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Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania

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Overview

Electroboy is an emotionally frenzied memoir that reveals with kaleidoscopic intensity the terrifying world of manic depression. For years Andy Behrman hid his raging mania behind a larger-than-life personality. He sought a high wherever he could find one and changed jobs the way some people change outfits: filmmaker, PR agent, art dealer, stripper-whatever made him feel like a cartoon character, invincible and bright. Misdiagnosed by psychiatrists and psychotherapists for years, his condition exacted a terrible price: out-of-control euphoric highs and tornadolike rages of depression that put his life in jeopardy.

Ignoring his crescendoing illness, Behrman struggled to keep up appearances, clinging to the golden-boy image he had cultivated in his youth. But when he turned to art forgery, he found himself the subject of a scandal lapped up by the New York media, then incarcerated, then under house arrest. And for the first time the golden boy didn’t have a ready escape hatch from his unraveling life. Ingesting handfuls of antidepressants and tranquilizers and feeling his mind lose traction, he opted for the last resort: electroshock therapy.

At once hilarious and harrowing, Electroboy paints a mesmerizing portrait of a man held hostage by his in-satiable desire to consume. Along the way, it shows us the New York that never sleeps: a world of strip clubs, after-hours dives, and twenty-four-hour coffee shops, whose cheap seductions offer comfort to the city’s lonely souls. This unforgettable memoir is a unique contribution to the literature of mental illness and introduces a writer whose energy may well keep you up all night.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
As a child, Andy Behrman exhibited the same obsessive-compulsive tendencies and heightened sense of self that characterized other members of his family, and during high school -- bothered by frequent, destructive impulses he couldn't control -- Andy saw his first psychiatrist. Meeting with little success, Andy also sought help in college when he fell into a debilitating depression and somehow managed to graduate. But post-graduation, he developed a frantic need to keep moving at increasing rates of speed, harnessing this fearful stamina and propelling himself into the vortex of stylishly untamed young New York professionals in the 1980s.

Convincing the parents of his friends to invest in a film he planned to produce, Andy used the money instead to finance his own high-end lifestyle; he accepted a job at Giorgio Armani, only to steal thousands of dollars' worth of clothing. But Andy avoided the headlines of the local tabloids until he became employed by the controversial pop artist Mark Kostabi and was discovered forging the artist's signature on copies of his paintings, which were, arguably, forgeries themselves.

For sufferers of manic depression, that "sense of control" is really a spiraling descent into complete turmoil, but for years Andy Behrman was able to camouflage his raging madness as a flamboyant, larger-than-life personality. Finally, when Andy was convicted of fraud, he was no longer able to rely on the antidepressants, tranquilizers, alcohol, and other drugs with which he had medicated himself. Electroboy is every bit exhibitionistic as the author himself; a candid story of the tortures of mental illness by a writer who illustrates with absolute clarity a world in which nothing is clear. (Spring 2002 Selection)

From the Publisher
"Electroboy is as surreal as life can get, proving that truth is stranger than fiction. Andy Behrman’s nightmare anecdotes are addicting."
-Eric Bogosian, author of Mall

"What a wild, mind-ripping, hellacious, and hysterical ride! Like some cranked-up, amoral Horatio Alger trapped in the dark fun house of his own brain, Andy Behrman is the stuff demented legends are made of. Electroboy is a brilliant, riveting instant classic of the American dream run amok."
-Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight

"Pull down the safety bar, because Electroboy, like the manic depression it limns, is a roller-coaster ride of white-knuckled highs and lows. Courageous and dazzling--a heartbreaking journey into the mind untamed."
-Deborah Copaken Kogan, author of Shutterbabe

"Without ever sounding self-serving or apologetic, Behrman tells the story of a man utterly at the mercy of his impulses. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying, always fascinating."
-John Taylor, author of Falling

"This stark and unsettling memoir mimics the patterns of the manic mind. An astonishing story of uncontrolled desire told by one of the most endearing madmen you’ll ever encounter."
-Katie Roiphe, author of Still She Haunts Me

