Andy Behrman – Interview Uncensored

I recently had the pleasure to interview Author and Speaker, Andy Behrman. It was great fun partially due to the fact that he wanted it to be a “different” set of interview questions than those that he’s answered before. I took it as a challenge granted his wishes with my fantastic creativity (and/or craziness). Sit back and get comfortable as “Electroboy” answers my list of absolutely absurd (yet mostly relevant) questions.

1. Electroboy, eh? I’ve compared mania to many things, but never electricity. What made you choose it?

Before I answer any of these questions, I want to tell your readers that I’ve done tons of interviews, but nobody has asked me questions exactly like these before: not in print, not on the radio and not on television wherever I’ve traveled. But I’m just going to go with it and give you the answers that come to mind first. There won’t be any censoring, which comes easily to somebody who is bipolar, as you know.

I chose “Electroboy” as the title of the book, which is a chronicle of my battle with bipolar disorder, my experience with more than forty five medications and electroshock therapy (ECT) because after my first treatment in the hospital, a very nice Jamaican nurse helped lift me from the gurney and said, “Come with me, Electroboy.” I chose ECT as a last resort to curb my mania and put an end to a four month manic episode. So the name Electroboy stuck. Even some of my friends (and readers) call me Electroboy today. And I answer to it.

2. Not gonna lie, it sounds like a super hero name … does it come with
a cape?

Oddly, when Electroboy was published, a comic book company approached me to write a comic book with a bipolar super hero. It never materialized as I started a ten year tour across the country speaking about mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Trust me, when you’re truly manic, you feel like a super hero. So I suppose Electroboy is fitting. When I was traveling from New York to Paris to Tokyo and staying awake seventy two hours straight, I felt like a super hero. When I was living hard and on the edge and moving faster than the speed of light, I was convinced I was a super hero and that nothing could get in my way. When you read “Electroboy,” you’ll learn that my days of a super hero didn’t last forever. As for the cape, I had some really expensive capes during my manic days. Some really cool cashmere capes. And some leather capes. Designer capes. Capes, coats, jackets. Modern day super heroes don’t just wear the kind that flap in the wind.

3. We’re battling the holiday season right now … I know I’m a puddle of dirty snow … how do the Holidays affect you?

First, I’m not a jingle bells kind of guy. I don’t like holiday music and decorations and we don’t have snow in Los Angeles. And the decorations make the Holidays look really bipolar when Santa and his elves are on the sleigh, lights are all over a yard and palm trees in the background. It’s wrong. I wish I could sleep through all of that stuff. But curiously, the Holiday season is the only time of year that I  really slow down and go 55 m.p.h. in my every day life. It’s just that I feel the end of the year winding down and I’m just taking my last lap around the track, nice and slowly. Because for the rest of the year, I’ve been going full speed ahead. And then when the New Year starts, I’m off and running again. I really enjoy the Holidays because I can hide and nobody is calling me or wants anything from me. It’s the only time of the year when I can say I can I’m truly relaxed. And bored. But a nice kind of
boredom.

4. Do you consider bipolar disorder a blessing or a curse and why?

Of course, when I was extremely ill, I thought bipolar disorder was a terrible curse and would have preferred being diagnosed with an incurable disease. But you have to understand, I don’t believe in recovery from bipolar disorder. I believe in learning to cope with this insidious illness which today, gives me perspective on life which I would absolutely not have unless I had the illness: that’s the blessing. Not to mention, the illness allows me to function at a nice pace and with tremendous clarity and I really live every day with a tremendous amount of passion. That’s also the blessing. So oddly, I’m grateful for these “symptoms.”

5. Sometimes I fear what would happen if my book actually got big and suddenly I’d be all successful and such. How does being a well known author and speaker make you feel? Or is it just second nature due to your previous occupations?

Again, I’ve never been asked this question. I must say, when I was extremely ill, barely functional and was in and out of the hospital, I went to hear Kay Redfield Jamison speak. She made a reference to the “more than three million Americans with bipolar disorder.” Several days later, I started writing “Electoboy” and before I knew it, Random House had published “Electroboy,” it was in the bookstores, I was in The New York Times, on Anderson Cooper, on NPR and speaking all over the country and I thought to myself, “I was just that bipolar guy at that small talk that Kay Jamison gave, how did i get here?” It actually made me feel like the
“residue” of my mania had brought me to this place. But I couldn’t understand how I could have been one of the first male authors to write a memoir about this illness. It was all very strange. What about all the other millions? And then when I appeared on the cover of BP Magazine, well, it was just second nature. And for me, being on the cover of BP Magazine, was a very big deal. I never thought I’d function again and here I was being featured as the guy who been to Hell and back.

