by Alistair McHarg
This book is simply “Extippitox squatchifromp” if I might quote the author. From page one this book grabs your attention desperately and promises not to let go.
There are moments where you’ll wonder about your eyes simply due to the author’s choice of words. He spins sentences in tighter circles than any midway ride I have ever seen, and all the while baring his soul to the reader. The book tells of Alistair’s climb out of a place that seems both dark and wonderful until we learn of the pain buried beneath.
Readers with bipolar disorder will no doubt find in Mr. McHarg a comrade, while those without will find their understanding of the disorder expanded in a way that text books can’t match on any level. Everyone who reads will find their vocabulary expanded with several nonsensical words that somehow make complete sense within the confines of the book.
I can’t condone or recommend the activities described by the book, but the description of it is perfect and a great introduction to a manic episode. There is joy, exhilaration and excitement in every moment of McHarg’s description of the activity he calls Invisible Driving. But there is also darkness, lurking unseen and only brought out at night; and just like Bipolar Disorder this darkness holds dangers unseen, revealed only when night falls.
As the meat of the story starts we see how Alistair struggles still, like all of us with a mental illness do. He talks frankly about his fears of relapse, and in relaying one of his episodes of mania he provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the way the illness impacts those who suffer with it. She describes the manic episode with the random thoughts, the rapid attack of ideas, the breakneck speed of everything and everything around them. Then he describes the eventual and inevitable collapse into despair.
He describes the impact of Bipolar on all the elements of his life with brilliant phrases, “When the Mania struck, my genuine affection for women turned into something like cannibalism.” In his mania, he finds that cannibalistic appetite spreading into other areas of his life. But he didn’t care, he was a god! Or he felt like one, and with that he shares the truth of many with Bipolar – he openly admits that he loved the mania.
The frenetic pace he sets as he describes wonderfully the mania he is in by sharing one exploit after another, separated by a kind of word explosion that reinforces the chaos of thought he is trapped in. As the episode continues, the pace picks up. Everything moves faster until all control is lost. In his mania, everything he is seems amplified, while everything he is not arrives like a thunderhead. Eventually the storm in his mind reaches a crescendo, lightning blazing and thunder booming.
The storm raged on and Alistair talks of missed deadlines, broken promises, angry friends… and often these things overlapped.
Then the rain comes.
McHarg writes “As long as I was moving, I didn’t have to face my illness.” As everyone knows, you can’t run forever. After a phone call from his ex-wife, in Mama Bear mode due to his erratic behavior and potential dangers to his daughter, he went on an angry march through the city. I saw how the shiny surface of my Manic euphoria cracked, revealing the tempest within.”
The rain continued, building to a downpour.
Anyone who has suffered from Depression knows how dark things can get, but those without Bipolar – those in a normal frame of mind – have a shorter fal+l to the bottom. Falling from the heights of a Manic episode into the deepest part of Depression is like stepping off a 10 story building. I haven’t seen that crash described so well, and WHAT a crash it is. The desperation to hold on to the mania, fueled by alcohol and pot as he dances frantically in the tiny room he now calls home. Then he begins destroying even that, and the new relationship that had held things together for him.
When he finds himself in a Psych Unit, the crumbling of everything he had built up in his mind crescendos. Eventually Mr. McHarg realizes that his brain has betrayed him. As the book ends, Alistair describes the self hatred and the slow crawl toward forgiveness from those he had hurt in excruciating simplicity. The book closes with an admission of complacency and relapse.
This book is a worthy read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of Bipolar Disorder, or for anyone looking for an entertaining and voyeuristic glimpse into the mind of madness and recovery.