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
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
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.