Our Preeminent Mental Illness Humor Blogger

Alistair Scooter Hat

When you get to be my age you start asking yourself questions like, “What time is it?” and “What am I doing in Tijuana?” and “What is Martinizing and why does it only take one hour?”

If you are about to celebrate a birthday, (if celebrate is the right word), you may be tempted to gaze across the seemingly endless succession of impulsive decisions, high-speed car chases down cul-de-sacs, and manic spending sprees littering the ravages of what you generously describe as “your life” and wonder how you managed to squander the cornucopia of opportunities strewn at your feet as a child.

Or not. With a birthday looming large there is no time for such whackadoomiousness because I stand before you now, (imagine I’m standing), a man who has reached the pinnacle of his profession, the Everest he set out to conquer decades ago. That’s right, I am the Preeminent Mental Illness Humor Blogger in The United States!

Do not think I reached the pinnacle of my profession through some quirk of fate, some whim of circumstance, some chance twist of unpredictability, some like it hot, oh no, anything but. My ascent to this lofty height came about through the execution of a carefully constructed plan well in place before I received my first pair of full-length trousers.

Without any further adon’t, here it is: First I learned to write. Then I developed a sense of humor. I did this by carefully studying the creative output of Garrison Keillor, Sacha Baron Cohen, Andrew Dice Clay, and Gallagher to make absolutely certain my work never resembled theirs.

Then came the exciting part – choosing my mental illness. The selection was vast, almost dizzying. I wanted an illness I could take with me on trips, couldn’t be bothered with a lot of heavy equipment. Affordability was also a factor; some mental illnesses are prohibitively expensive! I was also looking for a mental illness with a little style, flare, panache, je ne sais quoi – whatever that is.

At last I settled on bipolar disorder, which came with a very impressive pedigree including many of my favorite writers, painters, and composers. The rest, as we say, is show business history.

So remember, most people don’t plan to fail, they plan to plan, and fail to do so long before they ever get around to it.

Invisible Driving Reviewed by Pristine

01 Invisible Driving Cover Framed 2

Bombastic, Hilarious, Jazzy, Courageous, Soulful

When I read a book, watch a movie, or listen to a recording, I usually bypass the description, preface, foreword, and audience reviews. I guess you can say I like to embark on an adventure completely unprepared. That’s the way I like all my journeys: destinations are cliché, the originality is getting there.

A friend recommended Invisible Driving as an intro to the works of Alistair McHarg. I dove right in without a clue as to what it was about, and I started laughing. The humour, for me, comes from that self-assured tone of grandeur, a careful tightrope balancing act that teeters on self-mockery. The easiest way I can describe Invisible Driving is to imagine being in a carpool with John Waters, David Helfgott, and Mickey Spillane. The owner and driver of the car is Glenn Gould. Where are we going in the middle of an early morning?

Free association words pour out in an unexpected deluge like Coltrane free jazz Impressions improvisations that lasts for hours, part jazz scatting, part beat poetry; but fear not, there is a prudent narrator that steps in on the intervention before the car goes over the cliff. That voice is brave, honest, and generous in it’s willingness to share what is, in essence, the metaphor for which Invisible Driving represents.

What sometimes comes off as humor and jokey asides turns out to be illustrations of thought patterns that go through the author’s head during his episodes. Reading Invisible Driving is probably as close to manic depression as many of us will get. The images are rich, even as desperation mounts in Mr. McHarg’s tiny oyster of brotherly love. Unexpected beatific passages get squeezed out between one liners as dime store romances are roundhoused with the sultriness and muscle of Mike Hammer. Kaleidoscopic ideas let fly like Eric Dolphy in Europe, scat like King Pleasure.

I’m not sure it is at all possible to review an autobiography charting the course of mania. The format of this work IS the message. Alternating between chapters of confessional dead seriousness with those of grandiloquent whimsy, the reference point of reality is blurred into a terror fondue of Cretans and paradoxes. Invisible Driving is a wonderful work of originality, and to say it could have been written any other way would be to ask someone who has shared an original recipe to change its ingredients and preparatory steps.

Pristine S

To see the original review or purchase a copy of Invisible Driving click HERE

Invisible Driving Reviewed by E. S. Wolfe

01 Invisible Driving Cover Framed 2

Brilliantly Written and a Fascinating Ride!

“Invisible Driving” is a personal memoir that reads like fiction, seducing the reader with gripping drama, humor, anguish, love, sex, drugs and a jazzy rendition of mental illness. But don’t let that fool you. Alistair McHarg’s book is a major contribution to the memoir genre in general, and to writing on mental illness, in particular.

