Going Public

9 of 10 Doctors Bipolar Memoir

For many years I hid, in order to keep from being discovered and exposed as a fraud. My flaws were not visible; I “passed” for normal and learned to provide the public with a convincing show. (Much later I would learn that the hideous flaws I sought to hide were imaginary, I was, in fact, no worse than the average Bozo.)

Like thousands of lost souls who eventually find themselves in the damp church basements of AA, I avoided intimacy as others avoid influenza. For reasons too dreary and predictable to enumerate, I imagined that – if you truly knew me you would be disappointed and ultimately repulsed – so I saved us both the trouble.

I was like a John le Carré character in deep cover, impersonating a person, blending in, hiding in plain sight. Writer is an ideal occupation in a case of this type; we are a bit like voyeurs and spies anyway.

So I honed detachment and isolation down to a fine art. This luscious anonymity was ended by the eruption of mania and a subsequent, highly public, battle with manic depression (bipolar disorder). As I struggled back from the rubble that remained of my former life and brick by brick rebuilt and built anew – reinventing myself as I did so – I found that I now had a very real, and very dangerous, secret which had the power to wreck my hard won recovery.

I understood the stigma; I understood how people fear mental illness. Even criminals fear crazy. In Alistair V.2 I guarded information jealously, revealing only what was absolutely required. I shielded my employer and new friends from my past; every day was spent on eggshells. But, after two cataclysmic manic episodes I realized that I had to know, and kill, this hideous monster, and for me, that meant writing a book about it.

Bear in mind, this was 1990; at the time there was no such thing as a bipolar memoir to be found anywhere. (“Call Me Anna” by Patty Duke was as close as the curious reader could get). I knew that, by writing my memoir, pitching it to agents, and publishing it – going “bare” for all the world to see – I was making myself incredibly vulnerable to ridicule, contempt, marginalization, prejudice, misunderstanding and worse. But it didn’t matter; I had to do it. It was both my emancipation, and my gift to the afflicted and their loved ones.

At that moment I ceased being a spy, my double life ended. The polar extremes were integrated into one completely imperfect entity. That is my joy today, just one of the many gifts bestowed on me by manic depression.

Washed Up Reviewed by K. Eby

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Axis of Brilliance

Washed Up is another great ride. Again, Alistair shows his talent for introducing us to characters who span an entire axis. Wealthy/Not, Healthy/Not, on their way out/on their way back…in a mathematic axis, these people are dots who live (or will live) in the x AND y planes AND in the positive AND the negative planes. Through wonderful dialogue and narrative talent, he carefully describes them just enough for us to get to know them – and apply our own experience to flesh out who they really are. He then tells us their story and sets up the crashes. You see these collisions from above – at least what you think they will be. But, as great storytellers do, they are not what you assume – which is what leaves the lasting impact.

Running through this novel, like a Booker T keyboard (it knows when to lead and when to lay back and when to duck out), is his observation of alcoholism and its impact on this world. This is the catalyst to many of the events in the book and it is through this vehicle that we experience a lot of the emotion of the novel. Joy, pain. Victory, loss. Second chances and the careless disposal of second (and maybe last) chances.

I found myself not entirely comfortable putting the book down until I was satisfied that I had finished the journey and found adequate resolution to the plight of these characters. And could make my own hypothesis as to their future. Like all of Alistair’s work, in my experience, this one rents a little space in your brain for a few weeks after you finish it. I like that.

Kent Eby

Attraction Not Persuasion

Pretending Not To Know The Obvious Is Exhausting

I have been a promotion writer for 30+ years. Essentially, writing promotion involves making true statements in such a way that readers are encouraged to arrive at false conclusions. For example, when I say our vinyl siding virtually never needs painting – that translates to – our siding needs painting.

This profession has never posed a moral struggle because, to me, the marketplace rule is caveat emptor and companies have the right to hire professional persuaders adept at putting products and services in the most positive light possible – so long as these hired guns do not intentionally misrepresent the truth.

However, when it came to recovery, and writing my books, I went to the opposite extreme. Rigorous, even brutal, honesty was my modus operandi, I understood that there was no alternative. When writing about serious matters like mental illness, evil, and alcoholism I quickly realized there was no room for preaching or persuasion, only the truth was important, only the story mattered.

Years spent in therapy and recovery netted a treasure trove of knowledge, not just about the hideous monsters that delighted in tormenting me, but also the tools and techniques of the healing process itself. Enthusiastic and happy about these positive developments I sought to share what I learned with my near and dear, and was met with various sorts of rejection. After a while, I stopped. One can only be hit in the face with a bull fiddle for so long.

I came to understand that people are, for the most part, invested in keeping you in your pigeonhole. If they have come to think of you as a self-destructive loser, continuing to do so makes them feel good about themselves. When you present as self-disciplined, confident, productive and – most egregious of all – happy – your new persona is upsetting and troubling. No amount of explanation will help them understand, or care, what you’ve been through. Only results matter.

Even before setting down the first word of INVISIBLE DRIVING I vowed to tell my tale with the mercilessness of a research scientist, embarrassment meant nothing to me. I applied the same formula to MOONLIT TOURS and WASHED UP, even though they are novels. When it comes to my personal writing, the poetry and lit, (and in an odd way, even the cartoons), I have no desire to persuade anyone of anything. 

Tell the truth, as you understand it, with clarity, precision and elegance – and make it entertaining. Don’t tell the readers anything; show them.

My Best Radio Interview

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN: Dr. Dave Van Nuys and I discuss Manic Depression, Recovery, and writing Invisible Driving.

Dr. Dave Van Nuys, who has a terrific podcast called Wise Counsel, kept me on the ropes for almost half an hour. We covered a broad range of topics which included snow in New Hampshire, The University of Pennsylvania, driving with one’s eyes closed, the challenge of writing a bipolar memoir, and spiritual growth as a requisite element of recovery. We even took turns reading favorite passages from my book. “Dr. Dave” is a fascinating guy in his own right, and an extremely skilled interviewer.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER INVISIBLE DRIVING