Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Bipolar Express

Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is The Bipolar Express headed your way. 

They say that therapy is the most terrifying adventure you can ever embark on, and, as a 17-year veteran, I understand exactly what is meant by this ominous expression. To get the full benefit of therapy you have to let go absolutely, even though you know there are no guarantees expressed or implied. 

Americans like chrome and spotlights; we like Mr. Clean. But for Bipolar Bears, you step into the light only one way, by going through the dark. All is revealed in the dark. 

In The Dark

All is revealed in the dark
Secrets are unsafe
Owls, bats, foxes
Pinpoint their prey
Pale clouds pass slowly by
Veil the moon, like lingerie
I am a creature of the dark
Silent midnights are my perfect days
Raised in the whispering shadows
Trembling in every hideous cul-de-sac
Of the night’s inhospitable landscape
All is revealed in the dark
In squid ink black I met St. John
No tears left to blind me
Vision as sharp as a raptor
Day is for growing flowers
Laughter of children, bicycle bells
Night, where cold fire of burnt stars
Offers no sympathy or warmth
Is for sight
All is revealed in the dark

Alistair McHarg

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bipolar Cure: Do Thy Inner Work

The 11th Commandment – which addresses mental health - is: Thou Shall Do Thy Inner Work. Without the intense exploration required for self-knowledge there can be no real growth, no healing.

This, of course, is an anti-American concept. We like quick, easy solutions to difficult, complex problems. Most of us lack the courage, patience, and humility for this journey. As a rule, the only people that take it have no alternative.

My father used to say, “No matter where you go, you take your problems with you.” This deceptively simple observation provides the foundation for Cape Wrath, the poem below. For what it’s worth, I have been to all the places mentioned, and I can tell you, my experience supports his point.

Sorry these entries are so short; technically I’m on vacation this week. See you tomorrow.

Cape Wrath

From the fearsome
Craggy beauty
Of Cape Wrath
To the lawless sanctuary
Khyber Pass
To the green endless hunger
Of the Amazon jungle
It’s all the same to me
All of the wild places
Are desperate and frightful
Beautiful, seductive
Each in its own way
You can wander in the world
Like a pariah
A blind man with a stick
Or you can spend your life at home
It doesn’t make a difference
The most dangerous place of all
Is the place
You carry with you every day
In your chest

Alistair McHarg

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bipolar Bear Care Instructions: Crash, Burn, Start Over – Repeat

If you’re in the Bipolar Bear Club, get ready to travel light – because chances are good you’ll be losing everything not just once, but multiple times. Starting from scratch is almost obligatory.

I wrote this poem when that sense of never being done finally dawned on me – there is comfort in simply letting go of control and letting fate do the driving.

A Salty Dog

Tattered sails
Swell with breath
My battered boat
Groans and complains
As it’s guided from
Safe harbor to the
Cold and merciless sea
By invisible hands

I am weary of adventures
Scarred from fighting monsters
Hideous ones
Beautiful ones

All I ever wanted was a cat
A hearth, a dram, a meal
A woman who knew how to sew
A roof and wall to guard against
The cruelties of winter

But fate decrees that I am bound
Bound to the mast
Bound to the sea

Whatever rocky coast
Is my new home
I’ll tell my story there

Whatever rocky coast
Is my new home
I’ll tell my story there

Alistair McHarg 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Diagnosed Bipolar? Welcome To The Back Of The Bus!

While purveyors of politically correct thought and speech would deny it to their death, I mean demise, I mean passing, I mean stroll onto the next plateau – prejudice is very much alive today. Admittedly, it is increasingly unfashionable to ridicule and despise African-Americans, Homo-Americans, Retardo-Americans, and Female-Americans. But before you get too comfortable, let me assure you, it is still open season on cookoo-pants-looney-toon-crazy Americans.

If you have been diagnosed Bipolar recently, and up until now have managed to avoid membership in unpopular sub-classes, society is holding a window seat for you…and it’s all the way in the back of the bus. Prejudice, and the cruelty that comes with it, is always predicated on fear of the unknown. Trust me, when it comes to the unknown, mental illness is in its own class. The unholy terrain of Mania, with landscapes resembling the nightmare visions of Hieronymus Bosch, is more remote than “wildest” Africa, much less a Donna Summer concert. So brace yourself – all will fear you, some will try to understand you, those who do try to understand you will fail – a small group will accept you as you are and allow you to teach them.

At first I was deeply offended when they escorted me to the back of the bus. After a while I came to enjoy it there, I loved my colleagues – the music, humor, food and camaraderie were so much better. I began to think of my status as a badge of honor. I didn’t mind being on the fringe; it suited me. But what really stuck in my craw was the mountain of stupidity, assumptions, ignorance and sheer cruelty that society heaped on us year after year. Remember, if you’re nuts, you’re nuts for life – in the eyes of those around you, no amount of evolution will ever return you to the sane lane.

A quick illustration. My first manic episode happened at age 20, the remaining two major ones happened in my mid-to-late 30s. I was in therapy for 17-years and faithfully monitored my recovery, which included medication and careful reliance on a support network. I even wrote a Bipolar memoir called Invisible Driving, which chronicled my horrific battle with the illness and subsequent recovery. But in the eyes of friends, family, employers, etc. – it’s like losing your virginity – you cannot un-ring a bell.

Two years ago, when I was fast approaching my 60th birthday, I initiated a major life change that involved leaving one relationship and beginning another, and leaving my home state of Pennsylvania, where I had spent most of my life, for New Hampshire. I thought about this change very carefully, trying my best to manage it in a way that would minimize any negative impact on those around me. (Bear in mind, it had been nearly 40 years since my first manic episode, and almost 20 years since my last one.)

