Movement, we see the purpose that sustained him. Through darkened panes, we witness the isolation and malaise of depressive winters that nearly took his life. This masterful chronicle allows us to peer into a restless and kinetic existence in one moment and a chasm of fatigue and hopelessness on the next page.

It’s a bipolar journey that you won’t ever forget.

Diagnoses don’t determine your destiny, but they are still important things to have.

This was a detailed and honest description of German-Americans who are either farmers or live in farm country. As someone who grew up in that culture, I smiled and nodded along as countless details about it popped up that only someone who grew up in that community would think to include or as I realized what unspoken cultural expectations the authors were probably going to talk about next. There were plenty of explanations of the nuances of it all for readers who aren’t from that background, too, so don’t worry if it’s not something you’re familiar with yet. It will all be made clear as the story advances.

Not everyone is able to be diagnosed with their mental or other illnesses early in life. The social stigma and misunderstandings surrounding certain diagnoses can be just as difficult as the diseases themselves, especially decades ago when doctors knew so much less about bipolar disorder than they do today. I was impressed by the coping mechanisms the Lowell family came up with and how hard they worked to overcome the disruptions that the elder Mr. Lowell’s illness brought not only to his own life but also to the lives of those who loved him as he cycled between mania and depression. You never really know what’s going on behind the scenes in other people’s lives, but this was a fascinating glimpse into the private matters of one such family.

It takes courage to admit one’s mistakes. Some of the most memorable chapters in this memoir were the ones that talked about things the elder Mr. Lowell did and said that he later regretted. He explained why he made those choices not to defend them but to explain how his childhood affected the assumptions he made about the world and how his later experiences encouraged him to rethink some of his previous opinions. Meeting people from other walks of life is a fantastic way to take note of the things we might not fully understand at the moment and work on what our families and communities may not have taught us earlier in life. I liked the graceful and humble way the elder Mr. Lowell discussed these topics.

Words With My Father: A Bipolar Journey Through Turbulent Times was excellent. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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