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly
Personal accounts of mental illness can provide insight into the mind's complexities not only for the public but for specialists seeking better treatments for their patients. Freud's theory of paranoia, for example, was richly informed by his reading of Dr. Daniel Paul Schreber's Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. But in Behrman's account, it's unclear whether the author's descriptions of his psychological struggles are intended to clarify his experience of illness or to exploit the sensationalistic aspects of his manic depression (drug binges, sexual escapades and treatment with electroshock therapy) for fun and profit. The crux of Behrman's narrative involves his work as the publicist for pop artist Mark Kostabi. After helping Kostabi achieve fame, Behrman, along with an artist in Kostabi's studio, conspired to make and sell "fake" Kostabis an endeavor that culminated in the author's arrest and conviction for conspiracy to defraud. Although Behrman never discusses the relationship between his crime and his mental illness, the reader can deduce that the fraud was tied to his long history of deeds demonstrating tension between a desire to be loved and a desire to be guilty and punished (Behrman also worked as a prostitute and amassed significant debts). His prose suffers from an abundance of clinical editorializations and attention to the superficial, like brands of clothing and beer. This last offense gives the text its exhibitionistic, gossip-column style, which muffles the obviously tortuous aspects of the author's bouts with manic euphoria and paralytic depression. The genuine and compelling aspects of Behrman's disorder become subservient to the unfortunate but undeniable pleasures ofschadenfreude. Agent, Suzanne Gluck. (On-sale Feb. 19) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Behrman here adds to the crowded genre of mental illness autobiography, which is inhabited by so many fine titles (including Andrew Solomon's An Atlas of Depression, which just won a National Book Award) that new entries must provide a different perspective or superior writing to merit a place on library shelves. Presumably, what is novel here is Behrman's focus on the manic aspect of bipolar disorder and on electroshock therapy. Behrman's tale of an out-of-control life of art forgery, sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, and eventual incarceration is told in a straightforward and forthright fashion, if a bit repetitiously. Throughout the saga, he seems to have unlimited funds, even when living on disability benefits, so clearly he has more resources than the average patient. He also doesn't discuss his depressions in much detail, so the picture seems somewhat one-sided. Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind (LJ 10/1/95) remains both the best-written and the most informative autobiography available on manic depression, while Martha Manning's Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface (HarperSanFrancisco: HarperCollins, 1996) is an informative, and even amusing, account of her electroshock treatments for depression. These titles are a better bet for small libraries; Behrman's book is recommended as an added title for larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/01.] Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut memoir about art forgery, Lithium, Bloomingdale's, and electroshock therapy, among other things.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812967081
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/11/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Andy Behrman is a manic depressive who has undergone nineteen electroshock treatments. He has worked as a PR agent and an art dealer. His writing has been featured most recently in The New York Times Magazine. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he knows most of the all-night diners and after-hours bars in the major cities across the country. He currently lives mania-free on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can reach him at www.electroboy.com.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

I’ve got to be strong
And try to hang on
Or else my mind may well snap
And my life will be lived for the thrills

-Dr. Everett Scott
The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Electroboy is a memoir. However, certain names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals whose paths crossed mine at a time in their lives from which they have since moved on.

January 6, 1991.
1.Bleach bathtub, toilet, and sink
2.Make Holocaust documentary
3.Start tofu/tuna diet
4.Work out five days/week
5.Buy new scale
6.Confirm $35,000 wire transfer from Art Collection House
7.Open Munich bank account
8.Open escrow account for rent
9.Mail $20,000 to American Express
10.Bring $2,700 to Dr. Kleinman
11.Submit claims to Blue Cross/Blue Shield
12.Go to Metpath lab for lithium level
13.Pick up lithium and Prozac
14.Buy more Kiehl’s Extra Strength Styling Gel
15.Get Lara’s psychiatrist’s phone #
16.Get Pamela’s astrologist’s phone #
17.Tanning salon
18.Visit Auschwitz
19.South Beach or Bahamas?
20.Book trip with Dad to Galápagos
21.Make reservations at Chanterelle
22.Write novel and screenplay
23.Read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
24.Pick up Liquid-Plumr
25.Buy a dog

Preface
Flying High

In Manhattan, even at 5:00 a.m., it’s easy to find someone to talk to if you can’t sleep. There’s an entire network of actors, writers, bartenders, prostitutes, and drug dealers hanging out in after-hours bars and clubs across the city, waiting to transition from vodka and cocaine to orange juice, pancakes, and eggs. Somewhere in the East Village, guys with names like Edgardo and León sell coke to kids who snort it in unisex bathrooms. In a theater in Times Square, hustlers called Cody and Shane rush into cabs and limos and back to bedrooms and hotel rooms for $150 private shows. At a bar on the Upper East Side, two women laugh loudly-or is the one adjusting her skirt a man? An off-duty bartender, a guy in his late twenties with a healthy tan and curly blond hair, vividly describes to the bartender and a few customers his most recent group-sex scene, a private party where he and his buddies all banged one of the other guys’ girlfriends. “We worked her over for more than three hours,” he says. He does a shot of tequila and grins. A very thin thirty-five-year-old woman, with long chestnut brown hair, tan skin, and shiny pink lipstick, wearing a tight-fitting dress and strappy high heels, brags about the professional hockey player she fucked the night before. “He’s a very well known athlete-he went down on me for more than an hour and then fucked me like I’ve never been fucked before,” she says. I happen to be an art dealer, which someone once told me at a Soho opening was a notch above drug dealer on the career ladder. But tonight I might as well be a prostitute. After quite a few lines of cocaine and more than ten shots of vodka, I find myself trying to sell a Kostabi painting for $3,000 to a minor-league porn star (he tells me he’s only done a handful of films). Chad is in his midthirties, big and muscular, with huge hands that envelop the shot glass. The more coke we do, the closer he seems to meeting my asking price. He’s in New York hustling for the month and wiring money back to his wife and two kids in Las Vegas. I’m telling him that he can flip the painting for $5,000 in a day because I’m giving him a price that’s even lower than wholesale, or he can wait to take it to Christie’s and maybe get even more money at auction. He actually seems interested and takes my card. I stash my to-do list in my pocket and buy a kamikaze for each of us and a round of drinks for a group of faceless people across the bar speaking what sounds like a Slavic language, although the bartender, Mike, tells me it’s Turkish. But it’s nearly dawn and I’m drunk and wired, so my linguistic skills aren’t quite there. It’s too late to start talking to them about Turkey. Actually, I don’t know much about Turkey except what the capital is. But I really want to talk to them and be a part of their group and its momentum, even if it’s just to tell them I’ve heard about Ankara. Time is kind of frozen, and I feel like I’m going to live forever. I fear I’m going to be awake all night and can’t imagine my head resting on my pillow. Will I ever sleep again? I don’t sleep much-maybe two or three hours a night, sometimes not at all for a day or two at a time-so I end up killing a fair amount of my time hanging out downtown, drinking and doing drugs with my insomniac friends. I like the night. I’m scared that it’s going to get light out soon, so I leave these people and journey back to the Upper West Side, which seems as far away as Poughkeepsie. In the cab, I throw my head back. I’m going to force myself to get some sleep and hide from the impending brightness-it’s only minutes away.