The book opens with humor that made me laugh aloud (books never do that for me) and it ends with a sublimely peaceful trip to the middle road of sanity– an amazing accomplishment after the roller coaster ride he takes you on throughout the book. This is one of the most powerful mental illness memoirs I have ever read, and I have read many because I have written one myself.

Alistair McHarg’s memoir is on such a lofty level of creativity, description and sheer writing ability that it leaves memoirs by Kay Jamison, John McManamy and William Styron on dusty shelves below his. Not one of them comes close to his portrayal of Bipolar Disorder.

McHarg’s writing is very well-crafted. He is a master of metaphor and comparisons. His descriptions are so vivid as to stop you dead in your tracks to admire the writing itself, despite the desire to race ahead because the story is so riveting, one can’t wait to find out what will happen next. (I had to read the book through once for the story and then go back to admire the writing.) He paints a visual picture, complete with sound track, and, indeed, this memoir could make a memorable film.

The words he comes up with that have no established meaning but are mood-activated, punctuate the narrative with pizzazz and are never tiresome. The humor is a cross between Robin Williams and the Marx Brothers but is delivered with the auspicious feeling of a mind racing out of control with breathtaking speed. That is how the book starts out. It quickly proceeds to the seriousness of it all. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy is extremely effective. The descriptions are spot-on. My all-time favorite is his description of mental hospital inmates as “aristocrats of the soul.” McHarg is a poet at heart and the heart of this story comes out as poetry.

McHarg tells you what it is really like to think as someone with Bipolar Disorder. He shares his thoughts and motives with a generous honesty that is stunning and a clarity that is crystal clear. I can avow to the accuracy of this portrayal because I am Bipolar myself. But this book is not just for people “on the back of the bus,” as McHarg describes the mentally ill in one of his postings on his blog. This memoir is for everyone! The drama has mass appeal as all good drama does. It is a page-turner, make no mistake about it. And I would venture to say should be required reading for all brands of therapists.

Particularly poignant is the role his love for his daughter plays in this book, and, in his life. We, and I mean by “we” in this context, those of us with mental illness, need an added incentive to work towards in our journey to sanity. For me, it was to find real love. For McHarg, it was to be there for his daughter who, from the very beginning shows a love for her father that is totally touching, as is his for her. And that is what it is all about in the end, for all of us, mentally ill or not. We all have our journeys but some are more treacherous than others.

“Invisible Driving” offers a message of hope to the road-weary traveler. Take his tour. It will not disappoint!

E. Stockdale Wolfe

To see the original review and purchase Invisible Driving click HERE

Ride It Like You Find It To The End Of The Line

train station abandoned

There’s a certain kind of desolation one can only experience by being stranded in a train station at three a.m. An opulent, silent gloom covers every surface like a thin film of invisible grit. The odd, incidental sound, heel scrape, cough, rides a hollow echo and affects grandeur. Night crawlers are all that remains of humanity, pimps, pickpockets and pushers. The trains are done arriving until morning; even the newsstand is closed. You crave sleep almost as much as you fear it, unwilling to slack off vigilance for even an instant.

It is a form of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability that seems almost charming in comparison to what I’m after here, romantic and quaint. Because I am talking about a station beyond where the tracks end. It does not appear on any timetable or tourist map. You don’t buy a ticket; it’s purchased for you, in Bedlam, or on shooting expeditions.

Amidst the rusting tracks and weeds is a station for those who would go as far as they possibly can, at all cost. Where life is not that good and death is not that bad. Where escape masquerades as fun, oblivion passes itself off as insight, and no monster is more horrifying than a mirror. Where feeling good and feeling nothing are identical twins. A million different paths go to just one destination, and it is always the same.

No one intends to visit this place, it doesn’t lead anywhere else, there are no connecting trains. It’s an unintended, accidental journey, with an innocent start. A battered yellow school bus winding down the Khyber Pass, leaving the cool, dry mountain air for the humid plains of Pakistan. Bags unpacked in yet another miserable hotel; this time it’s Peshawar. Walking choked streets, blazing color, riotous noise. Ascending the smooth woozy, wooden staircase after spotting the identifying cobra painted on the door.

Bald, black midget sporting huge, hoop earring. Money changing hands. Long pipe, black tar, teasing it against the candle flame then smearing it to go, thick taste, almost instantaneous delivery, midget laughing hard at me, I am laughing too, I think, street noise like a blessed magic symphony of blurring swirling every nothingness.

