“I could feel the sunlight through my clothes, dilating my pores and flushing my pasty, winter-white skin. I could feel the little hairs along my arms and the back of my neck start to ripple with pleasure like wind-stroked wheat and -
“Oh my God ... the little hairs.”
The passage is from the recently-published “Manic: A Memoir” by Terri Cheney.
To Terri, her little hairs are equivalent to the numbers dropping off a barometer. The perfect mental storm is about to make landfall and there is going to be all hell to pay.
Terri lived the LA high life as a fast-lane entertainment attorney. Work hard, play hard. Famous clients, high-stakes litigation, wining, dining ...
Not to mention the blow-outs, hospitalizations, suicide attempts, busted relationships, and full complement of heartbreaks and horrors and humiliations that go with being born bipolar.
“Most of the time I never noticed I had body hair at all.”
You might say hypomania was Terri’s default setting. You can’t survive in her world without it. You have to be a little crazy to make it in places like Hollywood, industries like Hollywood. Emphasis on little, emphasis on crazy.
“The little hairs love hypomania: the world was suddenly all about textures and tastes and sensations ...”
The hairs loved a certain kind of crazy, and that was a problem, big problem. A male in the room, invariably Mr. Wrong ...
“How could I ever hope to tell a normal person about the terrors of being happy?”
A surgeon’s waiting room is not the time and place for body hairs to be tingling in sexual anticipation.
Oh, oh, you think. Here it comes. Where will it end this time? Inevitably, somewhere in the land of bad crazy. But first there is good crazy, great crazy, off-the-charts illegal in 14 states kind of crazy.
The hairs can see only the good crazy, the great crazy off-the-charts crazy, but you can see beyond that. Your brain is about to yield dominion to whatever is responsible for animating your little hairs. You desperately want to stop it, but at the same time you don’t.
Run for your life! the last rational thought you may ever experience is telling you.
But it may be too late. Your brain is already rationalizing, churning out irrational thoughts. Your long slow march to the gallows begins with a glad song in your heart.
No one articulates the true terror of living life with bipolar better than Terri Cheney. No matter how well we may be feeling, how good our life may be going for us, deep down we know the situation is at best conditional. That any day, any second, without warning - bang! crash! - Ozymandias. Broken pieces. Forgotten rubble.
Amend that slightly. With subtle warning. Those little hairs. Those damned hairs!
My editor at HarperCollins, Sarah Durand, sent me the book. “Manic” was her most recent project. William Morrow, which published “Manic,” is an imprint of HarperCollins. I stuffed the book in my carry-on luggage for a recent cross-country flight, fully expecting it to help me put me to sleep.
Lord knows, I needed my sleep.
Instead, I was hooked. “Manic” is a short book, a series of loosely-connected intimate vignettes, like Vermeer depictions of domestic life, candid yet discreet, revealing yet mysterious, bright yet muted, exquisitely detailed yet impressionistic.
The thrill of mania, the agony of its after-effects, it’s all there, but unlike other bipolar memoirs there is no sense of bragging, no regrets. What’s done is done. All that remains is the fear.
Terri is out of the fast lane now. She has scaled down her life. She takes time out for simple joys, such as arranging flowers. She has dialed in her meds. This time - maybe - she can make it.
But, like the rest of us, there is always the fear, the knowledge that out of the blue, out of nowhere, the illness that we share can descend on her like the staff of God’s wrath.
Those hairs. Those damned little hairs.
I was wide awake when I got off the plane. I began the book somewhere 35,000 feet over Texas or Oklahoma and finished it as I was taxiing into Ronald Reagan. As soon as I got to my hotel room, I emailed Sarah at HarperCollins.
“You are the patron saint of bipolars,” I enthused.
Sarah took a big chance on me. My bipolar NOT a memoir. I like to think Terri’s book was a no-brainer, but the gifted bipolar writers tend to write books that have nothing to do with bipolar.
Yet another - yawn - bipolar memoir? Not this one.
Published On: June 14, 2008
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