Invisible Driving Reviewed by Pristine

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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

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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

Invisible Driving Press Release

 

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Hailed as ‘The quintessential expression of Bipolar Disorder in print’, Alistair McHarg’s compelling memoir sheds vital light on one of the world’s most bizarre and misunderstood illnesses. Taking readers on a first-person account of a manic episode and depicting the perilous road to recovery, ‘Invisible Driving’ is resonating with an eclectic global readership.

For Immediate Release

While 1.2% (statistic: National Institute of Mental Health) of the American population suffer from Manic Depression, commonly referred to as Bipolar Disorder, it remains one of the most stigmatized and misunderstood illnesses among society. However, a gripping and emotive new memoir by Alistair McHarg is making waves across the nation as it slowly but steadily chips away at this stigma and presents the raw realities of life with the illness.

‘Invisible Driving’ illustrates the harsh reality that 2.3 million U.S. adults deal with every day.

Synopsis:

Invisible Driving is a memoir of Manic Depression that takes readers inside the terrors, thrills, and triumphs of coming to terms with this debilitating and misunderstood mental illness. The manic narrator’s voice vividly recreates the feelings and sensations of mania, offering an unprecedented look at this fascinating and bizarre state of being. While behavior and thought illuminate the condition of mania, it is the protagonist’s language itself that most viscerally conveys what it feels like to be trapped inside a manic ‘high.’

The voice of the recovered narrator provides context, reliability, and credibility. Where the manic narrator is relentlessly entertaining and delusional, the recovered narrator is tough minded, concise, and determined to reveal the truth, no matter how painful. With a cold eye he examines the forces that shaped him in order to shed light on the psychological architecture driving the episode. 

The interplay between these two perspectives underscores the bipolar nature of Manic Depression; the greatest personal challenge is reconciling them. Ultimately, the narrator must confront his own worst nightmare and in doing so gain character, insight, and acceptance.

As the author explains, he hopes that offering an intimate account of his own struggle with Manic Depression will help change the public’s perceptions about the illness, as well as those forced to live with it.

“I’ve struggled with Manic Depression for thirty-nine years. With one in five of us completing suicide, it’s time the world wakes up to just how cruel this illness is to us. My aim for the book was to offer an unprecedented ‘insider perspective’, to make the illness and its experiences understandable to a general audience, as well as illuminating the difficult road to recovery,” says McHarg, who travels the country speaking about his experiences with Manic Depression.

Continuing, “I am determined to change how the public view the illness and its victims. My journey so far has taken me to prestigious platforms including the Thomas Jefferson Medical College and WBZ Boston’s Jordan Rich Show. There’s a lot more ground to cover but I’m already seeing shifts in perception as a result of openly discussing my life and work.”

Since its release, the book has garnered a consistent string of rave reviews. 

“One of the best books of its kind, written by a man who has been there,” says leading Bipolar authority Dr. E. Fuller Torrey.

F. Burnside was equally as impressed, adding, “McHarg has achieved the nearly impossible task of describing mental illness with mere words – but what words! He takes you into the eye of the manic hurricane and gives you the lightning, thunder and the sunshine all at once with extended stream of conscious word play that somehow makes sense.”

‘Invisible Driving’ is available now: http://amzn.to/117Ag2T –   Book excerpts and author interviews (print & video) are available at http://www.alistairmcharg.com.

About the Author:

Writer and performer Alistair McHarg grew up in Philadelphia, attended Germantown Friends School, graduated from Haverford College with honors, and earned an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Louisville. He has been a promotional copywriter for 30 years, but creative writing has always been his passion. He has published two satiric novels, Moonlit Tours and Washed Up, and has been publishing poetry for decades. “Miscellaneous” employment includes fighting forest fires in Alaska, working as a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter touring South America, and driving a cab in Philadelphia.

The Isabella Mori Interview

I’ve done a lot of interviews about the how and why of writing my bipolar memoir but the one with Isabella Mori really stands out – she’s smart, appreciates literature, and is an excellent writer herself. Isabella is based in Vancouver and blogs regularly about mental health and recovery.

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Alistair McHarg: Thank you for your interest in INVISIBLE DRIVING. One thing that stands out about you is that you really care about literature. A lot of people I speak with only come to Invisible Driving from the bipolar standpoint, which is fine, as far as it goes.

