Yesterday I shared that I was struggling with my memoir project. I admitted the difficulty I faced writing about my childhood and my father’s link to organized crime and decided I’d be more productive if I focused for now on my ongoing recovery from bipolar disorder—an illness that derailed my life in the ‘90s—trashed it both personally and professionally.
And as usual, you, my readers, offered wise advice—committing to come along for the ride, offering to ask questions, and suggesting that, perhaps, I was focused too heavily on audience. These comments and so many others provided a clarity I’d been lacking—got me going again. Thanks to each of you for your support and inspiration.
What I took away from all of this was a realization, an understanding that balance between internally and externally driven writing could be key to my success in this project. Could I not use your questions to get me thinking in new ways about my past, but once those questions are offered, answer them first for myself, to generate ideas and insight, before tailoring that material for audience consumption on the other end? A key could be telescoping in and out, finding focus, shifting fields of vision and focusing again.
Maybe a key to writing this is not so much what happened, but how it happened, what it felt like—not so much what, as what it was like, how I felt, what I thought.
I remember clearly thinking that what was happening was my fault, when, in fact, I experienced a huge disconnect—watching myself go crazy, almost from a distance, and being completely powerless to interrupt the process. Probably thinking the illness was my fault created the illusion of control and comfort. On some level I suppose I thought if I had caused it, I could stop it. The human psyche does amazing things to save itself!
So I’m open to any questions you might have, if you have them. Is there anything you have always wanted to ask a former psychiatric patient, but were afraid to–afraid that to ask would be rude? If you could ask me anything, what would it be? I’m curious, not only so I can tailor specific answers, but also so I can get myself thinking about the issue of mental illness in new ways. Just like you may never have been insane, I will never know what it’s like to not have had this experience. I have no real way of knowing this from outside, no way of knowing what you might wonder, what you might think, what bias you might bring to the table.
(Watercolor on paper I painted more than 15 years ago. Click on image to enlarge.)
Yes, I’m largely well these days, but I cannot undo having been psychotic, and I wonder what those of you who have not had a close encounter with “crazy” would like to know about it. Don’t worry. You won’t offend. Honest dialog is essential to erasing stigma and raising awareness. If you don’t have questions, that’s cool too.
But in the meantime, what have you always wanted to know about insanity, but were afraid to ask (let alone go there yourself)?