I just found something more revealing than a mirror, more accurate than a crystal ball, more perceptive than a trusted friend, more objective than a professional advisor.
It's called starring in your own videos.
Until very recently, I would not have even considered doing a video. Until my daughter got married in March, I never even owned a camera. I don't like looking at my own face.
Same with hearing my own voice.
I have been interviewed on the radio - won't listen. I've had the occasional TV interview - won't watch. My photo has appeared in the print media - I read the page with my eyes closed.
As for mirrors, I think there is something in the DSM under Vampiriasis Disorder.
Call it low self-esteem, call it social anxiety. Whatever the cause, the bottom line is it's tough enough having to contend with me inside of me looking out, let alone me outside of me looking in.
John McManamy, meet John McManamy. No thanks.
Then, around this time three years ago, HarperCollins offered me a book contract. The time for ducking for cover was over. I would be speaking, I would be networking, I would be doing interviews.
Fortunately, I happened to be facilitating a DBSA support group at the time. As I settled into the role, I also settled into myself, grew more confident, more relaxed. My stammers and stutters receded, along with my nervous and distracting mannerisms.
Then I happened to meet Tom Wootton, author of "The Bipolar Advantage." Tom is a professional corporate presenter who was extremely generous in coaching me on how to speak in public.
I won't say that Tom turned me into a great speaker. But now when I get up in front of an audience I no longer look like a caged animal or a deer caught in the headlights. Call Tom a miracle-worker.
The miracle translated into my one-on-one interactions with people. Suddenly, it was a lot easier for me to make conversation, to connect. But there was also a downside. Compared to what I used to be, I was living in the equivalent of my own reality TV show. I wasn't always going to make a good impression.
About two months ago, I lined myself up in front of my webcam and started talking from a script. Something funny happened when I played back my rough cut. Namely, i didn't recoil at the sound of my voice, at the sight of me talking. I actually liked what I saw, the person on the screen.
I played back my little video again. And again. I made some additional refinements, then I showed it to my two housemates. Then I uploaded the video to YouTube. Then I made another video. And another.
Okay, those videos tell me a lot about how far I have come, and I suppose that would be a good story in itself. But what do those videos tell me about who I am? Interesting question.
Not too long ago, I purchased a high-end consumer camcorder. My first two videos with the new camera were about FDR and Lincoln. Basically I was narrating.
Then, came another pair of videos. The first dealt with what bipolar was like to me. It was based on a popular article on my website, "Bipolar or Bichronic." Naturally, the movie version rates a sexier title. "The Bipolar Time Warp," I called it. Basically, I see myself cycling in and out of alternating states of time. The world either speeds up or slows down in inverse proportion to what is going on in my brain.
I think Einstein was on the verge of a brilliant equation just before he died.
Part of the bipolar time warp involves the periods of rage and frustration I experience from time to time. I illustrated the feeling with shots of me banging my head against the dash of my car and in a baseball setting swinging my bat repeatedly at the air. I didn't have to work too hard getting into character. In fact, it was frightening how easy it was for me to convincingly portray the dark side of our illness.
My next video was about the book that started it all, "Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder." To sell the book on camera, I decided, I needed to sell myself.
I had no script to this video. I spoke off-the-cuff. There I am, in a splendid mountain-valley panorama within walking distance of where I live. "I love this place," I enthuse.
So I should. My current environment here in rural southern California has played a large part in my healing. There I am, sitting on a rock, confiding about my life with bipolar. There I am, back on my feet, soaking in the view. There I am on another rock, in a tight close-up, talking about my zen moments.
I put together a rough cut and played it back. Some nervousness is there - that will never go away, I'm convinced. But I can't believe how otherwise relaxed I am, at peace with myself. No way I could fake this feeling, no way I could act this feeling.
Who is this person? I wonder. The same individual from my last video? The one who found it all too easy to act out his own anger?
What does the "bi" in bipolar really stand for? Or, for that matter, the pole?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
My camera has caught the wind. These days, in its presence, I'm not running.
Video: The Bipolar Time Warp
Video: Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Published On: June 21, 2008
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