Truth And How It Got To Be That Way

spelunker in giant cave - light

The truth is we are born into a world of pain and devote most of our brief existence to satisfying base needs. Over time we are damaged, diminished, and ultimately destroyed. Instead of coexisting peacefully with the earth and each other our best energies are consumed by hatred, fear, violence, greed, and self-destruction.

The real tragedy of political correctness is that it has given lying a bad name.” Taz Mopula

We abhor truth and love lies. Lies are the air we breathe, the earth we tread upon, the foundations of our buildings. Most are so deeply ingrained we no longer even think of them as lies, indeed, we no longer think at all. Politicians, priests, and corporate representatives spoon-feed lies to the masses because people want to be lied to; lies win elections, build cathedrals, and sell soap.

“You can’t fool all of the people all of the time; but why would you even try when they’re so eager to do the job for you?” Taz Mopula

This is human nature, and I am not so foolish as to attempt a modification of that. However, I will frame it in a context of recovery, because, for the likes of us, recognizing and facing truth can be a matter of life or death.

“There are two kinds of people, those who believe there are only two kinds of people and those who dislike oversimplification.” Taz Mopula

Lunatics, wing nuts, and whackos – like me – are incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy. We don’t want to live in an abandoned funhouse full of wavy mirrors misrepresenting reality; we just can’t help it. Dipsomaniacs, drug addicts, and adrenaline junkies – like me – are capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy, but we steadfastly refuse to try. No one hates truth quite as passionately as we do, and when it comes to lying, well; we are the masters.

“Pretending not to know the obvious is exhausting.” Taz Mopula

Mental health involves a long, arduous process that begins by identifying the truth about yourself. This is followed by a hard look at where you are, where you would like to be, and what it will take to get there. Brutal, often painful, honesty is an absolute requisite for this journey. For many of us, living a life of constant self-examination and ruthless honesty is rather like learning a new language. But, we tend to be determined, sometimes obsessive, people and what was once anathema can become a familiar, valued way of life. The benefits of rigorous honesty are everywhere, so we grow to love it.

“Don’t forget to wash up after losing your grip on reality; hand sanitizer is strongly advised.” Taz Mopula

Then, we get a horrible surprise. Mental illness and addiction have already marginalized us, we have always lived on the outskirts of town. But our newfound commitment to honesty and truth has put us in a ghetto on the outskirts of the outskirts of town. Remember, you have changed but the world has not. You have benefited from merciless self-evaluation and willingness to address your faults, but the world has not. Your modus operandi has changed, but take it from me, truth is just as unpopular on the outside as it has ever been.

“It’s not that I don’t love you, I do love you; I just don’t love you enough to lie to you.” Taz Mopula

Enjoy the quiet satisfaction and peace of mind it affords you, but, as ever, your ticker tape parade has been canceled.

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.

Ever-Changing Face Of Drug Abuse

Doctor Cigarettes

Those of us who labor in the heavily intoxicated vineyards of mental illness, mental health, and recovery – those of us who gaze in wonder at the never-ending inventiveness demonstrated by tormented souls scouring the landscape for new mechanisms of self-injury – those of us who chase the lighthouse beacon of serenity as we pitch and toss on a cultural sea of hazards, pitfalls, and demons – those of us who marvel at a world gone mad, a world intent on sabotaging health, moderation, and self-care at every step – those of us who, wracked by ADHD and overburdened by flashy, empty distractions – are united by one profound bit of good news – this sentence is about to come to an end.

Those who followed the recent election probably noticed that pot – also known as grass, weed, reefer, marijuana, and wacky tabacky – is, like the camel that sneaks into a tent one inch at a time – making an impressive play for respectability. Legalization on a state-by-state basis will lead, inevitably, to a national referendum and, with wet finger waving in the wind, one takes the national temperature and concludes that soon Uncle Sam will be dealing dope, elbowing Mexican drug lords off American playgrounds. Thus, an era will end and I, as one who has explored the narrow alleyways of drug abuse in search of happiness, or at least relief, will miss it.

When I was a lad there was really only one way to tell which side of the barricades you were on; did you get high? Pot was our secret handshake, it was more than a mechanism for pretending Grateful Dead music wasn’t appalling, one’s determination to become THC-stupid demonstrated a commitment to outsider status, we showed our determination to undermine the system by rendering ourselves unconscious – it was a sophisticated strategy to say the least. The illegality gave it the whiff of subversion, defiance – we were fearless rebels in the recreation rooms of suburban homes sporting shag carpeting of unimaginable vulgarity.