6:35 a.m.
I’m lying between my chocolate brown, maroon, and hunter green paisley Ralph Lauren sheets wearing Calvin Klein briefs and feeling very un-Lauren, and frantic and guilty for wearing Calvin Klein briefs. I start worrying about whether or not it’s acceptable to wear Calvin Klein briefs and sleep with a Ralph Lauren comforter. At last I decide that it’s perfectly okay to mix and match. The elastic is irritating me, so I push the briefs down and they get lost in the sheets for a few days. Now I’m totally naked and relieved. Is it okay to sleep alone naked? I won’t tell anyone.

These sheets are supposed to be comfortable. That’s what the saleswoman told me-something about the high thread count.

Six hundred. She should recommend sleeping naked to her customers. But the dramatic swirling pattern agitates me. $100,000 split between Dave and me isn’t fair. I’m in the mood for French toast. I can’t get comfortable, so I get up and put on Abba’s “Waterloo,” turn on the lights, and start counting $100 bills from a shoe box I keep underneath my bed. Fifteen minutes later I’ve got $85,000. I double-check it. This time it comes to $83,000.

Shit. I’m not going to count it again. I put three 3-inch-thick piles of cash back into the navy blue shoe box with “Ralph Lauren” embossed in gold on it. There’s also 25,000 deutsche marks in the box-about $10,000. This is my German reserve, my strudel money. I put it back under the bed. I rubber-band $50,000, bring it into the kitchen, and stack it neatly in the freezer next to some Perdue chicken breasts, an old pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, a frosty bottle of Absolut, some half-empty ice-cube trays, and a bottle of amyl nitrate. It’ll be safe here. I’ll probably go through it quickly anyhow.

I get back into bed. Dave is a fucking cheat. He doesn’t even deserve a dime on this deal. I’d love a bagel. The trucks outside sound like rockets being launched. They carry milk, soda, fruit, and beer. All of this will end up in supermarkets today. I walk back into the kitchen, take an Amstel Light from the refrigerator, and swallow three blue Klonopin and two plain white Ambien to try to knock myself out. I look in the mirror. Five more pounds to go. Legs look good. Big deal. That’s a genetic thing. From my balcony, I see a man walking his cocker spaniel. I open the sliding glass door and drop the beer bottle four floors down onto the street. Just see him as a moving target and feel the urge. It doesn’t hit him, or his dog, but he looks up and curses. Asshole. I give him a slight nod. Go through the mail. Pay some bills. After twenty minutes I realize that the pills aren’t working. I can’t get myself to fall asleep. This stuff is crap. Thank God the fucking insurance company foots the bill for this shit and not me. I get into bed and try jerking off to a video, but that doesn’t work either. Probably because I’m so fucked-up and exhausted. I’m not in the mood for phone sex either. I throw on a pair of jeans (no briefs) and a black cashmere turtleneck. I’ve got to get out of my apartment and go somewhere. A diner, another after-hours bar, or for a walk up Madison Avenue.

Early-morning window shopping. Fuck it. I pack my passport and prescriptions, a suit, and a dozen rolled-up canvases, then reach into the freezer and grab a rubber-banded wad of money. I feel like I should wear a matching black cashmere mask over my face. I’m stealing from my own freezer. An inside job. I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Kleinman at 8:30 a.m. Fuck him. He’ll get his cash either way. Press for the elevator. Beer in hand. Good morning to the doorman. I’m not worried what he thinks. I hail a taxi. Where to? Kennedy Airport, I guess. I open the window and let the breeze blow on my face as we cross the park. We’re picking up speed. Thank God.