A million different paths lead to just one destination, and it is always the same.

Until You Have Had Nothing You Have Not Had It All

badlands

It was the great Taz Mopula who observed, “You just haven’t lived until you’ve had nothing at all.” This counter-intuitive proclamation is quite possibly enigmatic to many, but for those of us who’ve wandered the uneven cobblestones of Rue Whassamattavous, the meaning is only too familiar.

Madness – and the madness of addiction – will continue to pick your pocket as long as you let them. If you’re stubborn – (and so many of us are, preferring to do things our way rather than the easy way, much less the way that results in minimum damage to ourselves and others) – then it is likely you will proceed in your folly until there is nothing left at all. The question is – how high does the pain level have to get before you are willing to ask for help?

Mania and addiction have both pillaged my life like marauding Visigoths. It is astounding how quickly the fruits of one’s labors can be destroyed, if one is truly unhinged. I have closed my eyes on a bourgeois Shangri-La only to open them and discover a desolate, tortured landscape…no home, job, family, property, money…zero, the null set, a goose egg.

Absolute zero is terrifying, of course, but it is also exquisitely beautiful – because what you lack in life’s comforts you have gained in vision and truth. Your existence has become binary, you consciously make the choice that nearly everybody else makes unconsciously every day – shall I live or end it? Bear in mind that 1 out of every 5 bipolar adults attempts suicide, and succeeds.

If you are fortunate enough to find even a scrap of resolve, you get up off the canvas and wait for the stars and chirping birds to stop circling your head. Then you get back into the game, no matter how damaged and humbled you may be.

Mania completely wiped me out three different times – after a while, even the end of the world isn’t the end of the world anymore. One proceeds. As Churchill – whose battles with depression are legendary – reminded his countrymen when the very existence of Britannia was questionable, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

The name of the game is resilience.

Why You Should Care About Not Caring

Looking For Self-Worth Eyes Of Others

Many years ago my daughter came crying to me with a tale of cruelty involving her tight circle of very-best girlfriends. In-between sobs she relayed a saga of vicious betrayal unique to the mysterious world of adolescent girls. I listened quietly and, when she was done, took her into my arms and said this.

“Sweetheart, despite your best efforts, people will always talk about you and 90% of what they say will be wrong. I know it’s not fair but the best thing to do is let go.”

I am polishing this chestnut from the McHarg family vault for one reason. No matter where you are in your recovery – (or if you love and support a person with mental illness) – you need to know this:

There is a beautiful place out there beyond fear, beyond shame, beyond inferiority, beyond jealousy, beyond regret, beyond denial, beyond self-loathing and the name of that place is – I Just Don’t Care.

America is a land of immigrants and consequently it is also a land of xenophobia and prejudice. We blow trumpets in praise of democracy but don’t be deceived, there is a very definite pecking order in our culture and the mentally ill are way down at the bottom.

Take it from me, no one is going to give you respect, no one is going to give you equal rights. Square America can’t even understand you; much less know how to bring you inside out of the rain. Do not look to others for your redemption. (If you doubt me, just look to the history of America’s other minority groups.)

I went public as a bipolar person 23 years ago; I even wrote the first bipolar memoir,Invisible Driving. (Click HERE to order.) Nothing could have prepared me for the wave after wave of rejection, fear, and marginalization I faced. (Really, I did expect at least a little respect for what I’d done!)

The point is, if you tie your emotional well being to the opinion others have of you disaster will certainly follow. Keep growing extra layers of skin until stupid comments and remarks bounce right off.

Today I tell people I’m bipolar the same way I might tell them I’m right-handed, it’s a detail that helps them understand me but I am not defined by it. I have absolutely no shame about my history of mental illness and neither should you when it comes time to talking about your particular challenge.

They say that guilt is when you feel bad about something you did but shame is when you feel bad about something you are. You’re a teacher now; let them know just what you are – shamelessly.

Manic Depression: Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix

I was just 17 on March 31, 1968, the night I saw Jimi Hendrix in a tiny, converted tire warehouse in Philadelphia. Hendrix is iconic today, so I don’t need to describe the show. But back then he was absolutely new, unlike anything anybody had ever seen before. Playing with the guitar behind his head, plucking the strings with his teeth – it was astonishing. But most of all it was loud – we’re talking air raid siren loud. It overwhelmed like an Old Testament rain of fire.

