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Kristin Hersh: On Surviving 18 And Being A Rock Star

By the mid-1990s, the art-rock band Throwing Muses had found more than just critical success, with hit songs like "Bright Yellow Gun." But co-founding member Kristin Hersh almost didn't make it there. At 18, she was diagnosed as bipolar and discovered she was pregnant. Hersh tells the story of that tumultuous year in her new memoir, Rat Girl.

Hersh traces her mania to 1983, when she was hit by a car while riding her bike. When she woke up in the hospital, she says, she felt something had changed.

"I had a double concussion, and it seemed to trigger this interpretation of ambient noise as music that continues to this day," she tells NPR's Guy Raz.

In addition to her enhanced musical perception, Hersh also became manic depressive. For two years, her condition went undiagnosed and she struggled with sleeplessness and exhaustion. Finally, after she attempted suicide, doctors gave her the help she needed and prescribed her medication. Hersh says she didn't believe the diagnosis at the time, but trusted in her doctors.

"I was always convinced I wasn't a manic depressive -- I was a songwriter," she says.

Around the same time as her diagnosis, Hersh also learned that she was pregnant.

"In an instant," Hersh says, "I was convinced that this baby was a light and I had to serve it as best I could."

She rose to the occasion and tried to live as healthy a life as she could. She went off her medication and, though still performing at clubs, stayed away from smoke and alcohol. Hersh describes the experience as life-altering.

"That baby probably saved my life, far more than the medication could have," she says.

Today, Hersh continues to write music and raise her family.

"I have four children, and I've been making records for 25 years," Hersh says. "And I can't imagine one without the other."

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NPR Staff