6. So you’ve been on all sorts of fun tv/news programs. Which was your favorite? Which one have you not been on yet that you wish you could do an appearance? (Keep in mind, Oprah’s totally retired already)

I love going on Anderson Cooper. He’s just fascinated with the subject, he’s read “Electroboy” and asks great questions. But if I could do one television show, it would have to be “Glee.” I’d like to play a bipolar teacher. You didn’t say it had to be a talk show, right?

7. Does the title of our website offend you? Do you think it adds to the stigma? Why or Why not?

Ask a Bipolar? It doesn’t offend me at all; it makes me think of posing a question to a big white polar bear in Antarctica, which I know is a really lame joke, but it does. Personally, I don’t call myself a bipolar, I call myself a person with bipolar disorder, but it’s just semantics. Not to mention, it’s a catchy domain name and I salute you for that. The idea is to disseminate information about the illness and about stigma. So kudos to you for the clever name that doesn’t insult me at all. I love it. It’s easy to remember.

8. In our groups on facebook and such, we often talk about how we can see signs of us having BP all the way back to our childhood. When you look back on your childhood, does having BP explain some of your behaviors?

My childhood behavior doesn’t explain any of my bipolar behavior, it explains ALL of my bipolar behavior. Everything from my racing thoughts, obsessive compulsive disorder, insomnia and agitation. But nobody was discussing bipolar disorder when I was seven years old and my family just thought I was bright, creative and a bit different than other kids.

9. What is YOUR favorite book about bipolar disorder? Favorite movie? Favorite BP Actor/ress?

I have several favorite books about bipolar disorder and I’m not shy to mention that I think that “Electroboy” makes the list because it’s an honest, raw and gritty account of the illness. There are those that have a tough time with my tale but on the other hand I’ve spoken to groups of women who were older than 65 years old and they had no problem with the drugs, alcohol and sex in the book. It’s all part of the illness. And mental health care professionals, bipolar patients and their family and friends see parallels in my behavior in “Electroboy” with bipolar behavior that they know, even if it’s not exactly the same. I’m a big fan of authors Marya Hornbacher and Terri Cheney, who are both brilliant writers. As far as movies about bipolar disorder, there have really been so few that focus solely on the illness or a bipolar character so we’re hoping the adaptation of “Electroboy’ will really be the first which focuses on a bipolar protagonist. As far as actors who have identified themselves as bipolar, I think that Robert Downey, Jr. is a genius.

10. Have you ever felt held back because of your illness?

I’ve only been held back by my bipolar disorder when I was paralyzed while experimenting with finding the right medications or having ECT. That was quite a long peirod of time, about seven years. During this period, while on disability, I just really was unable to do too much and was confined to my apartment in New York. But today, there are “off days,” when my bipolar disorder creeps up on me and have a really tough day. Fortunately, these off days don’t last for weeks or months any longer. But when they do come, I know exactly what to do.

11. Do you think it’s easier to be a guy with bipolar, or do you think it would be easier being a girl with this illness? (yes it’s a random question … totally aware)

I love this question, mostly because I’ve never thought of being a woman with bipolar disorder. But in all honesty, men with bipolar disorder tend to present themselves as what I’ve heard called “crazy good,” which means they’re just the life of the party. But women, I think, have it tougher. There’s more of a stigma associated with being a woman with bipolar disorder. Somehow, people drop the “good” off “crazy.” So, yes, I think it’s easier to be a man with bipolar disorder. It’s a terribly sexist response but I do believe women get the short end of the stick.

12. What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten from a friend/dr./family member in regards to your illness?

One friend once told me to become friendly with my bipolar disorder, otherwise it would become my enemy. It’s the best advice anyone has ever given me. I think she meant, be open about it, embrace it, learn to cope with it and make the best of it.

13. What is your support system like? Who is the most supportive person you have?

Bipolar disorder is not an illness where it’s easy to find a great support system. Lydia Lewis, one of the greatest mental health advocates I’ve ever met, once told me, “Bipolar disorder is not a casserole illness.” What she meant was, people don’t come visit you and bring you food when they hear you have a mental illness. They run in the opposite direction. I have a core group of friends who know me well, understand the illness and are always a phone call away. And they’ve been with me since my diagnosis.

14. As an author, I find it difficult to look at poor reviews or harsh criticism (unless it’s from my crit partners who are totally allowed to tear my work apart since they rock!), have you ever had to deal with this? How did you get through it?

