Mental illness still carries with it today a significant amount of stigma and conditions such as bipolar seem to be little understood and so carry more than most. In ‘Manic Man: How to Live Successfully with a Severe Mental Illness’ Jason Wegner challenges such notions and stereotypes illustrating rather wonderfully how it is possible to be incredibly successful and fulfilled despite the obstacles and challenges one may face.
The book begins with the author’s first encounter with the education system where he was treated pretty outrageously by individuals that should have been offering support and guidance. Moving away the education sector, he reflects on the bar jobs and catering jobs he took on, where he was always striving to create more efficient systems and earn extra cash in the form of tips. Colleagues often became disgruntled at his intensity and energy; an ominous foreshadowing of what would be the prologue to his manic state. As you turn the pages and read the experiences of the author you begin to understand how his illness crept up; a slow burn over time. Individuals around him were unaware as he himself acknowledges, ‘everyone around me thought I had high energy and was super-productive…Little did I, or anyone else for that matter, know I was headed down a dark path, which would take a year to recover from.’
The path does get dark. As a reader you are aware of how the writer’s actions and his interactions are becoming increasingly intense and socially unacceptable. I admired how honest the writer was about how his actions worked to alienate people and ostracise himself. His trip to Africa saw the onset of a manic episode, where the writer would frantically record his plans and thoughts in his journal: ‘changing the world became my main objective.’ Once he returned home things began to intensify again. A particularly uncomfortable moment is when he befriends a teenager in a small town in America after deciding to travel there to pick up a $2000 stereo which he had ordered: a symptom of his mania being ‘fiscal irresponsibility.’ Meeting the family who ran the shipping business he befriends the young boy and remembers how he asked him to keep in touch as he wanted to ‘teach him more about the world.’ What stems from wholly good intentions, illustrates again to the reader the lack of awareness around societal propriety but also how it can warp and consume the individual to be oblivious to the feelings and responses of other people.
His writing about his family was incredibly poignant. In particular, the reflections on how his illness impacted his relationship with his father was very touching and sincere. Once Jason is finally committed to hospital and had begun to realise the seriousness of his condition his father managed to arrange for him to have an iPod which had as a playlist entitled, ‘Father and Son.’ This moment, according to the writer was a moment of realisation, ‘My goal was to mend my relationship with my dad and listen to his advice, which was to focus on the endgame of my hospital stay.’ As a reader it felt cathartic to experience this realisation with the author and to see the light at the end of the tunnel for him.
The processes that Jason must have gone through in order to reflect on such a difficult time must have again been incredibly tough and illustrates perfectly how even faced with such an all-encompassing mental illness it is possible to come out the other side and thrive. It is important to acknowledge that being bipolar is something that needs to be managed and navigated for an entire lifetime. The writer states, ‘my mental illness didn’t have to limit the quality of my life. I would just have to work a little harder than someone who is “normal.”’ The ending of the book where both author and psychologist Dr. Kerry Bernes collaboratively create ‘The Octagon of Life’, a philosophy born of wanting to challenge the depression and provide an ‘holistic approach to recovery’, made practical sense and also made for both a powerful and hopeful ending to a story that was brutally honest and necessary. I wish Jason Wegner every success.