Electroboy Looks Back: 10-Year Diagnosis         Anniversary

Andy "Electroboy" Behrman

For more than ten years, I was consistently misdiagnosed with depression by more than eight mental health care professionals. I only learned later that this was typical for the bipolar patient. It all began with my first visit to a therapist who diagnosed me with "adolescent depression," and from there I met several doctors along the road who continued not only to diagnose me with depression, but to treat me with medication for depression. Needless to say, this was a disaster, as the medication only served to fuel my mania. In a nutshell, I was being diagnosed improperly because I only visited these doctors during my "low points" or depression, I was not accurately filling them in on my symptoms, and they were not asking enough questions about my mental illness. In retrospect, had I shared more information with them, perhaps it would have been easier for them to diagnose me with bipolar disorder much earlier than any doctor did.
 
But this is all water under the bridge now.
 
When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or what I only knew was referred to as manic depression), I was shocked by both the diagnosis and the label "manic depressive." I was a manic depressive. What did that mean? First, I didn't know anyone else with the illness, and I panicked because I thought the illness was degenerative. "Will I make it to my next birthday?" I asked my doctor. I was reassured that I would, but that I would also need to begin a regimen of medication to control my symptoms. Yes, the common ones, which I had not only taken for granted to be "normal" but which were slowly destroying my life. These included racing thoughts, insomnia, overspending, sexual promiscuity, poor judgment and drug and alcohol abuse. All of a sudden, my "lifestyle" was no longer acceptable and had to come to a screeching halt. How could I live on medication with my raging personality tamed? Would I become dull and boring? After all, I had always been "Mister Fun," the guy standing with a lampshade on my head, a margarita in each hand and doing the merengue at parties.

Treatment began. In the course of the next decade, I would try more than 37 different medications to control my bipolar disorder and experienced almost every possible side effect from each medication: muscle stiffness, headaches, agitation, sleeplessness and grogginess, to name a few. Ultimately, when we realized that no combination of medication was going to work for me, I opted for the last resort - electro-convulsive therapy or ECT - which provided me with some relief in the beginning (not to mention the side effect of short term memory loss) until I relapsed three months after the last treatment. It was then that my doctor ordered me to continue "maintenance treatment." I had a total of 19 electroshock treatments, until I realized I had become addicted to the premedication of the procedure and asked my doctor to bring the treatment to a halt.

Needless to say, these were trying years and I was hopeless. I wasn't working, I was collecting disability and receiving financial assistance from my friends and family, and basically I was a "shut in." I never imagined a life outside of my apartment again. And I had been a highly functional public relations agent and art dealer (albeit my illness had landed me in prison for a brief six month stint for counterfeiting). Now I was barely capable of taking care of myself and could only watch television. I didn't even have enough focus to read or write.

But by 1999, there was light at the end of the tunnel for me. My doctor had found a combination of medications that kept me relatively even-keeled, and I was getting back to a more normal life. I was working again and I had reestablished a social life. I was even able to take care of myself. But there was a five-year block of time when I was completely disabled and I just couldn't get over this "lost time." In fact, sometime it prevented me from moving forward.

Of course, as soon as I become "even-keeled" and was functional again, I was certain that my bipolar disorder had gone away - simply vanished. I was wrong. Now I was coping with the illness, and I was tested nearly every day. And although it's been five years since then, I must admit that I still take each day as it comes. I'm always prepared for a relapse; even though I have five years "under my belt" of being relatively "episode free," I'm always on alert.

I'm resigned to living with bipolar disorder for the rest of my life. The fear and shame are gone; I speak about my illness openly with both family and friends and have even ventured out into the public arena, sharing my story of my battle with bipolar disorder in Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania, published by Random House. This was probably the hardest thing I had to do with my illness - to go public. But I did it because I wanted people to know that there were 2.5 million people with bipolar disorder diagnosed in this country - and millions more undiagnosed. And I thought that my sharing my story - a very personal story - would bring people out of the closet to seek treatment, help family members in understanding their loved ones, and also help mental healthcare professionals in treating their patients.

In the spring, the film version of Electroboy will go into production with Tobey Maguire and it will be the first big budget Hollywood movie with a bipolar protagonist. I'm currently working on a sequel to "Electroboy," and I still maintain a mental health website at www.electroboy.com Since my diagnois ten years ago, bipolar disorder has become my mission, an illness I had honestly never heard of until that day and something I never would have imagined I would be doing in ten years. It's been a long journey for me, but a very rewarding one. Learning to cope with the illness has been tremendously satisfying for me, and passing on my knowledge of my coping skills is the most important thing that I can do with my life. And every day I remind people suffering, that there is hope - - you will get better.

 

 

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