9:30 a.m.
There’s a flight to Tokyo stopping in Los Angeles, so I buy a ticket with cash. $8,600. Grab a hot dog with ketchup and onions. $3. The plane smells like Dove soap. Everyone in first class was probably showering at the same time this morning. It’s a nice smell. Still, something tells me that this is going to be a painfully long flight. Usually it’s fourteen hours. Time for “life-jacket follies.” I already feel restless, and we haven’t been in the air for more than two hours. That must be Ohio down below. The plane is filled with Japanese tourists. On my way to the bathroom I notice a few Madonna look-alikes with bleached blond hair sitting in coach. I squeeze a pimple on the side of my nose, and some pus squirts on the mirror. I leave it. I hate this flight. I really prefer to keep moving, and the layover makes me anxious. I stay on the plane. It’s like coming down from a good cocaine high and waiting for the next “crew” to arrive with a supply of new “provisions.” But it was the first available flight, and I’m in a rush. Got to get to Tokyo to sell art and make some deals. I’ve done it tens of times before, but this time I feel strange. Too energetic. I haven’t slept in two nights. And none of the medications are calming me down. We’re flying near clouds that seem like they’re in arm’s reach. If I could just stick my tongue out the window and suck one of those amorphous nimbus or cumulus or whatever-Mrs.-Robinson-called-them-in-fourth-grade clouds deeply into my lungs, maybe I could get rid of this feeling. I turn toward the young Japanese woman sitting next to me. Eigo-o hanashi masu ka? Yes, I speak English.

In fact, she speaks perfect English. Her name is Emiko. Emiko Kawaguchi. River-Mouth. That’s a silly name. At least in English. She could be an Indian maybe. Little River-Mouth. That sounds normal. She’s wearing a Jewish star around her neck. She could be Jewish, too. I ask. She giggles. She tells me that a Jewish friend gave it to her for Christmas. I tell her I’m Jewish. She gets excited. Don’t get so excited, Emiko. She asks me about the skateboard with a skull and crossbones dangling from my left earlobe. I tell her that I’m not in a religious cult or anything and that I recently had it pierced in Milan. I’m an art dealer, I tell her. That sounds strange. She loves Haring. Basquiat? Yes, but not as much. The conversation is painfully staccato. I can’t keep this up for eight more hours with Miss Emiko. I want to bail out. I ask the stewardess for a vodka to wash down a Klonopin. There’s turbulence. I could do a much better job flying this jet plane than our pilot. I should walk into the cockpit and demand to take control. Ask nicely like my parents taught me. How hard could it be? Don’t you just switch on the automatic pilot? But I wouldn’t want to go to jail. Emiko looks at the yellow pills in the palm of my hand and giggles with her hand over her mouth.
We’re flying at 35,000 feet, and the sun beats down on me through the window. I’ve slipped into the Land of Stiff Neck and Drool, a warm and sunny place. I’m just about to start kissing and sucking on my ex-girlfriend Allison’s breasts when the stewardess bumps into my left shoulder and I abruptly straighten up in my seat. Dream ruined. Is it a dream? Is it day or night? My contact lenses are dry and I’m thirsty. I take two Prozac, two more Klonopin, one lithium, and one Anafranil. I try to squeeze my feet back into my boots, but I think I’ve gained some weight on this flight. I flip through Vanity Fair for the eleventh time. I do not care for Demi Moore. I sample all the scent tabs. Descent. Seat backs in their upright position. I walk off the plane with my carry-on bag and canvases and wait for my luggage at the baggage claim. Then I make my way through customs after my long and rehearsed explanation that I am carrying my own paintings and that I’m an artist. I am. I take a cab to the Akasaka Prince Hotel. I don’t know if I’m exhausted or wide awake or hungry or horny. I phone the concierge and ask them to send up extra towels. I take a half-hour shower. I check out the view from the thirty-eighth floor onto Akasaka-tons of bright neon and Tokyo Tower. For a minute I think I can see H&H Bagels in the distance. That must mean I need to get something in my stomach. The last thing I really ate was a hot dog at the airport. God, Manhattan is fourteen hours away. By plane.

Oz
Manic depression is about buying a dozen bottles of Heinz ketchup and all eight bottles of Windex in stock at the Food Emporium on Broadway at 4:00 a.m., flying from Zurich to the Bahamas and back to Zurich in three days to balance the hot and cold weather (my “sweet and sour” theory of bipolar disorder), carrying $20,000 in $100 bills in your shoes into the country on your way back from Tokyo, and picking out the person sitting six seats away at the bar to have sex with only because he or she happens to be sitting there. It’s about blips and burps of madness,
moments of absolute delusion, bliss, and irrational and dangerous choices made in order to heighten pleasure and excitement and to ensure a sense of control. The symptoms of manic depression come in different strengths and sizes. Most days I need to be as manic as possible to come as close as I can to destruction, to get a real good high-a $25,000 shopping spree, a four-day drug binge, or a trip around the world. Other days a simple high from a shoplifting excursion at Duane Reade for a toothbrush or a bottle of Tylenol is enough. I’ll admit it: there’s a great deal of pleasure to mental illness, especially to the mania associated with manic depression. It’s an emotional state similar to Oz, full of excitement, color, noise, and speed-an overload of sensory stimulation-whereas the sane state of Kansas is plain and simple, black and white, boring and flat. Mania has such a dreamlike quality that often I confuse my manic episodes with dreams I’ve had. On a spree in San Francisco I shop for French contemporary paintings, which I absolutely love, and have to have on my walls. I spend the next two days in the gallery obsessing over the possible choices. I am a madman negotiating prices with the dealer. I’m in a state of euphoria and panicked about the prices, but I go ahead and buy them anyway, figuring I’ll be able to afford them somehow. Two weeks later the paintings arrive, in huge crates, at my apartment in New York. I’m shocked. I really did buy them. I own them now. I could have sworn that weekend was a dream.