Ultimately the government always finds a way to ruin fun and such is the case here. Truth be told, pot is really not that interesting, it makes passive, withdrawn people even more passive and withdrawn. Removing the illegality strips it of its most exciting quality. Once it actually becomes legal only the most hopelessly un-cool people will consume it. Can you imagine how dreadfully dull, ordinary and square it would be to line up at the government pot stand so you could get your weed, buy stamps, and renew your passport?

Today’s society is so homogenized that I can only feel sadness for kids who want to be cool because, since their phones do everything for them, the closest they will ever get is by having a cool phone. But there is hope. While pot is doomed to become the exclusive province of the hopelessly uninteresting; you can turn to another weed for the danger and excitement pot once offered. Tobacco.

When I was a kid, if you didn’t smoke cigarettes there was a zero percent chance of you being cool. But the PC police have scared this unattractive habit back to the hinterlands – it now has about as much glamour as leprosy.

Those who crave a taboo drug that says – society, I hold you in contempt – should look no further than the nearest pack of cigarettes, assuming they can find one.

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.

Sociology Of Mental Illness

insane immigrants

Recently, the Party Planning Committee at Chumley Fortesque Memorial Community College invited me to deliver my bread and butter lecture, “Why You So Messed Up, Man?” I accepted.

A bright-eyed assemblage of students still clutching desperately onto the concept of upward mobility, and several inebriated janitors ducking responsibilities, filled the dingy lunchroom, which had been hastily rearranged to serve as an auditorium. I gave it my best.

When I was through, an eager audience member asked the now-familiar question which seems to hound me wherever I go, as if I had just escaped from Leavenworth.

“Mr. McHarg,” he ventured, “why are there so many mentally ill people in the United States? Where do they come from?”

By now, I am accustomed to this question, although still appalled by what its mere existence says about our educational system. And so, in measured tones masking my impatience and disappointment, I began what has become the canned response.

“America,” I gazed beyond the tops of my reading glasses for effect, fairly oozing disingenuous gravitas, “is a nation built on immigration. We are all familiar with how, fleeing starvation brought about by the potato famine, destitute Irish families landed on our rugged shores in search of work.

“Our forefathers themselves fled religious persecution and sarcastic remarks. Soon the Italians arrived because it became obvious that there needed to be a pizza parlor on every corner; the fledgling nation was being unified by a love of freedom, ambition, and a hearty appetite for pepperoni.

“Then came the great Whackadoomian Emigration of double-ought, where mentally ill individuals throughout the world packed their meager belongings into imaginary suitcases and swam toward Lady Liberty’s beacon – treading water during the day when the beacon was unlit. In America they hoped to find the chance to be unhinged in a way that was marketable, which led ultimately to reality TV. Quietly, in small communities throughout the land, they built pockets of whackadoomiousness, and flourished.

From Knothead, Maine to Improbability, Tennessee, and Not All There, Wyoming, mentally ill Americans worked, fell in love, formed families, prospered and polished up the hood ornament on the American dream just like the rest of us. Today, they are in our midst, virtually everywhere, woven deep within the warp and woof of the American flag; indeed, as you watch the stars and stripes wave you can almost hear the sound of barking.

Back Of The Bus, Crazypants!

back of the bus

While purveyors of politically correct thought and speech would deny it to their last disingenuous breath, prejudice is very much alive today. While it is increasingly unfashionable to ridicule and despise the “differently enabled” it is still open season on whackadoomians.

“The real tragedy of political correctness is that it has given lying a bad name.” Taz Mopula

If you have been diagnosed Bipolar recently, and up until now have managed to avoid membership in unpopular sub-classes, society is holding a window seat for you…and it’s all the way in the back of the bus. Prejudice, and the cruelty that comes with it, is always predicated on fear of the unknown. Trust me, when it comes to the unknown, mental illness is in its own class; third class.

“We think of the world as a dangerous place and realize too late that we are the most dangerous part of it.” Taz Mopula

The unholy terrain of Mania, with landscapes resembling the nightmare visions of Hieronymus Bosch, is more remote than “wildest” Africa, much less a Cher concert. So brace yourself – all will fear you, some will try to understand you, those who do try to understand you will fail – a small group will accept you as you are and allow you to teach them.