Of course, people love to hate and love to criticize and I deal with harsh criticism all the time. I read all of the harsh criticism because, in it, I see the fear of mental illness and the lack of understanding of it and it teaches me how much further I have to go to explain mental illness to people for them to understand that it’s not self induced, it’s not laziness, it’s not about being spoiled – – the list goes on. I’ve been accused of all of these things. The criticism I receive is more interesting to me than the praise I receive for “Electroboy.”

15. Quick, name five random facts about you. DO IT!

I have very low cholesterol.
I’ve been in jail before (you’ll have to read “Electroboy”)
I hate amusement park rides with a passion (except the tea cups)
I don’t wear a watch.
I’m embarrassed by my first name. It’s the name of a seven year old.
I don’t follow directions and break rules (that was number six)

16. If you could have any one thing for Christmas, what would it be?

I’d take a fraction of the billions of dollars that the pharmaceutical companies earn, hire the most brilliant advertising and public relations firms and have them design ingenious campaigns to explain to the American public that “big pharma” is really not a friend of those of us suffering from mental illness but our enemy – – and that finding cures for mental illness would put these companies out of business. If you don’t know, as a mental health advocate, I’ve been very active in exposing the hypocrisy of “big pharma.”

17. What’s the most obscure question anyone has ever asked you during an interview?

A woman in an audience asked me, after reading “Electroboy,” what the difference was between having sex with men and having sex with women.

18. If you could name one thing that you’ve done since you were diagnosed that really helped another person, what would it be?

I’ve written “Electroboy,” a book that has brought so many people who suffered in silence with their mental illness out of the closet. I’ve written a book for people who after reading it are no longer ashamed of their depression or bipolar disorder and have become outspoken advocates and I’ve helped people understand that there is no shame in seeking help from a psychiatrist or psychologist. I’ve picked up mental health patients on the freeway in Los Angeles because they need professional care and I’ve called 911 when people have overdosed and e-mailed my website. I’ve helped people acknowledge that their mental illness is not their fault and is not different than diabetes or cancer and I’ve guided college students who don’t even know how to find mental health care on their own college campuses. In sum, I’ve made people aware that 20% of Americans suffer with some form of mental illness in their lifetime and that it’s okay.

19. When was the most stable point in your life? (Is it right now?)

Tough question. And the truth is, there is never a truly stable point. And that’s the constant battle with bipolar disorder.

20. What is one question that no one ever asks you that you wish they would? How would you answer it?

What celebrity have you had sex with? And I wouldn’t answer it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Andy Behrman is the author of “Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania,” published by Random House. His book has been translated into eleven languages. 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. His writing has appeared in “The New York Times Magazine,” “New York Magazine” and he is a frequent contributor to about.com/bipolar. He has appeared on Anderson Cooper 360, NPR Radio and on the cover of Bipolar Magazine. He was interviewed by Stephen Fry for his documentary, “Secret Life of a Manic Depressive” which aired on the BBC and he will appear in a documentary called “In His Own Mind,” a film which traces his illness over a period of decade directed and produced by Brian Cresto. ” He maintains a website at http://www.electroboy.com and can be found on Twitter @electroboyusa  Andy lives in Los Angeles with his two daughters who are five and seven and never dramed he would attend a Parent Association Meeting.

17 thoughts on “Andy Behrman – Interview Uncensored

  1. Awesome questions and a great interview……… Andy seems like a very interesting, bright and amusing guy, I enjoyed his answers and definitely would like to read his book!

  2. I read Electroboy what a fascinating life. This interview with Behrman is great. Thank u Marybeth for awesome questions. My Aunt met Behrman at a book signing years ago and said he was a brilliant speaker and compelling man. His advocacy work has helped alot of people from what I read.

  3. I love your wit and humor to answering questions about bipolar. I am a very joyful person and have always been until I started seeing a therapist that told me I am delusional because I am so joyful. She said I had no insight into the real world and I need help. For 3 months I read newspapers, watched the news, and realized how fucked up our world was. Then I got on a downward spiral towards depression and realized that I am only one person – why should I shoulder all of the blame. Now I am back to being joyful and I have decided I will do what I can for the world. I believe most people in the world are just on that downward spiral trying to numb themselves with being workaholics, alcoholics or drug addicts. I see my bipolar as a gift and I would love to explain it as you have done, Andy. Congratulations on your success – it is wonderful to have someone like you bring bipolar awareness forward.