Mania is about desperately seeking to live life at a more passionate level, taking second and sometimes third helpings on food, alcohol, drugs, sex, and money, trying to live a whole life in one day. Pure mania is as close to death as I think I have ever come. The euphoria is both pleasurable and frightening. My manic mind teems with rapidly changing ideas and needs; my head is cluttered with vibrant colors, wild images, bizarre thoughts, sharp details, secret codes, symbols, and foreign languages. I want to devour everything-parties, people, magazines, books, music, art, movies, and television. In my most psychotic stages, I imagine myself chewing on sidewalks and buildings, swallowing sunlight and clouds. I want to go to Machu Picchu, Madagascar, Manitoba. Burundi, Berlin, and Boise (Berlin wins-I absolutely need to watch the Wall come down-CNN coverage isn’t good enough for me).

When things quiet down in the slightest, it’s hard to lie in bed knowing that someone is drinking a margarita poolside at a hotel in Miami, driving 100 miles per hour down the Pacific Coast Highway, or fucking at the Royalton Hotel. I have to get out and consume. Those are the nights I might end up hailing a cab to Kennedy Airport and boarding a random flight. Once I found myself in St. Louis, once in Vienna. (It’s better to end up in Vienna.) I want to be a chef, a model, an architect, a surgeon, and an astronaut. My mind consumes information at an incredible rate, and I organize this overflow using an intricate system, printing images in my head as I take in the data, laying it out visually in my mind, and later transcribing the images to notes. For example, I can visualize an image of letters, memos, calendars-even portions of dialogue. It’s like having a photographic memory, except I am consciously aware of processing the information.

Manic depression, or bipolar disorder, is a disease that crippled me and finally brought me to a halt, a relatively invisible disease that nobody even noticed. Its symptoms are so elusive and easy to misread that seven psychotherapists and psychiatrists misdiagnosed me. Often the manic phase is mild or pleasant and the doctor sees the patient during a down cycle, misdiagnosing the illness and prescribing the wrong medication. One doctor treated me for severe depression with antidepressant medication that drastically increased my mania, turning me into a high-speed action figure. Another believed that I was just under too much pressure and needed to find myself a less stressful work environment. Yet another suggested group therapy as a way to improve my interpersonal skills and to draw me out of my depressio n.
I was so entrenched in the manic-depressive behavior (or was it my personality?) that I was certainly in no place to make a judgment about my own condition. Today I can diagnose my moods and behavior, differentiating between extreme happiness, too much caffeine, and mania.

More than two million Americans suffer from manic depression, usually beginning in adolescence and early adulthood; millions more go undiagnosed. It runs in families and is inherited in many cases, although so far no specific genetic defect associated with the disease has been found. Manic depression is not simply flip-flopping between up and down moods. It’s not a creative spirit, and it’s certainly not joie de vivre. It’s not about being wild and crazy. It’s not an advantage. It’s not schizophrenia. My euphoric highs were often as frightening as the crashes from them-out-of-control episodes that put my life in jeopardy. Contrary to what most psychiatrists believe, the depression in manic depression is not the same as what unipolar depressives report. My experience with manic depression allowed me very few moments of typical depression, the blues or melancholy. My depressions were tornadolike-fast-paced episodes that brought me into dark rages of terror.

Manic depression for me is like having the most perfect prescription eyeglasses with which to see the world.

Everything is precisely outlined. Colors are cartoonlike, and, for that matter, people are cartoon characters. Sounds are crystal clear, and life appears in front of you on an oversized movie screen. I suppose that would make me the director of my own insanity, but I can only wish for that kind of control. In truth, I am removed from reality and have no direct way to connect to it. My actions are random-based on delusional thinking, warped intuition, and animal instinct. When I’m manic, my senses are so heightened, I’m so awake and alert, that my eyelashes fluttering on the pillow sound like thunder.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Preface