“Share your self; it’s the only thing you have to offer that isn’t readily available elsewhere.” Taz Mopula

At first I was deeply offended when they escorted me to the back of the bus. After a while I came to enjoy it there, I loved my colleagues – the music, humor, food, and camaraderie were so much better. I began to think of my status as a badge of honor. I didn’t mind being on the fringe; it suited me.

“People will always talk about you, and – despite your very best efforts – 90% of what they say will be wrong.” Taz Mopula

But what really stuck in my craw was the mountain of stupidity, assumptions, ignorance, and sheer cruelty that society heaped on us year after year. Remember, if you’re nuts, you’re nuts for life – in the eyes of those around you, no amount of evolution will ever return you to the sane lane.

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

A quick illustration. My first manic episode happened at age 20, the remaining two major ones happened in my mid-to-late 30s. I was in therapy for 17-years and faithfully monitored my recovery, which included medication and careful reliance on a support network. I even wrote a Bipolar Memoir called Invisible Driving, which chronicled my horrific battle with the illness and subsequent recovery. But in the eyes of friends, family, employers, etc. – it’s like losing your virginity – you cannot un-ring a bell.

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

Two years ago, when I was fast approaching my 60th birthday, I initiated a major life change that involved leaving one relationship and beginning another, and leaving my home state of Pennsylvania, where I had spent most of my life, for New Hampshire. I thought about this change very carefully, trying my best to manage it in a way that would minimize any negative impact on those around me. (Bear in mind, it had been nearly 40 years since my first manic episode, and almost 20 years since my last one.)

“There is only one truly authentic way to enjoy success; that is by remaining indifferent to it.” Taz Mopula

Almost without exception, it was assumed by “near and dear” that I was “going-off” – making this dramatic decision not in health, but in a return to madness. That, gentle reader, is how much credit I got for decades of responsibility, facing my illness, and doing the right thing.

“For the sake of convenience be your own best friend. It’s always easy to get in touch with you.” Taz Mopula

In the eyes of society, once you are crazy, you will never be un-crazy. Welcome to the back of the bus.

Stigma Is A Two-Way Street

People Are Always Finding God Prison Gift Shop

As a long-term professional writer, I am very careful, and selective, about what I do and do not say. Like a spy, I know how to offer only the appearance of self-disclosure. As a mentally ill person moving incognito among “sane” citizens, one becomes a skillful actor.

However, I am temporarily discarding this policy. Shamelessness has been a wonderful byproduct of my recovery and there is little I am not willing to do in the battle against mental health stigma.

When I began writing Invisible Driving in 1990, I realized there was no longer any room for privacy, anonymity, and secrets. Terrified, confused, and completely overwhelmed, I painstakingly recreated the bizarre and harrowing odyssey, thereby taking charge of my own healing. That, dear friends, was transformational.

The journey lasted many years; I worked hard. In diverse settings I received kindness, guidance, and wisdom from a wide spectrum of wonderful people. Triumph over fear and shame, acceptance of life as it is, celebration of self, and peace of mind, grew gradually through the incremental process of recovery.

I began life at the very top of the food chain and learned early that – when everything is designed to fit you, and society itself is doing backflips to please you, it is easy to succeed. It is easy to believe you did it yourself. It is easy to believe you are entitled to it. When the world is beneath you, everybody carries just a whiff of stigma, and the mentally ill are at the very bottom of the heap.

But life beat me down, way down, all the way down to the streets, the prisons and of course, the madhouses. There is no lonely like the lonely of a madhouse. Everything was taken from me and I had to rebuild from zero many times. It was a process that might have killed me, but instead, it made me. Today, I live a life beyond my wildest dreams; I am the only person I envy.

Madness took me places most folks could not spell, much less imagine. I had every stupid scrap of entitlement, superiority, and prejudice ripped away – I was reeducated in the realities of life, of being a moral person, of daring to be the very best me, the me that finds joy in contributing to this world without the expectation of benefit. Of all the unexpected blessings of life, ironically it was mental illness that gave me most.

At this point, I regard the desire to stigmatize as a public admission of fear, insecurity, and unapologetic idiocy – like a self-administered learning disability. (We fear what we do not understand, and, to be fair to the apple pie crowd, insanity really is hard to fathom when viewed from the outside. Of course, that’s why I wrote Invisible Driving – to give a name to the unknowable.)

My problem today is an intense desire to stigmatize those who actually believe they are superior to people suffering from an illness. This cruel illusion is revolting and ludicrous; almost like believing one person is better than another because of their skin color. I mean, can you imagine?

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.