Isabella Mori: There is a rhythm to your book that is clearly there but hard to pin down. In the beginning you seem to have a “crazy” chapter taking turns with a “normal”; then the manic and the normal (if I may use that word) start to take turns within the chapters, then whole chapters are wild and woolly, etc. etc. Can you say something about that? To what degree is that a stylistic device, and to what degree does it echo your experience? Can the two be separated at all?

Alistair McHarg: The manic chapters came first. Then a literary agent said that there needed to be “depth” – a second voice that was sane, reliable, and recovered. I rewrote the entire book several times. I now see she was so right, the chapters in the recovered voice provide the background – the psychological architecture. The reader finds out why I was vulnerable, what the triggers were, and what was significant about how I acted out. Yes, the point/counterpoint is very deliberate. (You would think that the wild, manic chapters would have been hardest to write, but the sane ones were much harder, more soul-searching of real things.)

Isabella Mori: Actually, to me, imagining writing the book, it felt that the manic ones were the ones that were written with more ease. Perhaps that is because I was frankly flabbergasted how much I could relate to a lot of what you wrote. I think that’s what first drew me in. I knew exactly what you were talking about, even though my bipolar experiences are extremely mild. I’m still astonished at that.

Alistair McHarg: Interesting. Maybe the bipolar experience is essentially the same, and what varies is the degree. It is a very nice compliment that the writing registered with you. (When I gave the ms. to my psychiatrist he said he had to put it down now and then because it was making him manic!) I can’t say that they were written in ease. Recreating the pitch of mania, the quicksilver logic twisting and slipping, the bobbing and weaving, energy, raw creative force – when I was squarely back on earth, slightly depressed – took a tremendous amount of labor and craft, craft I didn’t know I had until I attempted it.

Isabella Mori: I was wondering about the mood you were in when you wrote those passages! The fact that it was indeed a recreation speaks to your fantastic writing skills. Were there moments when you wondered whether recreating this would take you into the mania?

Alistair McHarg: Thank you. It was writing this book (my first) that turned me into a real writer; it was transformational. Your question is pivotal. I began writing immediately after the episode described had ended. I was terrified, really shaken. I had suffered with the illness long enough to know that a trigger could send me off again, and I was pretty sure another episode would kill me. But I knew I couldn’t write the book unless mentally I went back in. I was between a rock and a hard place. So I went deeply back into the middle of it. That decision is what made the experience transformational. I knew it might set me off on another high, I knew that it might kill me; I did it anyway. I knew that I had to face this damn illness or be destroyed by it.

Isabella Mori: Fascinating! I am really touched by what you say, can feel it in my gut. And what hits me is, again, this commingling; meeting of art, this thing called mental illness, and the healing of/from/with it. It reminds me of a poem I wrote many years ago when I was close to dying of typhoid fever. I wrote it in Spanish so it’s a bit hazy but something about the need to climb the mountain of art, alone, naked, because there is no other choice. Does that resonate?

Alistair McHarg: Resonate indeed. That was my challenge exactly, and it was probably the single bravest thing I’ve ever done. As you point out, I had to do it alone. I had been fed so many lies and was very fear-based. I had to strip absolutely everything away until there was nothing left that wasn’t true. And then I rebuilt; I reinvented myself. What you say about commingling is deep, and many people do not understand. I say often that Manic Depression and Alcoholism have given me more than they have taken. In Manic Depression I saw rare things, and was forced to evolve. Alcoholism ultimately took me to a better way of life and a higher power. It has all been a spiritual journey and while mental “illness” has caused earthquakes in my life it has also produced angels. I was shy, I hid, I felt “less than” – but manic depression made it impossible for me to hide, and also, it forced me to admit my power.

Isabella Mori: There is so much we could talk about here; I hope we stay in touch, but more on the commingling. So there is the art, there is the “mental illness” (funny how I often feel I have to put it in quotation marks), there is the healing, there is the acknowledgment of power, and then there is humor. There’s a lot of humor in your book. Page 218, “and how do these aristocrats of oddness settle down after a busy day of counting their fingers and slashing their wrists with plastics forks?” Humor in these circumstances can be taken as disrespect sometimes. Do you hear that sometimes? How do you react? By commingling I mean that the humor seems to be part of it all.