Flying High

In Manhattan, even at 5:00 a.m., it's easy to find someone to talk to if you can't sleep. There's an entire network of actors, writers, bartenders, prostitutes, and drug dealers hanging out in after-hours bars and clubs across the city, waiting to transition from vodka and cocaine to orange juice, pancakes, and eggs. Somewhere in the East Village, guys with names like Edgardo and León sell coke to kids who snort it in unisex bathrooms. In a theater in Times Square, hustlers called Cody and Shane rush into cabs and limos and back to bedrooms and hotel rooms for $150 private shows. At a bar on the Upper East Side, two women laugh loudly-or is the one adjusting her skirt a man? An off-duty bartender, a guy in his late twenties with a healthy tan and curly blond hair, vividly describes to the bartender and a few customers his most recent group-sex scene, a private party where he and his buddies all banged one of the other guys' girlfriends. "We worked her over for more than three hours," he says. He does a shot of tequila and grins. A very thin thirty-five-year-old woman, with long chestnut brown hair, tan skin, and shiny pink lipstick, wearing a tight-fitting dress and strappy high heels, brags about the professional hockey player she fucked the night before. "He's a very well known athlete-he went down on me for more than an hour and then fucked me like I've never been fucked before," she says. I happen to be an art dealer, which someone once told me at a Soho opening was a notch above drug dealer on the career ladder. But tonight I might as well be a prostitute. After quite a few lines of cocaine and more than ten shots of vodka, I find myself trying to sell a Kostabi painting for $3,000 to a minor-league porn star (he tells me he's only done a handful of films). Chad is in his midthirties, big and muscular, with huge hands that envelop the shot glass. The more coke we do, the closer he seems to meeting my asking price. He's in New York hustling for the month and wiring money back to his wife and two kids in Las Vegas. I'm telling him that he can flip the painting for $5,000 in a day because I'm giving him a price that's even lower than wholesale, or he can wait to take it to Christie's and maybe get even more money at auction. He actually seems interested and takes my card. I stash my to-do list in my pocket and buy a kamikaze for each of us and a round of drinks for a group of faceless people across the bar speaking what sounds like a Slavic language, although the bartender, Mike, tells me it's Turkish. But it's nearly dawn and I'm drunk and wired, so my linguistic skills aren't quite there. It's too late to start talking to them about Turkey. Actually, I don't know much about Turkey except what the capital is. But I really want to talk to them and be a part of their group and its momentum, even if it's just to tell them I've heard about Ankara. Time is kind of frozen, and I feel like I'm going to live forever. I fear I'm going to be awake all night and can't imagine my head resting on my pillow. Will I ever sleep again? I don't sleep much-maybe two or three hours a night, sometimes not at all for a day or two at a time-so I end up killing a fair amount of my time hanging out downtown, drinking and doing drugs with my insomniac friends. I like the night. I'm scared that it's going to get light out soon, so I leave these people and journey back to the Upper West Side, which seems as far away as Poughkeepsie. In the cab, I throw my head back. I'm going to force myself to get some sleep and hide from the impending brightness-it's only minutes away.

6:35 a.m.

I'm lying between my chocolate brown, maroon, and hunter green paisley Ralph Lauren sheets wearing Calvin Klein briefs and feeling very un-Lauren, and frantic and guilty for wearing Calvin Klein briefs. I start worrying about whether or not it's acceptable to wear Calvin Klein briefs and sleep with a Ralph Lauren comforter. At last I decide that it's perfectly okay to mix and match. The elastic is irritating me, so I push the briefs down and they get lost in the sheets for a few days. Now I'm totally naked and relieved. Is it okay to sleep alone naked? I won't tell anyone.

These sheets are supposed to be comfortable. That's what the saleswoman told me-something about the high thread count.

Six hundred. She should recommend sleeping naked to her customers. But the dramatic swirling pattern agitates me. $100,000 split between Dave and me isn't fair. I'm in the mood for French toast. I can't get comfortable, so I get up and put on Abba's "Waterloo," turn on the lights, and start counting $100 bills from a shoe box I keep underneath my bed. Fifteen minutes later I've got $85,000. I double-check it. This time it comes to $83,000.

Shit. I'm not going to count it again. I put three 3-inch-thick piles of cash back into the navy blue shoe box with "Ralph Lauren" embossed in gold on it. There's also 25,000 deutsche marks in the box-about $10,000. This is my German reserve, my strudel money. I put it back under the bed. I rubber-band $50,000, bring it into the kitchen, and stack it neatly in the freezer next to some Perdue chicken breasts, an old pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, a frosty bottle of Absolut, some half-empty ice-cube trays, and a bottle of amyl nitrate. It'll be safe here. I'll probably go through it quickly anyhow.

I get back into bed. Dave is a fucking cheat. He doesn't even deserve a dime on this deal. I'd love a bagel. The trucks outside sound like rockets being launched. They carry milk, soda, fruit, and beer. All of this will end up in supermarkets today. I walk back into the kitchen, take an Amstel Light from the refrigerator, and swallow three blue Klonopin and two plain white Ambien to try to knock myself out. I look in the mirror. Five more pounds to go. Legs look good. Big deal. That's a genetic thing. From my balcony, I see a man walking his cocker spaniel. I open the sliding glass door and drop the beer bottle four floors down onto the street. Just see him as a moving target and feel the urge. It doesn't hit him, or his dog, but he looks up and curses. Asshole. I give him a slight nod. Go through the mail. Pay some bills. After twenty minutes I realize that the pills aren't working. I can't get myself to fall asleep. This stuff is crap. Thank God the fucking insurance company foots the bill for this shit and not me. I get into bed and try jerking off to a video, but that doesn't work either. Probably because I'm so fucked-up and exhausted. I'm not in the mood for phone sex either. I throw on a pair of jeans (no briefs) and a black cashmere turtleneck. I've got to get out of my apartment and go somewhere. A diner, another after-hours bar, or for a walk up Madison Avenue. Early-morning window shopping. Fuck it. I pack my passport and prescriptions, a suit, and a dozen rolled-up canvases, then reach into the freezer and grab a rubber-banded wad of money. I feel like I should wear a matching black cashmere mask over my face. I'm stealing from my own freezer. An inside job. I've got an appointment with Dr. Kleinman at 8:30 a.m. Fuck him. He'll get his cash either way. Press for the elevator. Beer in hand. Good morning to the doorman. I'm not worried what he thinks. I hail a taxi. Where to? Kennedy Airport, I guess. I open the window and let the breeze blow on my face as we cross the park. We're picking up speed. Thank God.

