Cry Me A River

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Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder) stormed into my life like Godzilla and left like Santa Claus. Among its many gifts was the ability to cry. Until that time I had fled this basic human function with resolute determination and was unacquainted with its primal power and beauty.

My parents came from cultures where the open display of emotion was anathema; a grotesque admission of defeat and, even worse, bad manners. Both spent their adolescent years surrounded by the cruel chaos of war, which hardened an already Stoic world-view. Essentially their position was; one is entitled to experience moods but there is no profit in sharing them with others.

I soon discovered that feelings could be hidden under layer upon layer of illusion until they became invisible to all. The spontaneous, involuntary expression of sentiment seemed like the province of simple, unsophisticated people – peasants, blacksmiths, and hod carriers.

Oddly, I thought of laughter as a cerebral activity, I did not yet understand it as the mirror image of weeping. On some deep strata not yet known to me I believed that if at last I begin to cry, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I was so deeply estranged from my own inner life that I actually thought I didn’t even have feelings.

Mania cracked me open like a cheap piñata at a child’s birthday party and before long bats covered the landscape. Fear, rage, resentment, envy, shame; it was undeniable and overwhelming.

In time I learned that mania overrules filters, controls, governors – manic behavior is involuntary. One sees and feels one’s true emotional landscape with vivid clarity, whether you want to or not. In mania, and intense depression, one’s nerves and feelings are totally exposed; everything is experienced intensely.

How you respond is almost unimportant, what is important is that you are unable to process stimuli successfully. You hit “overload” and stay there.

During those first waves of 100% manic intensity I cried in bursts, like tropical storms that appear out of nowhere, rage briefly, and then disappear in a blink.

Never before had I experienced such blessed relief, such sweet surrender of control. The pain, at last had a voice – it finally had a chance to speak. I listened.

Published by

Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability. Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado's continental divide, and inner city cabbie. Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.