Alistair McHarg: Humor and music are in the very center of me. To me the best humor is never nasty, it doesn’t single out anybody and it is never there to make me feel better than you. Real humor celebrates the absurdity of all life, human vanity, fatuous selfishness. You will notice that most of the humor in the book comes at my own expense. That said, when I was manic every mean quality came out, the anger, the hurt, the fear, and, combined with an intellect that had caught fire, all this hurt often found expression in really cruel humor. Other times it was quite surrealistic and charming. In my other books – both are satiric novels, and my cartoons, even my poetry – you will find that I include myself, all of us, when aiming barbs. I disrespect elements of people; racism, jealousy, entitlement, xenophobia, but it is never about disrespecting people, it is about loving truth and loving what people could be but are afraid to be.

Isabella Mori: One last question for now. Towards the beginning of the book you say, “The love of my daughter is my favorite thing about myself.” In therapy, there is often a dictum that people should change for themselves, not for others. As a father, would you agree with that?

Alistair McHarg: This is a great question. The easy answer is yes! In AA we tell the uncertain ones; fake it ‘til you make it! At first it doesn’t matter if you are in therapy, or recovery, for the wrong reasons, so long as you are there. (Bring the body and the mind will follow.) But absolutely, there must come a time when you are doing it for yourself, otherwise you will never commit fully and you will never get the full benefit. If you asked me that question today I would answer: My favorite thing about me is that I know what I have to offer and I am doing my best to put it to the service of others.

Occupy Inner Space

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Terrified and utterly defeated I crawled into talk therapy in 1986 and walked away 17 years later. I learned that analysis is like “exploring inner space” – in the same sense that Lewis & Clark fearlessly plunged into an unknown world. A journey like that is almost certain to be filled with loss, sadness, monsters, bloody struggle, pain, death, revelation, rebirth and joy. Mine was no exception.

“Why raise the bridge when you can lower your expectations of the river?” Taz Mopula

The prolonged excavation that therapy is prompted emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth. I’m happy to report it also prompted an almost unnerving creative Renaissance which included, but was not limited to, one memoir, two novels, dozens of poems, hundreds of cartoons and Taz Mopulisms, as well as reviews, essays, and blogadelia.

“If you need mania to be creative, then maybe creativity isn’t for you.” Taz Mopula

Through academic study and introspection I have come to understand that the human heart and soul have not changed since the earliest recorded time; we are making the same mistakes we’ve always made, the only difference is that now we make them in shabby Chinese clothes. More than ever I believe that for things to improve we must look inside – not to outer space but to inner space – as the final frontier.

“History repeats itself with tedious insistence; mankind seems determined to perfect its imperfections.” Taz Mopula

Just as we are always surprised to find our keys in “the last place we look” – we continue to be surprised by the idea Walt Kelly coined in his comic strip, Pogo – we have met the enemy and he am us. Looking inside for the culprit continues to be the last idea we’ll ever have.

“Be nice to your enemies; you just might be one of them.” Taz Mopula

To paraphrase Yeats, “Wine comes in at the lip, love comes in at the eye, and wisdom arrives at the business end of a Louisville Slugger.”

“If you are going to tell me the truth, at least have the decency to buy me dinner first.” Taz Mopula

I may not know much, but I have learned a few things over the years of battling manic depression and substance abuse. With a naiveté one would consider touching were one to encounter it in a developmentally challenged child, I have sought to share what I’ve learned. No need to elaborate on how this has worked out for me other than to observe that social ostracism and walking into a buzz saw are not as dissimilar as one might imagine. But this too is a lesson; this too does not matter.

“Looking for self-worth in someone else’s eyes is like trying to breathe with someone else’s lungs.” Taz Mopula

Help The Cause Of Mental Health Awareness

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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.

Poetry: Too Important To Be Left To The Sane

Poetry Is Far Too Important For Sane

As an insecure, fear-driven youth I relied exclusively on intellect. Lacking faith in social institutions, other people, or myself, I steadfastly trusted my mind’s ability to predict and manage life’s challenges. It made for a chilly, detached existence I found satisfactory.

“Poetry is far too important to be left to the sane.” Taz Mopula

Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder) changed all that for me. It was obvious that even my most faithful ally, my mind, was untrustworthy.

When I sat down to write Invisible Driving, my bipolar memoir, I knew I was taking a risk – remembering my mania to write about it might easily have sparked another episode. Revisiting my terrors was the very last thing I felt like doing.

