What follows is an excerpt from my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING. It views manic behavior as a nuanced dance where the subconscious mind actively solicits needed help by commandeering the unwitting cooperation of the conscious mind which resolutely refuses to seek it out.
I’ve been in the advertising business for sixteen years. It’s a fun way to make a living. You meet a lot of really intelligent, really original, and really bizarre people. That’s the best part. You also get paid for being creative, that’s what got me into it in the first place. I’ve written ads for racehorses, antique clocks, tax shelters, vintage automobiles, hot air balloon weekends, even bulletproof vests. I’ve worked for DuPont, TV Guide, Prudential, CertainTeed, various small ad agencies, and of course, Honeywell. I’ve written and produced about every kind of advertising there is, from lavish videos to business cards. I’ve seen a lot of advertising.
The Manic behavior of that fearsome winter was a form of advertising unique in my experience. It was as though my subconscious mind was doing everything in its power to get help for itself. To get help for me. All my actions seemed tailor-made to draw attention, to lead people to the conclusion that I was mad. My insanity was not invisible, I didn’t lock myself up safely in a tower, out of harm’s way. I flaunted my madness, almost daring anyone to point out the obvious. Was my subconscious mind that smart? I think it was. I think it got help for me at last. But first it needed to get my attention. That required a fist, a boot, and a very mean man.
When I was Manic I was the world’s worst listener. The defensive wall of bizarre behavior I built around myself, the battlements, did not allow words in. They only allowed a constant torrent of words out. I knew everything. I was endlessly entertaining. The important question was the extent to which everyone was being delighted by me and acknowledging it. The idea that another person had a piece of useful advice that I might want to listen to was ludicrous. I didn’t need advice. I gave advice.
But if I knew so much and was so sure of myself, why was my behavior so desperate? So needy? It was just the false confidence of Mania. True confidence, so they say, is so quiet that it’s practically silent. I had no confidence at all, about anything. My daughter, my home, my livelihood, my safety, my health, my income, my future. Nothing. I was flailing like a drowning man who grabs onto anything around him. Flailing wildly because inside my soul, inside my heart, was a temple of pure terror. The terror of the man who has walked to the edge of the cliff and gazed down into the burning eternity of Hell. Then turns around only to stare into Satan’s eyes. Panic. Terror.
I’m just an amateur. Just because I see a shrink doesn’t mean that I am a shrink. But this is how I see it. My subconscious mind, accustomed to working in murky, indirect ways, took time to notice the change in me. After all, it left the day-to-day care and feeding of Alistair McHarg to the conscious mind which had a very good track record of being reliable. But this sudden change of style was impossible to deny. All the self-preservation techniques seemed to be gone. In their place, only self-destructive behavior.
At last, the subconscious mind said, “That’s it! I’ve had enough of this bullshit to last me a lifetime! I’ve got to get this crazy motherfucker out from behind the wheel fast or he’s gonna’ get all of us killed.” But every action had to be passed through the filter of the demented, conscious mind.
So, to the conscious mind, Invisible Driving was a brilliant and fun piece of performance art. To the subconscious mind, Invisible Driving was a way of flying a giant distress flag, sending an SOS across the airwaves, shooting up flares at night. It hoped to draw the attention of someone who would put an end to the madness. A sympathetic soul, who understood the pain of mental illness. A knowledgeable soul, who knew the difference between out-of-control and evil. A kind soul, who understood that I was merely a victim of my own genetic design.
The wild humor, the endless laughter, took the place of crying. All the acting out was a kind of crying. The kind of crying which evokes sympathy. The kind of crying which evokes a hug. Except that when expressed this way it evoked no sympathy at all.
My emotions were so volatile that at one moment I could be ecstatically supercharged happy, then, a poignant song on the radio would plunge me instantly into fits of sobbing. There was an aching core of hurt in me, of sorrow and of pain. It was causing me to go to the outer edge of sanity. I needed somebody to see that I needed help, but I didn’t know how to ask. I was crying for help, but it didn’t look like it.My malfunctioning mind was telling me I was fine. In fact I was in desperate shape. My subconscious mind at last found a way to get the help I needed.
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