Sunday, December 5, 2010

To Madness and Back

Following is a reworked version of a piece I wrote 11 years ago. Enjoy ...

"Thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep." - Paul baring his soul in Second Corinthians.

Early 1988. I awoke from a drunken stupor in a strange city in a strange country, jobless and friendless and nearly penniless. You don't really want to be sober, for aside from the unwelcome intrusion of reality, you also find your psyche playing host to the type of cold fusion nuclear reaction that demands instant release.

Rage - Goddess, sing the rage - a line from Homer. The shrinks have no adequate description for it - agitated depression, dysphoric mania, a mixed state, mania and depression fused into an explosive kinetic ball of emotional kilotonnage, one that makes the very act of living totally unbearable. It was simply a matter of following through.

Meanwhile, as I lay sprawled on the floor of an apartment that I could ill afford to pay the rent on, it was a beautiful summer day in Melbourne, Australia. Outside my window the eucalyptus trees that lined my street created the impression of an urbanized Eden, while the kookaburras' shrill laughter in the distance sounded forth a Midsummer Night's Dreamscape of fairyland gaiety.

But the rumbling of the tramways around the corner represented my one-way ticket out this life, out of my private little hell. I only had to change trams maybe once or twice to put me within walking distance of the suspension bridge that spanned the harbor.

Only seven months before I had been on a plane from Wellington, New Zealand bound for a bright new life. I had sent out my resume to the major Australian newspapers and business magazines, and four editors had made me an offer. Oddly enough, I snapped at the one that offered the least money.

Fifteen-hour days were par for the course as a business editor in New Zealand. It took me a month or two to find my rhythm in Australia, but soon I was treating the airline as my bus service, up to Sydney and back again the same day, perhaps Brisbane, over to Perth for a longer stay, not to mention New Zealand, always on short notice, usually not knowing for sure when I would return.

Often I literally composed the stories in my head, dictating them over the phone to someone at the other end in hopes of making it into the next edition. On one occasion, I actually found myself reviewing a Frank Sinatra concert, which got major play on the paper's entertainment pages, together with about three or four pieces of mine that appeared on the business pages that same day.

An acquaintance called me up and commented on my output, for which I had a ready answer: "Yeh, well it was my turn to write the paper that day."

Oh, I had the one-liners coming. I was floating on air.

But the high was beginning to turn on me. Sometimes I found myself snapping at people, which was very uncharacteristic of me. Once, on the tram, on my way to work in the early morning, I found myself on the brink of physically attacking some wise-assed teenager. I actually got up out of my seat and went for his neck before I caught myself.

Then came the issue of my six-month salary review. When the editor failed to acknowledge me as the Second Coming of Thucydices, I quit in a huff, bitterly resentful over his treatment of me. Furious, in fact, in a blind rage. I told my colleagues what had happened and they looked at me like I was crazy. Didn't anyone understand?
I'M NORMAL! I wanted to shout. I've always been normal.

And now there was the small matter of me on the floor emerging from a drunken stupor in a strange new country with no job, no friends, almost no money, and no hope of finding work.  I'll write a book, I thought. I grabbed hold of a typewriter and began pounding on the keys:

"A stock market crash has no setting," I wrote. "It occurs in people's minds, a collective will that determines what is valuable and what is worthless, from day to day, minute to minute. To understand finance has nothing to do with economics or accounting. Instead, it is a philosophical discipline, of the mind determining reality, the natural territory of Kant and Plato and the rest."

I managed to find a publisher, but never steady employment. Ever again. "Thrice I have suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I have been in the deep." Who am I to complain?


Gina Pera said...


Hilary said...

Hi John, I've looked to your bipolar and depression site for information and inspiration many times since I was diagnosed with bipolar and only recently discovered this blog.

the part of this post that resonated with me was the "and back" part. we do come back. we can. that's something I need help remembering sometimes.

Tony Previte said...

Hilary said...

The part of this post that resonated with me was the "and back" part. we do come back. we can..

Absolutely, and if we allow ourselves... we can and do come back in ways that are actually empowering.

Just because we are told that we have an "illness" that requires "treatment" doesn't mean that we have to allow ourselves to take that in to the extent that it becomes a sack of potatoes that we carry around all the time.

When I feel that sack getting heavy, I take it off my back, open it, peel the potatoes, slice them up and make some home fries...

Time for breakfast!