I AM an award-winning mental health journalist and author. That was not how I planned my life. Way back in the late sixties, I went to college full of high hopes and expectations, only to crash and burn a couple of years later.
Five or six years after that, I managed to reboot my life in a new country – New Zealand – where I wound up starting a family and graduating with honors from law school. My first real job – this was the early eighties – involved writing summaries of high court decisions for a legal publishing company.
The skills I learned there would prove instrumental to my totally unanticipated new career nearly 20 years later.
Very improbably, after a year in legal publishing, I found myself in a senior editorial position as a financial journalist. I had no idea what I was doing, much less what I was writing about, but I succeeded in learning on the job without getting fired.
By the time I wound up in Australia as a business feature-writer for a major daily in the late eighties, I had achieved a reasonably high degree of proficiency in my craft. As it turned out, a manic episode rendered me totally unemployable.
For several years, I managed to live off my wits, writing as a free-lancer. Then I returned to the States and too many lost years to count. Somehow, I managed to survive one crushing round of depressions after another, but by early 1999 I had reached the end of the road. I had just been diagnosed with bipolar, and for me there were only two ways out.
I chose the first, or - rather - it chose me. I decided to write about my illness. My plan was to learn as I went along. By writing about my illness, I would, over time, become my own expert. And by becoming my own expert, I would begin to make headway with my illness. So it was that I began putting out a free email newsletter, McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Weekly.
SIGN UP FOR MY FREE EMAIL NEWSLETTER
“Knowledge is Necessity” became my tagline. My goal was to help make others - people like me - their own experts.
Writing about my illness turned out to be my salvation, as well as the key to my healing and recovery. Suddenly, my life had meaning and purpose.
The response to my newsletter was overwhelmingly positive. This website, McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web, soon followed. Eventually I was able to eke out a living. I was putting in 70-hour weeks. As well as reading books and journal articles and corresponding with researchers, clinicians, authors, advocates, and patients and loved ones, I was also attending conferences.
On top of that, I was facilitating a Depression and Bipolar Alliance (DBSA) support group in New Jersey.
Five and a half years into it - in late 2004 - I felt sufficiently confident to take on writing a book. I would tackle the scientific and clinical issues from a patient’s perspective. To my knowledge, with regard to my illness, this was the first time this had been done. Patients are supposed to write memoirs and leave the expert stuff to experts. I did not hold out much hope of finding a publisher.As it turned out, my manuscript landed on the desk of an enlightened editor, Sarah Durand, and in October 2006, my book, LIVING WELL WITH DEPRESSION AND BIPOLAR DISORDER, came out.
Several months later, I received a surprise email. The International Conference on Bipolar Disorders - comprising the field's most renowned researchers - was to honor me with a prestigious award at their conference in 2007. The Mogens Schou Award for Public Service. For an appreciation of the company I now found myself in, please check out this link. Finally, after all these years …
By this time, I was living in southern California, seeking out new personal and social outlets, carving out a new identity. I allotted myself more free time, and spent a good deal of it out in nature and in taking up the didgeridoo. A sense of balance entered my life. But for that to happen, I had to let go of my newsletter and cut down on attending conferences.
I stayed in the game by blogging and being involved in mental health advocacy, this time serving on the board of NAMI San Diego. By this time, I was contemplating an existence that had nothing to do with bipolar, but a voice in my head told me I wasn’t done. My friends were telling me the same thing. There was another book or two in me, begging to be written.
So it was that I embarked on The Bipolar Expert Series, a planned series of six books dealing with our illness. As of Dec, 2016, I have completed two books in the series: NOT JUST UP AND DOWN (on mood) and IN SEARCH OF OUR IDENTITY (on behavior). Up next will be a book on recovery, followed by brain science, treatment, and relationships.
When I am not writing about mental health, I am out in nature and playing my didgeridoo. This keeps me mentally and physically healthy and socially and spiritually connected.
Recently, I underwent heart surgery. This shifted my thinking to the point where soon I will be embarking on a long road journey. Who knows where I will end up? I'm looking forward to doing a lot of reporting from the road.
I've dealt with bipolar pretty much all my life. The early warning signs were there as a child and a teen, growing up with a sense of being different and experiencing crushing depressions. I crashed and burned in college during the early seventies. After several lost years, I resurfaced in New Zealand, where I started a family, obtained a law degree, then embarked on a career as a financial journalist.
Everything came crashing down on me in Australia in the late eighties. It was only much later, back in the States in early 1999, following a series of suicidal depressions, that I finally sought help. With acceptance came healing. Soon after, I reinvented myself as a mental health journalist. Suddenly, my life had a sense of meaning and purpose. You can check out this part of my story in the articles in the Stories section of this site.
Bipolar still represents a major challenge in my life. Over the years I have learned to accept the fact that I will be more depressed than I would like to be and more animated than those around me would like me to be.
There are days when I would gladly return my brain to the customer service counter of life. But for what purpose? To wake up normal, shorn of my personality?
For better or worse, this is who I am.
Follow me on the road. Check out my New Heart, New Start blog.