9:30 a.m.

There's a flight to Tokyo stopping in Los Angeles, so I buy a ticket with cash. $8,600. Grab a hot dog with ketchup and onions. $3. The plane smells like Dove soap. Everyone in first class was probably showering at the same time this morning. It's a nice smell. Still, something tells me that this is going to be a painfully long flight. Usually it's fourteen hours. Time for "life-jacket follies." I already feel restless, and we haven't been in the air for more than two hours. That must be Ohio down below. The plane is filled with Japanese tourists. On my way to the bathroom I notice a few Madonna look-alikes with bleached blond hair sitting in coach. I squeeze a pimple on the side of my nose, and some pus squirts on the mirror. I leave it. I hate this flight. I really prefer to keep moving, and the layover makes me anxious. I stay on the plane. It's like coming down from a good cocaine high and waiting for the next "crew" to arrive with a supply of new "provisions." But it was the first available flight, and I'm in a rush. Got to get to Tokyo to sell art and make some deals. I've done it tens of times before, but this time I feel strange. Too energetic. I haven't slept in two nights. And none of the medications are calming me down. We're flying near clouds that seem like they're in arm's reach. If I could just stick my tongue out the window and suck one of those amorphous nimbus or cumulus or whatever-Mrs.-Robinson-called-them-in-fourth-grade clouds deeply into my lungs, maybe I could get rid of this feeling. I turn toward the young Japanese woman sitting next to me. Eigo-o hanashi masu ka? Yes, I speak English.

In fact, she speaks perfect English. Her name is Emiko. Emiko Kawaguchi. River-Mouth. That's a silly name. At least in English. She could be an Indian maybe. Little River-Mouth. That sounds normal. She's wearing a Jewish star around her neck. She could be Jewish, too. I ask. She giggles. She tells me that a Jewish friend gave it to her for Christmas. I tell her I'm Jewish. She gets excited. Don't get so excited, Emiko. She asks me about the skateboard with a skull and crossbones dangling from my left earlobe. I tell her that I'm not in a religious cult or anything and that I recently had it pierced in Milan. I'm an art dealer, I tell her. That sounds strange. She loves Haring. Basquiat? Yes, but not as much. The conversation is painfully staccato. I can't keep this up for eight more hours with Miss Emiko. I want to bail out. I ask the stewardess for a vodka to wash down a Klonopin. There's turbulence. I could do a much better job flying this jet plane than our pilot. I should walk into the cockpit and demand to take control. Ask nicely like my parents taught me. How hard could it be? Don't you just switch on the automatic pilot? But I wouldn't want to go to jail. Emiko looks at the yellow pills in the palm of my hand and giggles with her hand over her mouth.

We're flying at 35,000 feet, and the sun beats down on me through the window. I've slipped into the Land of Stiff Neck and Drool, a warm and sunny place. I'm just about to start kissing and sucking on my ex-girlfriend Allison's breasts when the stewardess bumps into my left shoulder and I abruptly straighten up in my seat. Dream ruined. Is it a dream? Is it day or night? My contact lenses are dry and I'm thirsty. I take two Prozac, two more Klonopin, one lithium, and one Anafranil. I try to squeeze my feet back into my boots, but I think I've gained some weight on this flight. I flip through Vanity Fair for the eleventh time. I do not care for Demi Moore. I sample all the scent tabs. Descent. Seat backs in their upright position. I walk off the plane with my carry-on bag and canvases and wait for my luggage at the baggage claim. Then I make my way through customs after my long and rehearsed explanation that I am carrying my own paintings and that I'm an artist. I am. I take a cab to the Akasaka Prince Hotel. I don't know if I'm exhausted or wide awake or hungry or horny. I phone the concierge and ask them to send up extra towels. I take a half-hour shower. I check out the view from the thirty-eighth floor onto Akasaka-tons of bright neon and Tokyo Tower. For a minute I think I can see H&H Bagels in the distance. That must mean I need to get something in my stomach. The last thing I really ate was a hot dog at the airport. God, Manhattan is fourteen hours away. By plane.