Almost without exception, it was assumed by “near and dear” that I was “going-off” – making this dramatic decision not in health, but in a return to madness. That, gentle reader, is how much credit I got for decades of responsibility, facing my illness, and doing the right thing.

In the eyes of society, once you are crazy, you will never be un-crazy. Welcome to the back of the bus.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bipolar Tip #1 – Don’t Give Up

“You just haven’t lived until you’ve had nothing at all.” Taz Mopula

They say that – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Well, when the going gets tough for Bipolar Bears; Bipolar Bears get going too…right out of town. Of course, flight – in whatever form - provides only short-term comfort since the problem you avoid today is the problem that will perpetually reappear until you confront it.

Manic Depression has given me more gifts than I can count, but perhaps the most significant is – the gift of desperation.

When you live in comfort, the seductive allure of escape is everywhere. If all you hold dear is taken away, even your faith in your own sanity, escape becomes increasingly difficult until at last it is impossible. At that moment one experiences a kind of blinding clarity – something perfect and exquisite, terrible and joyful in its beauty. Absolute zero.

Life itself becomes binary – one must choose between struggle and death. If one chooses struggle – and sadly, so many don’t – one must face the truth, however terrifying and distasteful. The resultant education can be overwhelming, the work required may seem impossible, but one soldiers on anyway. You just don’t give up.

I did not experience this epiphany until I was well into my 30s, but at least I did experience it, and in doing so, began the journey of finding my true self. The archaic way to say it would be that I became a man, but I prefer to think of it as becoming a three-dimensional human being; fully aware of my power and my responsibility.

I came to understand something I have believed ever since; ultimately, the only thing of consequence one has is one’s character. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wit & Wisdom of Taz Mopula: The Perfection of Pseudo-Profundity

The use and abuse of quotes has reached epidemic proportions. Intellectual sloth reigns supreme; increasingly it is obvious to even the most casual observer that a quote is attributed improperly if not entirely concocted.

The logic runs thusly. Take an observation, however puerile, vague, and ill conceived, and assign it to a familiar name celebrated for cleverly turned phrases. Wilde, Churchill, Franklin, and Einstein are always safe, while many practitioners prefer more obscure sources like Gide, Bierce, and Parker.

But manic creativity refuses to let well enough alone, so I, dissatisfied with the entire arsenal of actual quotes by real people, created my own toolkit of wisdom; bite-sized thought nuggets suitable for framing or needlepoint.

However, I knew if I claimed these gems as my own they would not get the credit due them, so – like the child that creates an imaginary friend to blame sins upon, I invented an imaginary sage upon whom I could hang pearls of wisdom.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Taz Mopula. Feel free to use any or all of this sampling of Mr. Mopula’s acumen, but make certain to attribute properly!

"Arrogance and intelligence are well-acquainted; but arrogance and wisdom are strangers." Taz Mopula


"In the future, everyone will be obscure for 15 minutes." Taz Mopula

"Learn to speak the truth; it is helpful to be fluent in a foreign language." Taz Mopula


“It's lonely at the top. Then again, it's lonely at the bottom too, plus, the service is really bad." Taz Mopula


“To live happily it either is or is not essential that one learns to embrace self-contradictory concepts.” Taz Mopula


"Where you go to college is unimportant. However, where you go to high school is crucial; because you will never leave." Taz Mopula


"Share your self; it's the only thing you have to offer that isn't readily available elsewhere." Taz Mopula


"No matter how long you nurse a grudge it will never become healthy." Taz Mopula


"There are two kinds of people in the world. First, people who believe there are only two kinds of people in the world. Next, people who understand it can never be that simple." Taz Mopula

Friday, September 24, 2010

Introducing My Bipolar Blog: Rex

Gentle Reader:

When I was a little boy in Edinburgh I could not have imagined that one day I would be America’s Favorite Manic Depressive. This mantle of greatness was thrust upon me by fate; not pursued. Decades of pain and labor have taught me what it is - a gift, an opportunity to be of service.

Bipolar Disorder is no mere illness; it tortures and murders. I take my revenge on it by turning bitter experience into hope for others. My blog will always be about shedding light on this mysterious, terrifying, and taboo topic.

While caustic humor is my weapon of choice, brutal honesty and self-disclosure are also vital. Whatever serves the truth is useful. You will find that humility, gratitude, and the quest for honesty form the core of all my writing.

About Rex. Twenty years ago I sat in the smoldering remains of the life I’d been living, having crashed off my 3rd and last major manic episode. As I gradually rebuilt my life I returned to my first literary love – poetry – which I’d avoided for ages. Rex was one of the first poems I wrote.

No matter how slowly I go when I’m reading this aloud, it always seems to race by; all those years compressed into just a few lines. When I’m done, the audience reaction is predictable. First, stunned silence and vacant stares. Then, enthusiastic applause; accompanied by quivering lips as the more sensitive listeners force back tears.

Maybe it’s not such a great poem, it’s hard for me to tell. What is great, though, and miraculous, is that I lived to write it. And because I did, I offer my experience, strength and hope to you – whether you are a Bipolar Bear too or you are here because of a friend, family member, loved one, or colleague.

See you tomorrow 


Born a prince, raised in a castle
Mother was kind, father was mad
A king not above eating his young

In order to survive I grew
Smaller, weaker, more bent
On self destruction with each year
Then one crimson morning
Fate hurled me into battle like a spear

I lived in the company of demons
Marching through landscapes of terror
Villages burned, crows pecked carrion
Howls of lamentation blew through the air
Like madrigals and monks chanting prayers

Courage, an unknown flower
Grew from inside my despair
Compassion emerged from the darkness
Of my cruel and damaged heart

Miraculously I triumphed
And was awarded with the throne
Now must I become a righteous King
Wise, gentle, and brave
How shall I be it if I have never seen it?

Alistair McHarg