Hypomania, that’s what. That’s when things get done.
I just finished another bipolar-related book: BrainBomb by Mark Fleming.
Mark’s book is something between a rather frenetic monologue-based autobiography, a novel and an account of bipolar illness in all its “glory”. Set in the 70s and 80s, with British punk scene at its background, it had to appeal to me with my sensitivities, and it didn’t disappoint. It shocked me a bit with the violence described – since I grew a good boy in Poland, I have no way of verifying which of those things actually happened, but Fleming’s book radiates passion and truth. The lead character, Neil Armstrong (who is aware of his name, so to say) is a very straight, very British lad, who’s trying to lead a life of drink, girls and music, only to be interrupted by depression and mania in un-equal amounts.
My bipolar mania has never reached quite the heights described here, but my drinking was quite close, and so were my sexual escapades. Neil doesn’t hide his STDs, risky romances with married ladies, drinking to the degree where his blood sample changes colour. At the same, and I hate to say that, “Brainbomb” shares one characteristic with Marya Hornbacher’s “Madness”: romanticizing the illness. Yes, Neil does end up in hospital, but it doesn’t seem too bad really, and his description of re-arranging shifts for the nurses because he thinks the chart is a colourful toy made me laugh out loud. Yes, Neil gets into risky situations, but except for one he emerges mostly unscathed, and the one time he does get into proper trouble is not connected to the illness, but to music and mushrooms. When Neil gets insomniac, he gets fantasy visions that by themselves form short stories from various historical periods. In a way, I’d worry that if I give this book to a teenager, he’s going to think this bipolar business is quite awesome — or quite inconsequential.
The best parts of Mark’s book aren’t the ones related to bipolar disorder; they’re the ones related to music. It is an amazing book about music, pubs, drinking and having (sometimes very dangerous) rock’n’roll fun. Oh yes, and the protagonist is bipolar, but aren’t we all a bit crazy down at heart, it almost says. In a weird way, I’m going to read Mark’s other book, “Bedlam” now, because I expect it to be really good, but I don’t understand why Chipmunka, a publisher “giving a voice to the survivors of mental illness” would put it out.