  4. More interviews like this one from Mr. Behrman would help the general public understand people with Bipolar and not be so afraid. Great Interview, Mr Behrman. I would call you the “A” name, but you just said you are ’embarrassed by it.’

  5. I liked how he said there never truly as a more stable point in his life,that,that’s the constant battle with bipolar. Great Interview questions BTW!

  6. I want to commend Andy on his candidness regarding those of the category as having Bi-Polar illness. We are not the illness, we have it. I do wish he would speak more of ECT. This was the most critical part of my life, I lost a lot of my memory, so much so that my children at times get angry. I can’t retain thoughts as I would like too. I have my husband help me with repeating things so that I may make sense out of sequences of numbers and combination of words and letters. I lost my first marriage, as I did not function with out memories, and that I didn’t recognize my love for him and the children were held by my emotions distant. This angers me to this day. Regulating shock the number of shock treatments is really a crap shoot. I have very little short term memory, and my family gets excited regarding memories as they sometimes are triggered.

    I had ECT over 15 years ago, and this is who I am. A few years ago, the doctors I had for years thought they “had” to resort to ECT again, after a serious but failed suicide attempt that was done impulsively. I cried and begged to let it not be done. They said they would check the medical charts. They came back, we won’t do it, apparently, it was unsuccessful the first time. What can you do? Nothing.

    But I don’t do nothing. I have been in Real Estate, started my own business, and am a present getting my Master’s in Professional Counseling. I can cope, I don’t really participate in my illness. It has it’s days, but very few.

    I know ECT is beneficial, but we need to regulate the treatment I believe, or many end up like me…..Swiss Cheese Brain as my family fondly knows me.

    Dawn

  7. Hey Marybeth, I loved your clever interview questions.

    Hey Andy, I loved the fun way you answered them, learning so much more about you.

    Marybeth,
    I wrote *ME & HER: a Memoir Of Madness*, and would love to be interviewed by you on a Teacher’s recovery from repeated parent harassment, bipolar disorder and PTSD.
    http://www.karentyrrell.com
    Cheers, Karen 🙂

  8. Thank you for this, the questions and the answers. I first read Electroboy in the psychiatric unit to which I was committed (UK jargon is Sectioned under the Mental Health Act against my will) and Andy’s book was the first I had read on a subject about which I knew nothing. Since then of course I have read much and learned how the NHS’s mental heath services function in reality. And conducted any number of drug trials.

    Andy, like Stephen Fry, is such a good writer that he has helped me to learn how to live with the condition, to live without harming myself or others. Binary choice really – learn to live with manic depression or stop it all forever by killing myself.

    Thank you for this 🙂

  9. Pingback:Hi, My Name Is … | Excitable Gurelle - The Queen of Bipolar

  10. It is such a pleasure to find someone with a strong opinion about ECT who has actually been through the process. My wife has had nearly 100 individual doses and doesn’t regret a single one. When she has a severe psychotic episode the ECT is the ONLY thing that “breaks” the hold it has – there is not enough medication in the world to snap her out of the psychosis.

    I’m sick and tired of getting into arguments with people about the benefits of ECT. 99% of those against it (in my experience) have never had ECT because they dont have a mental illness. If you fit in this category – no mental health issue and had never had ECT, sorry, but you dont have the right to an opinion!

  11. Great article….very inspiring and a wonderful support to those whose suffer from the same illness….The book was extraordinary, it opened the truth of the disease. People no longer thought they were the only one. As years passed, Andy proved to his admirers, with the right treatment, you can live a good life… As well as be a single Dad and bring his two young daughters up with good values and standards.. He is a pretty amazing role model and has proven, living with bi -polar can happen. You just have to make the sacrifices like any other illness.

  12. Dear Andy,

    I’m bipolar and had my first episode during my first year working as a professional. What ended up being the death of me was the hypersexuality! I hit on everyone and had no filter. I still occasionly get hypersexual but as I get older I’ve been able to control myself! I know if your book you wrote about your hypersexual episodes and mine were quite similar. Do you still have hypersexuality and what do you do to control? I do certain things I will not mention but I don’t hit on anyone anymore, or as of yet!

  13. Do you consider Bipolar Disorder a blessing or a curse and why??
    The response was nothing short of all of my words pulled from my soul. I have answered that same question in the same way. At times wishing that I had an incurable disease instead, because there would be an ending to the suffering.
    I have grown and learned so much in my journey.
    This article was brilliant. Thank you Andy for your honesty. A special trip to the bookstore to purchase Electroboy is needed for me. I so desire to read more of what you have to say.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave your feedback here!