When Hendrix sang his signature hit, Manic Depression, I had absolutely no idea what the term meant, much less that it would soon come to define my life. That concert was, perhaps, my first look at mania – real mania – the kind of mania that says – “I am about to set the world on fire and if you don’t like it you better get the fuck out of my way.” It was thrilling and overwhelming. Of course none of us knew then that Hendrix was like a meteor, burning up right before our eyes, and that he would be dead just two years later.

Hendrix was certainly not the only musical genius I’ve seen perform, but the experience was unique all the same. It is difficult to explain. A year later, in the summer of 1969, I worked for the Bureau Of Land Management in Alaska, fighting forest fires. I was part of a back-burning crew, meaning I walked through burning forests carrying a flamethrower. It was like that. A few years later, in Louisville, Kentucky, I watched a tornado tear through the city like hellfire, tossing houses into the air before smashing them to splinters like a fist. It was like that.

The tragedy of Hendrix is that we get to enjoy his work but he doesn’t. He stepped onto the Bipolar Express and never got off, hitting the wall at 100 mph. The poor guy was 27 when he died, with just 4 completed albums to his name.

In the years separating 1968 and 2012 I have come to understand mania only too well, and the music of Jimi Hendrix is encoded in my DNA. One of the many, many reasons I have to be grateful is that fame and adulation did not fuel my illness as they did for Hendrix; I would certainly be dead if they had.

Manic Depression is a frustratin’ mess!

Glad To Be Imperfectly Awful

Mondrian Broadway Boogie Woogie 

For reasons we might want to explore at some other time, I spent over 30 years toiling in the corporate vineyards as an advertising copywriter – an occupation which enjoys a level of social prestige roughly equivalent to that of garbage collector, lawyer, and snake oil salesman – although to be sure – the latter group is begrudgingly afforded a modicum of respect since almost everyone abhors a squeaky snake. I know I do.

But I digress. Writers, as you know, are a disreputable lot. As a rule they live in culverts, subsist on scraps of food left by others in greasy spoon diners on the outskirts of town, frequently showing up for work with three days’ worth of stubble, pockets crammed with losing lottery tickets, reeking of bourbon and cheap cigars. The men are even worse!

As a bipolar dipsomaniac with a chronic attitude problem that includes contempt for authority, you can imagine I lost and found and lost employers the way others misplace car keys. Some jobs were submerged deep within the bowels of soulless corporations shamelessly exploiting the witless populace, while others resided in neurosis factories referred to as advertising agencies where paranoia, throat-slitting, and British wardrobes were passed off as creativity.

One commonality of all these dreadful coalmines was the professional category known as “artist” which, in this case, means “graphic designer” which then meant person in charge of taking words, setting them in type, and embedding the result in a breezy assemblage of photographs, colorful shapes, and visual irrelevance thought to aid the sales process we served; striving ever more valiantly to separate the unsuspecting from their treasure.

Artists – graphic designers – are almost the antithesis of writers. As a rule, they are cheerful women who bring an ideal suite of qualities to their task – wonderful sense of color, design, ebullience, responsibility, method, quiet productivity and an almost depressingly relentless optimism. Meet Charity Vanderbilt.

Charity Vanderbilt invariably looked as though she had been peeled from the pages of a clothing catalog. Her attire was not flashy, it was impeccable, precise, tight, ratcheted down with control as rigid as any painting by Piet Mondrian. Just five feet tall dripping wet, (why she insisted on having her height measured after showering I cannot tell you), she had a sing-song, high pitched voice that resembled a Warner Brothers cartoon character far more closely than a person.

Charity walked with quick, short steps as though a string between her ankles dictated the precise length of every stride.

One day, Charity revealed something I found completely stunning. She said that the gas gauge in her Volvo had broken and she left it that way on purpose because she “enjoyed the mystery and excitement of not knowing if she was about to run out of gas.”

I thought of my own life, a cavalcade of catastrophes including prison, mental hospitals, manic depression, alcoholism, divorce, lost jobs, small fortunes washed away with the dirty dishes – I thought of how I was trying to outrun my curse and find order, stability, responsibility – even some peace of mind.

Then I thought of Charity Vanderbilt, whimsically setting a little booby-trap for herself, to make her life a tiny bit disordered, a tiny bit surprising, a tiny bit interesting. In the oddest way, it made me feel sorry for her and grateful to be me; imperfectly awful.

The Toxic Myth Of Manic Creativity

If You Need Mania To Be Creative

It is said that alcoholism is the only disease intent on convincing those who suffer they’re not sick. This deception is, of course, only one of alcoholism’s many lies, the first of which is that happiness can be purchased and consumed.