Ultimately it became clear that, unless I faced my demon down, it would keep coming back and my next encounter with it might well be my last. So, I went sailing head first into darkness, I unwrapped the gift of desperation.

“Great soldiers are brave; great poets are reckless.” Taz Mopula

My rational mind dearly desired to control, to soar above events and manipulate them like a puppeteer with marionettes. But the task at hand took precedence over my ego, and because it did, I trusted the process itself. After so many years of being a shoemaker, doing piecework for nickels and dimes, I became a real writer not because I thought my way into it but because I surrendered to it.

“We write to discover who we are, and in the process, become somebody else.” Taz Mopula

I do not deny the importance of craft, if one wants to be a guitarist one must learn how to play the guitar. But it is not the fingers on strings that make you an artist; it is the story they tell, and the way it reaches, and moves, others. You don’t play music; you find it. It isn’t in a curvy wooden box; it passes through you like wind through a canyon, coming out of nowhere, on its way to parts unknown.

“Writing great poetry becomes much easier when you’re willing to die for it.” Taz Mopula

My dive into darkness replaced fear with faith, not just faith in myself, but faith in the unknown, and unknowable. I embraced chaos without judgment or disappointment; I understood I could rely upon uncertainty.

“Without life, poetry itself would be meaningless.” Taz Mopula

In the end a writer is merely a man in a room with a typewriter. He arranges words like a Byzantine artisan laying tiles into a mosaic which gradually reveals an illustrative pattern quite possibly unknown even to him until the very moment of completion.

“It’s always darkest before the movie starts.” Taz Mopula

All Aboard The Bipolar Express!

30th Street Station

I learned how to read and perform choral music a cappella in the damp, chilly basement of St. Martin in the Fields, a swank Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. Without flogging an ailing nag let’s just say that St. Martins is adjacent to the grass tennis courts of The Philadelphia Cricket Club about which, the less said…Ironically, I returned to St. Martins decades later for an AA meeting, indeed, many of “the rooms” are located in the glamourless confines of church basements. But, as ever, I am ahead of myself.

The Choir Master was an intense, closeted homosexual who lived at home with his mother and brother, a countertenor. (His brother’s solos caused us discomfort and wonder.) Mr. Wilkinson was a driven, obsessive perfectionist; he whipped us into shape mercilessly, like a man whipping a rented mule. Because this was a boy’s choir, featuring the pristine, clear sound of male voices not yet cracked by the oncoming deluge of what is laughingly referred to as adulthood, we were all roughly the same age, in the 8-12 bracket. The congregation was accustomed to getting what it wanted and it wanted high-end music. Wilkinson delivered.

We practiced 3 evenings weekly and before service on Sunday. We were paid regularly, in pay envelopes, and got perks like presents and stints at summer camp. In other words, even though we were wisenheimer punks our approach to the music was dispassionately professional – we were not merely tight, we were kettledrum tight.

In that basement I learned music, performance, and Christmas. Ever since those days, really good authentic Christmas music has been my favorite part of the season, for many years it was the only part I could stomach.

The following excerpt from INVISIBLE DRIVING recounts my most memorable Christmas concert ever; I played 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. While in the midst of a manic flight, I “played” 30th Street Station – which is to say – I “played” 30th Street Station.

***

I felt like walking so I parked my car in the lot next to 30th Street Station. Thirtieth Street Station is an enormous Greek style train station that stands next to an elaborate yard handling freight trains, local trains, and long distance passenger trains. It’s a conduit for all North/South train travel. The station recalls a day when great power was based on rail transportation, before cars took over. But I’m not here to talk about what the station can recall, I’m talking about what I recall. It’s a massive building with a main hall as large as a football field and a ceiling that’s a hundred feet overhead. I remember as a child arriving in the station, climbing up the stairs from the train into the great hall, and feeling as though I was outside, the ceiling seemed that remote. On a whim I walked into the hall. There were early rising, upwardly mobile businesspeople swirling about, drinking coffee, reading the Wall Street Journal and licking boots just to keep in practice. Waiting for trains to New York and D.C. I looked up at the ceiling, puckered, and blew a note. It rang out in the hall, echoing off the marble, taking forever to decay.

