Mental Health Warrior: Andy Behrman

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Andy Behrman is a nationally renowned advocate for mental health awareness–and one of the most passionate activists I know on the mental health scene. You’ll find Andy on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook spreading the message to help stop stigma. And not only does he talk the talk, he walks the walk as the author of the Bestselling Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania, a chronicle about his experiences with manic depression, Andy is not afraid to speak out and be a voice for others. That’s one of the things I admire most about Andy, his willingness to step up and be a mentor to others, and those who are newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He’s always there with a willing hand. He’s a devoted father to two lovely young ladies, and I am very proud to recognize this well-known mental health warrior.

Andy’s memoir has been hailed, “Toe-curlingly enjoyable and unfailingly shocking.”-FHM but you MUST remember, this was his life. He lived this. I applaud you Andy, for your honesty, and the work that you do every single day to stop stigma, educate people on mental illness, and the importance of receiving treatment. With Andy’s Permission, I have included a portion one of my favorite segments from:

Electroboy A Memoir Of Mania

By Andy Behrman

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 out 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 Duncan 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, colour, noise, and speed-an overload of sensory stimulation-wheras the sane state of Kansas is plain and simple, black and whit, 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 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 colours, 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, Burandi, 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 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 behaviour (or was it my personality?) that I was certainly in no place to make a judgement about my own condition. Today I can diagnose my moods and behaviour, differentiating between extreme happiness, too much caffeine, and mania…

Andy’s story is far from over.  Electroboy comes highly recommended by critics all over, and Yours Truly.

Andy has appeared on many different reputable programs, including my favorite documentary, “The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive” where he was interviewed by Stephen Fry.

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Andy Behrman is the author of “Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania,” published by Random House. He is a mental health advocate and speaker who promotes mental health awareness and suicide prevention, speaking to college audiences, mental health care professionals and local and national mental health support groups. Andy’s writing has appeared in “The New York Times Magazine,” “New York Magazine” and he is a frequent contributor to online mental health websites. He has appeared on Anderson Cooper 360, NPR Radio and on the cover of Bipolar Magazine.  which aired on the BBC. He is a single father living in Los Angeles with his two daughters, eight and ten. He never dreamed he would attend a Parent Association Meeting. Find Andy on his Website , Twitter, and Facebook. Andy has also been featured on About Health, The Good Men Project and the cover story on BP Hope.  You can order you copy of Electroboy from Amazon

Andy was also invited to sit down with Steve Paikin on The Agenda

3 thoughts on “Mental Health Warrior: Andy Behrman

  1. Andy, thank you so much for saying yes when I asked to feature you on The Lithium Chronicles as a Mental Health Warrior. Thank you for opening up your life to people, you have no idea how much you help others. Thank you.

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