There is a parallel, and equally dangerous, bit of twaddle in the world of mental illness. This nonsense runs thusly – I do not want to “become sane” because if I do I will lose my uniqueness, my brilliance, and my creativity. That skewed perspective has led to many voyages of self-destruction, some more abbreviated than others.

At first, alcohol does give one a rosy; numb feeling – so it is not hard to understand how people imagine they’re not ill but simply having a good time. Likewise, manic episodes carry much with them to provide the illusion of creativity – boundless energy and confidence, bizarre observations and juxtapositions of thoughts, and the feeling of being “directed” or “guided” by unknown agents. But this maelstrom of mad activity rarely withstands the cold scrutiny and deliberation of daylight.

As the great Taz Mopula reminds us, “Art is not produced by healthy people.” Well and good, but this does not mean that being sick – whether by natural or artificial means – makes you an artist. (For years I validated my descent into alcoholism and drug abuse by clinging onto the observation that nearly all the artists I admired, especially the writers, were alcoholics.) Being an alcoholic does not make one Faulkner; being an untreated bipolar does not make one Lord Byron.

The irony here is that we are seeing a very old syndrome – the human desire to possess the rose without confronting the thorn. We reach for alcohol to make us happy when we know in our hearts that happiness involves hard work – it is the byproduct of leading a righteous life. We cling to mania because we think of it as a shortcut to the heights of celestial creativity when we know that even the most deranged, brilliant artists achieved their heights the hard way – dedicated labor.

In madness, and in the despair of addiction, we forget ourselves – what emerges cannot be true because even we do not know what is true. The long campaign of self-discovery that leads to mental health will take you to what is true for you, and guide you to creativity that matters.

Art is not flash and hyperbole, art is something divine within you that you learn to set free as you heal. Drugs, alcohol, and mania are poor substitutes – hold out for the real thing.

Help The Cause Of Mental Health Awareness

Invisible Driving Cover Framed

When I sat down to write Invisible Driving in 1990 there was no way to know that this simple act of literary recklessness would hurl me down a path of mental health advocacy ultimately culminating, 22 years later, in the conclusion of this sentence.

Such is life in the land of Whackadoomious. Prior to writing the very first bipolar memoir, I had labored valiantly to keep my mental illness under cover, hidden from the pitchfork-wielding town folk who welcome the mentally ill with the same enthusiasm they shower on seven-year locusts. Going public as a bipolar bear gave me what I call “confession Tourette’s” – I went from “lips are sealed” to bipolar blabbermouth.

Essentially, I wanted to educate the public as much as possible and, I dared, even defied, any of them to look down on me. I had a big, fat surly attitude back then. In time, I actually came to a point where I condescended to square shooters because I believed – without mental illness as a teacher – their life experience was, quite frankly, inadequate in comparison to mine.

But that’s just me. For every passive-aggressive exhibitionist nursing a grudge, feeding a habit, and putting a resentment to bed, there are 100 nice, quiet Whackadoomians who would prefer to recover and strive towards mental health in quiet anonymity and fuzzy slippers.

I would like to make it clear that I do not condemn this stealth, but, and this is a big but, (stop that), I will say that – if you want to change minds, spank stigma, and educate the not-so-great unwashed – and I know you do – the best way to do it is by example.

Make yourself a teacher, a model, and show them that folks like us are – candidly – just like them. To paraphrase Hemingway, “Living well is the best revenge.” To paraphrase Napoleon, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Finally, to paraphrase Taz Mopula, “Since you’re going to be jealous anyway, you may as well be jealous of yourself.”

Action Ideas for Mental Illness Awareness

As you know, I’m a practical – problem/solution – kind of guy. So, here are a few action items that could kick-start the knowledge building process.

1. Annual Mental Illness Memorial Day Telethon – Hosted by Charlie Sheen

2. Mental Illness Trading Cards containing profiles of famous mentally ill people in history.

3. “Halfway Home” – a board game based on Monopoly in which players take turns trying to escape from a Halfway House so they can return their dysfunctional families.

4. America’s Got Illness! In this homage to American Idol, mentally ill contestants would answer questions and disturbed celebrity judges would try to guess their disease.

As good as these ideas are, I’m still going with suggestion number one. Make the stigma-waving public watch as you rise from the ashes and enjoy a life that is better than theirs. If they learn a thing or two, great. If they don’t, the main thing is – you’re doing just fine without them.