Oz

Manic depression is about buying a dozen bottles of Heinz ketchup and all eight bottles of Windex in stock at the Food Emporium on Broadway at 4:00 a.m., flying from Zurich to the Bahamas and back to Zurich in three days to balance the hot and cold weather (my "sweet and sour" theory of bipolar disorder), carrying $20,000 in $100 bills in your shoes into the country on your way back from Tokyo, and picking out the person sitting six seats away at the bar to have sex with only because he or she happens to be sitting there. It's about blips and burps of madness, moments of absolute delusion, bliss, and irrational and dangerous choices made in order to heighten pleasure and excitement and to ensure a sense of control. The symptoms of manic depression come in different strengths and sizes. Most days I need to be as manic as possible to come as close as I can to destruction, to get a real good high-a $25,000 shopping spree, a four-day drug binge, or a trip around the world. Other days a simple high from a shoplifting excursion at Duane Reade for a toothbrush or a bottle of Tylenol is enough. I'll admit it: there's a great deal of pleasure to mental illness, especially to the mania associated with manic depression. It's an emotional state similar to Oz, full of excitement, color, noise, and speed-an overload of sensory stimulation-whereas the sane state of Kansas is plain and simple, black and white, boring and flat. Mania has such a dreamlike quality that often I confuse my manic episodes with dreams I've had. On a spree in San Francisco I shop for French contemporary paintings, which I absolutely love, and have to have on my walls. I spend the next two days in the gallery obsessing over the possible choices. I am a madman negotiating prices with the dealer. I'm in a state of euphoria and panicked about the prices, but I go ahead and buy them anyway, figuring I'll be able to afford them somehow. Two weeks later the paintings arrive, in huge crates, at my apartment in New York. I'm shocked. I really did buy them. I own them now. I could have sworn that weekend was a dream.

Mania is about desperately seeking to live life at a more passionate level, taking second and sometimes third helpings on food, alcohol, drugs, sex, and money, trying to live a whole life in one day. Pure mania is as close to death as I think I have ever come. The euphoria is both pleasurable and frightening. My manic mind teems with rapidly changing ideas and needs; my head is clut tered with vibrant colors, wild images, bizarre thoughts, sharp details, secret codes, symbols, and foreign languages. I want to devour everything-parties, people, magazines, books, music, art, movies, and television. In my most psychotic stages, I imagine myself chewing on sidewalks and buildings, swallowing sunlight and clouds. I want to go to Machu Picchu, Madagascar, Manitoba. Burundi, Berlin, and Boise (Berlin wins-I absolutely need to watch the Wall come down-CNN coverage isn't good enough for me). When things quiet down in the slightest, it's hard to lie in bed knowing that someone is drinking a margarita poolside at a hotel in Miami, driving 100 miles per hour down the Pacific Coast Highway, or fucking at the Royalton Hotel. I have to get out and consume. Those are the nights I might end up hailing a cab to Kennedy Airport and boarding a random flight. Once I found myself in St. Louis, once in Vienna. (It's better to end up in Vienna.) I want to be a chef, a model, an architect, a surgeon, and an astronaut. My mind consumes information at an incredible rate, and I organize this overflow using an intricate system, printing images in my head as I take in the data, laying it out visually in my mind, and later transcribing the images to notes. For example, I can visualize an image of letters, memos, calendars-even portions of dialogue. It's like having a photographic memory, except I am consciously aware of processing the information.

Manic depression, or bipolar disorder, is a disease that crippled me and finally brought me to a halt, a relatively invisible disease that nobody even noticed. Its symptoms are so elusive and easy to misread that seven psychotherapists and psychiatrists misdiagnosed me. Often the manic phase is mild or pleasant and the doctor sees the patient during a down cycle, misdiagnosing the illness and prescribing the wrong medication. One doctor treated me for severe depression with antidepressant medication that drastically increased my mania, turning me into a high-speed action figure. Another believed that I was just under too much pressure and needed to find myself a less stressful work environment. Yet another suggested group therapy as a way to improve my interpersonal skills and to draw me out of my depression.

I was so entrenched in the manic-depressive behavior (or was it my personality?) that I was certainly in no place to make a judgment about my own condition. Today I can diagnose my moods and behavior, differentiating between extreme happiness, too much caffeine, and mania.

More than two million Americans suffer from manic depression, usually beginning in adolescence and early adulthood; millions more go undiagnosed. It runs in families and is inherited in many cases, although so far no specific genetic defect associated with the disease has been found. Manic depression is not simply flip-flopping between up and down moods. It's not a creative spirit, and it's certainly not joie de vivre. It's not about being wild and crazy. It's not an advantage. It's not schizophrenia. My euphoric highs were often as frightening as the crashes from them-out-of-control episodes that put my life in jeopardy. Contrary to what most psychiatrists believe, the depression in manic depression is not the same as what unipolar depressives report. My experience with manic depression allowed me very few moments of typical depression, the blues or melancholy. My depressions were tornadolike-fast-paced episodes that brought me into dark rages of terror.

Manic depression for me is like having the most perfect prescription eyeglasses with which to see the world. Everything is precisely outlined. Colors are cartoonlike, and, for that matter, people are cartoon characters. Sounds are crystal clear, and life appears in front of you on an oversized movie screen. I suppose that would make me the director of my own insanity, but I can only wish for that kind of control. In truth, I am removed from reality and have no direct way to connect to it. My actions are random-based on delusional thinking, warped intuition, and animal instinct. When I'm manic, my senses are so heightened, I'm so awake and alert, that my eyelashes fluttering on the pillow sound like thunder.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2007

    Unforgettable!

    The unbelievable roller-coaster ride that Andy called life is truly remarkable. His story is sad yet at the same time, absolutely hilarious. You will find this book impossible to put down. I have read it over and over and it makes me cry, smile and laugh out loud every time! You will find Andy to be very likable, even if his lifestyle shocks you! Wonderfully entertaining! One of the best memoirs ever! Truly amazing! Hard to believe it's a true story!

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