IN NOVEMBER, 2015, I published my first book in The Bipolar Expert Series. Now, one year later, we have the second book.
I intended IN SEARCH OF OUR IDENTITY as a standard book on behavior, covering much the same ground as other behavior books, albeit from a bipolar perspective. As it turned out, like my first book in this series, this one took on a life of its own. Throughout every stage, it wrote me rather me writing it.
Essentially, I had to tackle the enduring question of why so many of us feel that we don't fit in, like we don't belong here. Until I came up with some answers, anything I wrote, I was convinced, would only come across as formulistic and hollow.
Then, halfway through the book, my heart nearly gave out on me. My subsequent bypass surgery not only miraculously allowed me to keep living, it turned me into a philosopher. The book took on even more of a sense of being on a journey, of me asking questions but not always finding answers.
The book begins with an account of how my introversion helped set off a manic episode back in the late eighties. I was attempting to adapt to a new job best suited for extraverts. Something had to give, something did.
Thus we have a prime example of a personality trait setting off a mood state. The bipolar literature is strangely silent on this. And unless we know what we're dealing with, we will constantly be blindsided by disaster. In my case, I became unemployable.
Then we set off on our journey, one that started four billion years ago when molecules began self-replicating, which set the scene for genetic reproduction. Suddenly, we're in two worlds: The micro-world of genes and cells and circuits and the macro one of environment and evolution. Both converge on our personal world of social relationships and getting through the day.
Over time, our primitive neural circuitry evolved into brains. At first, these brains specialized in responding to danger. Later, as primates, we became sensitive to our own species. Essentially, we graduated from being stressed by predators to being stressed by each other. A few more upgrades and we were set to rise to the top of the food chain.
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Once we acquire a grasp for the fact that our behavior is based on how we react to our environment, both out in nature and socially, then we can begin to come to grips with what is holding us back. Here, my readers gave me an education: Dealing with people, they told me, was causing them a lot more difficulty than managing their bipolar symptoms.
Knock me over with a feather. I was on to something.
So, suppose you perceive your environment differently than most of those around you. How is that going to affect your relationships with people? What is that going to do to your already vulnerable brain?
Now we move further along in our journey. Our humongous brains have made us masters of the universe, but are we truly sapient? The answer is no. We're not built to "think." We were built to be resourceful. Big difference. Our reactions are not necessarily going to be rational. Neither are those of the people we're dealing with. This poses all manner of challenges.
Compounding matters is the proposition that evolution took a wrong turn at agriculture. This radical shift in our environment resulted in us being stupider, with smaller brains, and more compliant dispositions, leaving us beholden to masters with sociopathic tendencies. And you wonder why we don't fit in.
But this also sets the scene for all that is right about us: Our intuition, our creativity, our capacity to empathize, on and on. Our existence may be a series of accidents, but our singular minds allow us to find meaning. In meaning, we find a reason to live. Somehow, we learn to find our place in a strange and often hostile world without compromising our "true normal."
I was guided in my journey by scientists from a range of disciplines. One of these included Robert Sapolskly of Stanford, who wears two research hats, one as a neurobiologist investing the hippocampus in the lab, and the other as a primatologist tracking baboons in the wild.
I also drew from the golden age of research at the NIMH during the first decade of this millennium when new technology yielded startling new insights into the workings of genes and cells and circuits, not to mention human behavior.
Plus I went further afield into anthropology, history, evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, and animal behavior.
In addition, my own personal experiences enter the narrative, from how I learned to deal with my introversion and my sense of being different to my troubled relationship with my father to the frequent misunderstandings I have with people who see the world a lot differently than I do.
Most important, I was guided by my readers - deeply insightful people who both challenged me and validated me. These included posted comments to articles and blogs I have written, as well as responses to my own informal surveys, not to mention correspondence and face-to-face conversations. Without my readers, everything I have ever written would have amounted to a collection of intellectual conceits, nothing more.
Hopefully, I have produced a work that is worthy of you. You be the judge ...
Praise for My First Book
“John McManamy has produced a brilliant book, north of normal, south of crazy. It’s as good an education about depression and manic states, and about psychiatry in general, as I’ve seen in one place, written from a first-person perspective of someone who’s experienced what he’s writing about. It’s well-informed, based on careful study, explaining complex concepts simply but not simplistically, citing all the right people, and the wrong ones too (on purpose). Read it, and it’ll cure you of your average-itis.” – Nassir Ghaemi, Professor of Psychiatry, Director, Mood Disorders Program, Tufts Medical Center
And From Readers ...
"This is such a valuable book. Not only for people who have the diagnosis of bipolar, but for those who want to understand a bit more about psychiatry, the complexity of mood disorders, or how to understand a loved one with interesting brain wiring. John is ahead of his time in presenting balanced, well-researched information in a manner that is entertaining. A true writer, his words are easily comprehended – especially on such a sophisticated subject matter".
"When it comes to exploring the gray matter between our ears, John’s got chops in this area of the mental health field, period. As a been-there-and-back journalist-turned-expert, he disseminates profoundly complicated layers of history and inside drama into a story the lay person can understand without the glazed-eye effect. No snoring. The man gets your attention and keeps it!"
"I have been reading John McManamy for years and he is compelling, insightful and a fine writer. His thoughts on hypomania feeling the most “normal”, on managing cycles within cycles gives fascinating criticism to the DSM5 definitions that obscure rather than illuminate. …What is most compelling is his experience with the states, medications and choices he writes about. He has “skin in the game”. And that outweighs the excessively neutral tone of academic writing on the disease."
– Herb Lady
"His perspective is refreshing and thought-provoking. He has once again done a great service, not only to people with bipolar disorder but also to their loved ones."
"There are simply not enough of these books for the public to read. McManamy stares directly into the soul …"
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