MEMOIR: FAQ (Partial Rewrite)
Q: Who are you and why should I buy your book?
A: I’m Adrian Bedford, middle-aged, middle-class, over-privileged, white guy with bipolar disorder, and stuff. Or, as Woody Allen put it, I’m “basically a cucumber with anxiety”.
Q: What’s your book about? Is it like a self-help book, sort of thing?
A: No. This is in no way a self-help book. People and their troubles and problems, their conditions and illnesses, are too various, knotty and intractable, for one book to tackle all of them, or even some of them. Plus, I don’t know anything. I know some things that have worked for me, at least so far, and to some extent. I know there is a lot of bollocks out there pretending to offer hope to the mentally beleaguered. All I can do is say I’m here, too, and this is my tangled story.
That said, three books that have helped me greatly and that I recommend are:
MINDSIGHT, by psychotherapist Daniel Siegel
THE HAPPINESS TRAP, by therapist and GP Russ Harris
MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, by psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.
Q: Why would I want to read your tale of woe?
A: I don’t know. You might not. That seems like a reasonable response. This is probably not everyone’s cup of tea. But I’m hoping it is for some people, people who have been through the same sorts of miserable experiences that I’ve been through. People who’ve felt the way I have and still feel about Stuff and Things. People who wish there was someone else out there, anyone at all, who also felt as weird, as wrong, as broken, as monstrous, as alien, as repulsive, as I have and sometimes still feel.
Q: Isn’t this whole thing all a bit self-involved/conceited/navel-gazey/narcissistic? Aren’t you just looking for attention?
A: When in the course of my life so far (I’m 54 as I write this) I’ve gone through bad emotional weather, the heavy seas, the deadly seas, often the very worst thing about the experience is the the thought that I’m alone. One of the essays in this book is about the time I nearly drowned on a Monday afternoon, when the sea tried to kill me. My illness has been like that. It has come after me. It has softened me up. It has played with me. It has made me believe I’m all alone. I was alone that day at the beach, but when it comes to my illness I was never alone. I had my family. I had my wife. I had support services. I mattered to people, whether I believed it or not, and you matter to people as well, whether you believe it or not.
This book is trying to stop people from drowning, to keep the sea from eating them.
Q: Aren’t the voices in your head telling you the truth, in fact?
A: It certainly often seems that they are telling the truth. They are very persuasive. That’s why they are so poisonous, so seductive, why they are so dangerous. Because you believe those voices the way you’d believe your favourite, most beloved family member. The way you believe your puppy loves you. The way you believe plants love the sun. It doesn’t matter what those voices are saying: you believe them wholeheartedly, because they have that inside-your-head access, so they must be telling you the truth.
But they’re not, and they don’t. The thing is, those voices are hardwired into the foundation of your brain’s wiring at such a level that it’s impossible, imho, to remove them. All you can do is change how you respond to them, how you feel about them. It’s hard, but achievable.
Q: Well, is this all of it? The whole thing? Or are you going to be all Spike Milligan and spoon out seven volumes of mental illness memoirs, with ever-thinner content?
A: I’m including everything I can think of that might be worthwhile or interesting. There is bound to be material that I remember only after the book goes to press (assuming, and this is a big assumption, by no means guaranteed, that I manage to sell the thing), some huge, complex, centrally important issue that illuminates everything else, and I’m left muttering into my iced coffee and hoping for a second edition. I am not planning a second volume, though. I’d like to have just the one book with the whole messy thing squeezed, squealing and protesting, between its covers.
Q: Isn’t this whole thing just a bit unseemly?
A: This is something I do struggle with. Writing about my life does feel very self-indulgent, and does make me feel like a wanker with too much time on my hands. I have to remind myself that I am trying to help people with this project, to make it easier to talk about the most terrible sense of burning shame. That shame feels like it will kill you if you talk about it, but it won’t. You’ll feel like shit, but you’ll live. This is one of the most powerful lessons of my recent mental illness experience.
There’s this brilliant movie, THE RIGHT STUFF (also an excellent book, by Tom Wolfe, about test pilots and astronauts), about, in part, the guys trying to break the sound barrier in planes. As their planes approached that barrier, they faced “the demon in the sky” that shook them, that threw them this way and that, and very often killed them. Approaching the sound barrier was, it seemed, impossible. The demon in the sky would kill you for even trying. Approaching something you feel ashamed about is like this. When you feel ashamed, you very much do not want to talk about it, and you feel that to speak of it will kill you just like these mad bastards trying to pierce the sound barrier.
One guy, in an actual rocket-powered plane designed to look like a giant rifle bullet, the only known thing that could fly faster than sound, made it through the sound barrier and lived to tell the tale. It was hell, but he did it. The demon in the sky let him pass. Likewise, the shame demon will let you pass, too. It’s all public relations, special effects and bluff. There’s nothing there. The shame demon is the Wizard of Oz. You can talk about the most awful things in the world. They are still indisputably awful and vile, but the talking, the facing up to it, the confessing, won’t kill you. It will be hell, but you’ll live.
Q: Surely you’d be better just talking about all this to a psychologist and leaving the rest of us out of it?
I do. Writing this project was in part her idea, and it has been a wonderful boon in my life. I am writing every day, often about the most excruciating, most personal things. I’m trying to explore the deepest recesses of my character, because in these very specific and personal depths is some degree of universality. I’m writing also as part of healing myself after the trauma of the past few years, and last year in particular, the medication change. It occurs to me that someone else might get something out of what I’ve been through. That they are not alone.
Q: Didn’t I read all this for free on your website? Why do I have to pay to read it all again?
I’m using the website, littleknownauthor.com, for rough drafts of each entry, to gauge response and interest. As of this week I’ve finished the first draft of the manuscript and I’m into rewrites. Some pieces require complete rewrites; some, like this one, require only partial redrafting. I have learned that it’s okay, from the point of view of a publishing company, for me to post this material online, but only up to the point that there are contracts involved. Once that happens, if it happens, they ask that you take posted material down to prevent spoilers. I have no problems with this. Meanwhile, there will likely be further rewrites as I go, and think further about the Things and Stuff.
Q: Oh, so it’s all poor, innocent, suffering, good-hearted you against the mean old world, is it? Well, wake up! It’s nasty out there for everyone. What makes you so special?
Nothing at all. I am far from a good, innocent, special person. I have done things I am not proud of, and I have hurt people who have not deserved it, and I have not apologised to them as I should have. I try very hard to be a decent person, and I am a kind of work-in-progress. I am often in trouble with my mum, still, at my age. And it is indeed a hard, nasty world out there, especially for those who are poor, marginalised, ill, overlooked, ignored. I am only too aware of my privilege. It makes me extremely self-conscious. I want to help, if I can. And this is something I can do. I can write. I can observe and think and reflect. I can dig deep down into my own personal grease-trap, and pull out the nasty crunchy bits and show you. They might look a lot like the bits in your own grease-trap.