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An Interview with Hilary Smith

Interviewed by Mina Parker

Can you tell me about your new book Welcome to the Jungle?

Welcome to the Jungle is the first ever guide to bipolar written expressly for teens and twenty-somethings, by a fellow twenty-something with bipolar. I wrote this book because when I was diagnosed with bipolar in my late teens, all the books available on the subject seemed super serious and clinical and adult-oriented. I wanted to write something that would speak directly to other young people experiencing mental illness for the first time. Being diagnosed with a mental illness is a really weird and scary experience for a lot of young people, and Welcome to the Jungle is a way of saying “look! there are lots of us out there! you’re not alone and you can still have an awesome life with bipolar.”

Tell me, if you’re up for it, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or person?

When I was little, my mom would take me for walks around the neighborhood. One day, we were out for a walk and I was trailing behind her, looking at the sky with deep concentration. When she asked me what I was doing, I said “Shh! I’m watching a movie in my head!”

My brain is constantly full of mental “movies” of various ideas, stories, and plans. Welcome to the Jungle came together pretty quickly because the idea had been rattling around inside my head for months before I sat down and wrote it.

Who are your heroes?

Like a lot of people with bipolar disorder, I really admire Kay Redfield Jamieson’s work to advance the understanding and appreciation of mental illness and creativity. I am also constantly inspired by the people I’ve met through my local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental illness (NAMI)–they’re all heroes.

What is your shortest short-term goal and your longest long-term goal?

My shortest short-term goal is to ice a cake (my friend’s birthday party starts in half an hour). My longest long-term goal is to write a really good novel.

What advice do you have for people recently diagnosed with bipolar?

Sit down and make a list of all your best times and happiest memories. Then remind yourself that no matter how weird, crazy, sad, confused, or screwed-up you feel right now, you will have happy times again, and times when you feel “just like normal” again. It just might take a little while to get there.

Plugs, please?

I’m going to be interviewed on FlipSwitch, a podcast from the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation.