Mcmans Bipolar Story
part 5 of 5

To Madness and Back
 

  To Madness and Back 

  'Twenty-hour days were not uncommon. In the meantime my
  dress had become slightly eccentric ...'

   Few of you have ever had the experience of
   waking up from a drunken stupor in a strange
   city in a strange country, jobless and
   friendless and nearly penniless. You don't
   really want to be sober, for aside from the
   unwelcome intrusion of reality, you also find
   your psyche playing host to the type of cold
   fusion reaction that demands instant release.

   Rage, Goddess, sing the Rage - a line from
   Homer. The shrinks have no adequate
  description for it - agitated depression, dysphoric mania, a mixed
  state, mania and depression fused into an explosive kinetic ball of
  emotional kilotonnage, one that makes the very act of living totally
  unbearable. It was simply a matter of following through.

  Meanwhile, as I lay sprawled on the floor of an apartment that I could
  ill afford to pay the rent on, it was a beautiful summer day in
  Melbourne, Australia. Outside my window the eucalyptus trees that
  lined my street created the impression of an urbanized Eden, while
  the kookaburras' shrill laughter in the distance sounded forth a
  Midsummer Night's Dreamscape of fairyland gaiety.

  But the rumbling of the tramways around the corner represented my
  one-way ticket out this life, out of my private little hell. I only had to
  change trams maybe once or twice to put me within walking distance
  of the suspension bridge that spanned the harbor.

  Only seven months before I had been on a plane to Melbourne bound
  for a bright new life. I had sent out my resume to the major Australian
  newspapers and business magazines, and four editors had made me
  an offer. Oddly enough, I snapped at the one that offered the least
  money, lured by the idea of making my mark on a paper going through
  the kind of changes I revelled in.

  This had been my modus operandi in New Zealand, taking over stodgy
  publications and giving them the old razzamatazz. I had done this on
  a law journal, an accountant's journal, a finance journal, and the
  business pages of a national Sunday newspaper. My average tenure
  lasted about a year. My longest stay was three years. On my last job,
  they integrated the Sunday paper into the daily one, and I had been
  left out in the cold. Looking back, my downsizing only served to delay
  my ultimate crash and burn.

  Oh, the motor had been running hard back in New Zealand. The new
  Labor Government there had surprised everyone by becoming more
  right-wing than the right-wingers had ever been, and a whole new
  wildwest economy had been born, dominated by capitalist cowboys
  with paper fortunes who had Parliament at their beck and call.
  Suddenly, instead of operating on the fringes of journalism, we
  business/finance journalists were front stage center, smugly looking
  down our noses at our less-knowing brethern in the Parliamentary
  gallery.

  Fifteen-hour days were par for the course, and twenty-hour days were
  not uncommon. In the meantime my dress had become slightly
  eccentric, featuring brightly colored socks and ties and a collection of
  broad-brimmed Humphrey Bogart fedoras. The thing I am most proud
  of during all that time was that, unlike many of my colleagues, I never
  glorified any of these capitalist cowboys. It would have been easy to
  fill up space with material put out by their PR flaks, but I resisted
  pressure from a lot of quarters and put my readers first.

  It took me a little while to find my rhythm in Australia, but by
  September my old habits were returning. Then came the stockmarket
  crash of October 1987, and - thanks to all those paper fortunes going
  up in smoke - nowhere in the world did it hit harder than in Australia
  and New Zealand. By then, I had found my niche as the paper's
  cowboy capitalist reporter, and I covered the spectacle of their
  downfall across the entire continent, plus New Zealand. I treated the
  airline as my bus service, up to Sydney and back again the same
  day, perhaps Brisbane, over to Perth for a longer stay, not to mention
  New Zealand, always on short notice, usually not knowing for sure
  when I would return.

  Often I literally composed the stories in my head, dictating them over
  the phone to someone at the other end in hopes of making it into the
  next edition. On one occasion, I actually found myself reviewing a
  Frank Sinatra concert, which got major play on the paper's
  entertainment pages, together with about three or four pieces of mine
  that appeared on the business pages that same day.

  An acquaintance from New Zealand then living in Melbourne called me
  up and commented on my output, for which I had a ready answer:
  "Yeh, well it was my turn to write the paper that day."

  Oh, I had the one-liners coming. I was floating on air. On a return visit
  to New Zealand I was even nice to my ex-wife and her boyfriend.
  Somewhere, I found the time to fit in a brief fling with someone who
  had just left her husband.

  But the high was beginning to turn on me. Sometimes I found myself
  snapping at people, which was very uncharacteristic of me. Once, on
  the tram, on my way to work in the early morning, I found myself on
  the brink of physically attacking some wise-assed teenager. I actually
  got up out of my seat and went for his neck before I caught myself.
  And then there was the issue of my six month salary review.

  Based on my performance, I was certainly entitled to a substantial
  raise. No, it was not delusional. The delusional part came in thinking I
  couldn't be replaced. When the editor failed to make me a decent offer
  I quit in a huff, bitterly resentful over his treatment of me. Furious, in
  fact, in a blind rage. I told my colleagues what had happened and they
  looked at me like I was crazy. Didn't anyone understand?

  Hell with them, I thought. I'll just apply for another job. But this time
  there were no takers. No one would touch me with a ten-foot pole. I
  happened to encounter one of the paper's big name journalists in a
  nearby pub, and he literally turned his back on me, pointedly refusing
  to acknowledge my existence.

  I was nothing, a non-person, a pariah.

  Meanwhile, I would walk for hours - occasionally breaking out into a
  run - feeling the cold fusion inside my psyche pulsing and surging and
  desperately seeking a fast way out. Going to sleep was like the
  Fourth of July. All I had to do was close my eyes to experience the
  fireworks flashing onto my retinal screen. I would open my eyes only
  to find shadows and objects merging in the dark into an ominous new
  hellscape. I was on the brink of breaking out into full-scale
  hallucinations, and I knew that fairly soon I would be going mad

  I'M NORMAL! I wanted to shout. I've always been normal. This was
  just - stress - that was it. New location, crazy working hours. I just
  needed to slow down, that was all.

  But no, that wasn't it, I decided in a Damascus Road flash of insight. I
  needed a religious experience, a spiritual transformation, a zen
  moment, a cosmic turbocharge. Then everything would be fine, better
  than fine, in fact. Perfect - I could walk the earth as an enlightened
  being. I'm ready! I let God know. Plug me in.

  I found myself prowling the bookshops, spending my dwindling supply
  of funds on books about Tibet and eastern religions and white magic. I
  tried to float out of my body and talk to spirits and will my hair to grow
  in and move objects by thought, knowing the only thing holding me
  back was my lack of ability to change my vibrations and concentrate
  my mind. 

  But it was only a matter of time. 

  But now there was the small matter of me on the floor emerging from
  a drunken stupor in a strange new country with no job, no friends,
  almost no money, and no hope of finding work. But just when the idea
  of jumping off a bridge seemed my only alternative, another option
  presented itself:

  I'll write a book, I thought. On the stock market crash. The idea had
  actually crossed my mind much earlier, while still at work, but now
  there was a certain desperate quality to the proposition. That day I
  grabbed hold of a typewriter and began pounding on the keys:

  "A stock market crash has no setting," I wrote. "It occurs in people's
  minds, a collective will that determines what is valuable and what is
  worthless, from day to day, minute to minute. To understand finance
  has nothing to do with economics or accounting. Instead, it is a
  philosophical discipline, of the mind determining reality, the natural
  territory of Kant and Plato and the rest."

  In nothing flat I filled up a page, then another and another, all rushing
  out in a frothy stream requiring very little rewriting. Paradoxically, this
  new state of productive mania pulled me away from my more
  destructive old state. As the days went on, I began to enjoy my new
  life working from my apartment. I would pour a glass of wine or make
  myself a cup of tea, and put on Duke Ellington or Beethoven or any
  number of composers in between, and settle in for a pleasant round at
  the keyboard. Later I would go out for a walk in my urbanized Eden.

  The creative afterburners were running white hot by the time I put
  sheet number two hundred in my typewriter: "One would never know
  there'd been a crash," I banged out. "It was a different sort of disaster
  in a new world of intangibles - far more subtle than a nuclear bomb -
  one that could practically be willed away in a Berkelian-Kantian
  outburst of subjective idealism - or was it the other way around?"

  I finished my book in five weeks, and very soon after I found an agent
  and a publisher. Lest I be seen to be giving my manic phase all the
  credit, let me make it clear that I did not write that book so much as
  retrieve it. The book was actually the product of six years of
  immersion in the world of business and finance, and several years
  before that in law and many more years working at my craft as a
  writer, plus a whole lifetime of reading and learning. By the time I
  came to sit down at the keyboard, my brain knew exactly what to do.
  Mania may have been a part of the process, but only as an accessory
  to the deed.

  Once I had a publisher lined up, the inevitable letdown occurred. I
  literally didn't get out of my bed for weeks. Meanwhile, my depression
  was punctuated by the kind of rages that could very easily be
  mistaken for mania. In fact, mania may have intruded into my
  depression. These "mixed" states, by the way, continue to perplex
  the psychiatric profession, who can't seem to agree amongst
  themselves.

  Over time my depression eased and I took on another major writing
  assignment. As for my Damascus Road experiences, there was no
  turning back. I now began to explore my innate spirituality in a far less
  delusional fashion, and experienced several immediate benefits. The
  meditation and yoga I began practicing brought me back from the
  edge, and gave me a sense of hope. I also found that after years in
  the single-minded world of business and finance, my thinking became
  far more three-dimensional.

  But my miraculous "recovery" prevented me from seeking real help.
  My minor successes only served to fuel grandiose ideas, and my
  resurrection back into the real world gave way to the intoxication of
  mild mania. In time I would be felled by a cascading series of killer
  depressions. It was only when I had an irresistible vision of myself
  swinging from the balcony of my bedroom that I finally called out.

  Fortunately I was back in the States with my family able to help.

  It has taken me six months to claw my way back to a state where I
  actually had an experience of feeling happy without being in a state of
  mania or hypomania. All my life I have always wanted to be normal
  and fit in, even though I knew from day one almost that I was different.
  But now normal has taken on a new meaning. Normal is what is
  normal for me.

  These days, thanks to medications and talking therapy and a strict
  diet and exercise and sleeping regime, I have declared an uneasy
  truce with my disorder. I have learned to live with this beast inside me,
  even with the knowledge that it could very well bring me down at a
  moment's notice and show me no mercy. It has taken me into faraway
  places and endowed me with near-mystical qualities and insights plus
  real-world wisdom and skills. It has brought me closer to God and
  myself and my fellow human beings. But it has also reduced me to
  nothing and taken away everything I had. It has left me for dead,
  powerless to fight, feeling abandoned by both God and man.

  And so I must accept what I am, the bad as well as the good, the
  ridiculous as well as the sublime. Maybe then, in my own way that is
  unique to me, I can feel as though I fit in. Maybe then, after nearly a
  lifetime of feeling different, I can say for the first time - and say it like I
  really mean it - that I am truly normal.
 

 EMAIL McMan
 

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