For more than two years, I was the leader of my very own cult – a group of highly diverse and fairly repellant individuals dedicated to the total glorification and worship of yours truly. At one point, I had more than 500 “disciples” – people who actually coughed up their hard-earned dough to receive words of wisdom from yours truly. These came in the form of a monthly missive entitled The Stu Cult Newsletter.
Around this same time, I created and marketed a cartoon strip entitled Phobia Man (The Man Completely Crippled by Fear and Anxiety). Our hero remained in bed all day; he virtually never ventured forth from the sanctuary of his bedroom, which was stocked with numerous television sets and massive supplies of junk food. Yet from within the confines of his cocoon, Phobia Man dispensed brilliant (if somewhat questionable) discourses on the nature of existence and the state of man’s position in the universe.
More importantly, despite his sorry state, Phobia Man experienced many wonderful and amazing adventures (all in his own head, of course).
Both the Stu Cult and the Phobia Man cartoon series ended abruptly when I issued a fake suicide letter to my loyal legions. It was accompanied with a phony obituary, which ran in the Los Angeles Times.
Like my character, I have come to live quite – I don’t want to say happily, because that would be an untruth – (let us say “in harmony”) with my condition. In an odd sort of way, I have come to appreciate just how creative this disorder can be. Hence, the use of the word “adventure” in the title of this tome.
I want to stress that the bulk of the material in my book deals with the manic/obsessive side of my condition. In that sense, this is not meant to be an accurate representation of “my life.” Frankly, I see little point in writing about the depressions – those periods when I was dysfunctional.
Depression – no matter how many words one may write on the subject – is utterly mundane. There is, in the end, nothing to say about it. Manic-depression is exactly what it says. Half the time you’re whacked out of your skull – off on some bizarre flight of fantasy – consequences be damned. The rest of the time you’re flat on your back, or more correctly, probably hiding in your bedroom (in some approximation of the fetal position).
Though I’ve never actually bothered to figure out the exact amount of time, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I have spent approximately half my life in a dysfunctional mode; that is, disengaged, detached, out of it or so crippled by fear and depression that I was all but useless – a dead thing. I consider the amalgamation of this time to be nothing less than wasted years. There was no wisdom gained from my condition, no lessons to be learned, nothing.
This book then, is a journey through mental illness and madness (for it is always madness – the fear of going insane – that is your ultimate enemy).
I have been on this journey my entire life. I’ve been around long enough to know that it will only end when I am dead and gone. I stopped fretting about that long ago; these days I pride myself on the fact that not only am I still here, but I can say – and I truly mean this – that in an odd way (pain and suffering notwithstanding) it’s actually been kind of cool! Would I have chosen to be different, had I had a choice?
If it seems as at times that I am making light of what is indeed a very serious subject matter, I am. Rather, I must. Mental illness is a disease that fights dirty. When you do battle with an enemy that attacks you from behind, without warning, you use whatever’s at hand – bricks, bats, chains, clubs, knives, guns, chairs, saps, pool cues – you name it. You thrash and you kick and you gouge and you bite. You keep fighting until you’re down on the ground, bleeding from your ears and eyes. Then you get up and you fight some more.
I have come to find that one of the most effective weapons in battling the enemy is humor and sarcasm. After all, one of the favorite tricks of this disease is that it takes itself with utter seriousness. And it tries its damndest to convince you to do the same. However, if instead of falling for that ruse, you laugh in its face or spit in its eye, you’ll notice that your enemy is sapped of some of his strength. Oh, he’ll be back at you all right, and with newfound vigor to boot. But you’ve kicked butt for a couple of rounds, and maybe even gotten in some good licks of your own.
All I’m really saying is that making fun of your affliction can be one of the more effective weapons in your arsenal.
Certain obsessions, however, have actually become very near and dear to me. For example, I have a persistent and violent compulsion to spit on any photograph of Whoopi Goldberg that I encounter. (If I’m in a situation where social graces prohibit this, at the very least, I’ll take a pen and black out a couple of her teeth.)
When I’m driving my car, I obsessively swear, curse, give the finger to, make horrible faces at, and in general behave like a certifiable lunatic toward other drivers whom I perceive to be morons and idiots. For some reason, drivers with overly cute personalized license plates are likely to invoke my wrath.
I don’t want to give the impression – given the levity here – that being manic-depressive is any picnic. Despite the fact that the illness is currently in vogue (today, some four million people are on some sort of antidepressant medication), the fact is that this is a horrible, debilitating illness. And don’t kid yourself. You don’t beat this condition. I am simply happy to number myself amongst the survivors. Sadly, there are plenty of people who don’t make it.
If you accept the notion, as I do, that life is suffering – a long malaise, as my friend, author Frederick Exeley puts it – and that we are all, ultimately, terminal cases – that in itself can be a fairly comforting notion. But even if you aren’t able to view things from that slightly skewed point of view, and you find living with manic-depression to be completely intolerable, nobody ever said you couldn’t have a few laughs along the way.
So come, take the ride. Read about other people who are stricken by the condition. Reading about somebody else’s pain is strangely enjoyable. Go on, admit it!
If you’re a fellow sufferer, maybe you’ll pick up a few tips along the way. If not, perhaps you’ll find some moments of levity in these tales. As for me, I guess the best I can hope for is that – God willing – this book won’t wind up in the friggin’ self-help section of the bookstore.