These were people who saw my real potential and pushed relentlessly, making it impossible to slack off and take short cuts. They brought out the best in me.
Oddly enough, the same can be said of Manic Depression. For me it has been a hard, even cruel teacher; however, without it, my most important emotional and spiritual growth would never have taken place.
Today I know who I am and I enjoy being myself, indeed, there is no one on earth I would rather be. I lead a balanced, fulfilling, and highly productive life. This peace of mind and sense of purpose are largely the result of my relationship with Manic Depression, which has evolved from mere survival to mastery.
Do not imagine that I romanticize this disease, or characterize the excesses of mania as “cool” or “colorful” – I do not. In the 40 years since my first major manic episode I have: engaged in all manner of self-destructive behavior, some of which bordered on suicidal, been fired from jobs, been beaten and left for dead, served time in prison, squandered a small fortune, damaged and/or destroyed innumerable relationships, and spent time in mental hospitals both voluntarily and involuntarily.
From as early on as I can remember I was a fear-driven individual, shy, sensitive, cerebral and profoundly lacking in confidence. My father was a larger than life international celebrity. I am proud of his many accomplishments; however, growing up in his shadow made a bad situation worse.
I discovered drug and alcohol abuse early, routinely relying on them to eliminate pain. “Escape” became my middle name. I was afraid of everything, success/failure, celebrity/obscurity, power/powerlessness, etc. All my life I had been told how much potential I had, but I didn’t want to know. What I did want was to be left alone so that I might fail in obscurity.
My first major episode, at 20, was splashy, but I was not diagnosed until 16 years later. That began a 17-year campaign of therapy, medication, and fearless soul searching. With the aid of an excellent psychologist I did my inner work, strapping on my miner’s helmet and going down into the darkness again and again to face – who knew what?
Manic Depression is comprised of three elements: genetics, emotional/psychological architecture, and life experiences – which act as triggers. By looking at what triggered episodes, and then tracing that back to emotional vulnerabilities, I came to understand myself thoroughly, accurately, and unsentimentally.
I knew I had only two options, change or die. I simply had to rebuild myself from the ground up. A closed, private person by nature, my illness had turned me inside out for all to see, ridicule, and despise. Embarrassment was not an option. In my manic behavior was a clear portrayal of every demon I had. They were monsters, all right, but they were my monsters, and it was my job to tame them.
The process was long, and took tremendous commitment. At times it was very lonely, I wished for someone who understood what I was going though. When I sat down to write my bipolar memoir, Invisible Driving, it was almost as if I was daring my illness to take another run at me. Choosing to live meant choosing to unleash all my power for the very first time. The result was a revelation; I understood at last what I was, and what I was capable of achieving.
Having stared deep into the eyes of this maniacal destroyer there was nothing that could frighten me, and that opened up a different world. I no longer took my value from the opinion others had of me, and as a result became increasingly unselfish. I focused less on what I wanted and more on what I had to offer.
Without my battle with manic depression I would still be that fear-driven little boy, unable to truly give, or receive, love. Manic Depression was a gift, yes – but yikes, that wrapping paper!
Alistair McHarg is the author of Invisible Driving – available on Amazon.
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Last reviewed: 2 Dec 2010