Some things decay quite quickly, western civilization for example, but the note decayed slowly. I whistled the same note twice, two short blasts. Full bore, lots of volume, nicely amplified by the enormous hall. I drifted into a rousing rendition of “Ding, dong merrily on high.” Walked around the room and tested the acoustics from different angles. People were starting to eye me curiously but hey, was that going to bother me? I found that it actually took so long for the sound to die that I could use the echo as a base and whistle on top of it. Now I was doing the carol as a round, using the echo as a second voice. I found this highly amusing, simply droll, just too too funny, trés amusante, and tried it out with several carols. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Good King Wenceslas. Joy to the World. The music intoxicated me. People were eyeing me suspiciously, as if to say, it’s awfully early in the morning to be so cheerful, what’s wrong with this picture? I Saw Three Ships. I was wailing now.

I kept walking around the room as I performed, harder to hit a moving target. I knew that sooner or later some long-suffering lowly hod carrier, some factotum, some dolt, some running dog lackey of the petite bourgeoisie would tell me to put a lid on it. Away In A Manger. To amuse myself I tried different tones and different speeds. With turbocharged intensity I whistled as fast as I could. Then I hit on something that gassed me. Boparoopie. The speed made it possible to hang notes in the air long enough to lay another melody on top of them. So I started whistling discordant pairs of carols.

First a phrase from Joy To The World. Then, with those notes floating above the heads of my unsuspecting and defenseless audience like angels with erections, (I should point out that it was the notes that bore a resemblance to angels with erections, not my audience, my audience bore a resemblance to alien zombies just back from a shopping trip to John Wanamaker’s), a phrase from Good King Wenceslas. Back and forth. It took some puckering but I was getting such a jolt from it that I just kept going. An impromptu, improbable, Christmas happening in your face you whitebread corn pone brain dead blockhead. Something to tell your better half tonight. This guy, he was whistling two Christmas carols at the same time, it was weird. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, this is my Christmas present to you. A tribute to the immensity of your spirit. A little duty-free gift for the traveler. Roland Kirk, God rest his soul, should there be one, and if there is, fuck you pal, I’m tired of carrying water, do you hear me, was a wonderful jazz musician who, among other amazing feats too numerous to go into here, although I’m tempted, often played two saxophones at the same time.

When I hit the end of my number, lightheaded from the expenditure of breath, I headed for the door. I scanned the faces for responses. Some grins, mostly from the souls living closer to the cliffs. Some scowls. If they can’t take a joke, throw them the hell off the bus. Some good old-fashioned confusion, what does it mean? But I felt good. I knew I’d nailed it to the wall. Alistair’s extra-normal tribute to Christmas. Alistair, the man who plays flute, saxophone and train station. I hit the door without any slatch, no stationmaster’s condemnation. A perfectly executed piece of performance art. Out the door he goes.

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.

Dancing With Your Bipolar Bear

polar bear dance

One of life’s great lessons is to accept, master, and ultimately enjoy that which cannot be avoided. Chances are you already know that bipolar disorder is incurable, however, there is a vast spectrum of experience in between being a victim of the illness and living a full, productive, and happy life that includes it.

Over the four decades since my first manic episode I have gone from one extreme to the other. It is not my intention to underestimate or romanticize this rude adversary. I’ve done loony bin factory time, engaged in all manner of reckless behavior, and rebuilt my ruined life over and over again. It’s a wonder I’m here at all.

That said, let me urge you to hold on tight to this one bit of advice while trudging through the foreign and forbidding landscapes – embrace your bipolar bear and take it dancing.

The epigraph for my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING, is by Rainer Marie Rilke.

Perhaps everything that is terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”

Only through dealing with the illness did I come to understand myself and lose my fear of life. Learning why I was susceptible caused me to evolve in ways I never would have otherwise. Bipolar disorder has given me far more than it ever took; because of it I achieved the peace of mind and gratitude I enjoy today.

If you are new to the illness your instinct will be to deny and forget it – don’t.

If you are new to recovery you may think you are “cured” and stop taking your meds – don’t.

If you are early in therapy and meeting the demons responsible for your manic episodes you will want to turn away – don’t.

If you feel stigma, if you feel “less than” because of the broken genes you carry – don’t.

The problem you refuse to face is the problem that will continually present itself until you do. Bipolar disorder is not a cute little foe; it is a monster you must not battle alone. Embrace it; let it teach you and guide you to places so called normal folk cannot spell, much less imagine. Befriend your bipolar bear, it is part of you, embrace it and take it dancing.