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Manic Youth: An Autobiographical Novel (1 Viewer)



Hello everyone, my name is Jeremy. I have been pondering the idea of writing a book about my life for some time now. I have written a preface and a chapter of the book and have submitted it for review. Basically, I want to know if this idea for a book sounds like it has promise and I should continue -- or if it needs a lot of work. I am not a fiction writer by trade and have only just begun the process of writing this story. I intend to read books on how to write so that I may improve.

1. Tell me if this book sounds interesting. Would you read it?
2. Rate me 1-10 on how well I write so that I can know how much help I need.
3. Give me whatever suggestions you can think of to make this better.

I think this ranks in at about 12 pages if it were written in a book, so I hope you can stomach it.

Working Title: MANIC YOUTH


Imagine sitting in a conference room in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. Your father is sitting to your left and your mother is sitting to your right. The psychiatrist sits on the opposite side of the table. You anxiously wait to hear a presentation concerning the state of your present incarceration in the looney bin.

You are a young man or woman at the age of 17 who has spent a week of hell in the hospital and has finally (hopefully) reached the date of your release. You are giddy with the prospect of freedom. When you entered the hospital, your temperament was openly hostile and aggressive. You were an irritable, nasty wretch of a human being who was alienated by your family and friends for your vile behavior. You were sent to the hospital because no one knew what to do with you.

You were subjected to a comprehensive battery of tests during this week that have left you frazzled and exhausted. You want to know the answer to one question: What the hell is wrong with you, if there is anything wrong with you?

You desperately want to believe that there is nothing wrong. You thought you were perfectly fine when you first found yourself plunged into this hell-hole, but over the course of the past week, you realize that something may be terribly wrong. You realize that you have not been yourself for at least the past couple months.

You think that the course of events in the last four months were just too hard for any human being to handle. Anyone subjected to the torture that you’ve experienced would have been acting the same way. So there’s really nothing wrong with you, right?

That’s what you hope the shrink will tell you. They ran all of those tests and they found nothing wrong. You’re free to leave the hospital and go on with your life.

Then the doctor starts with her presentation. She cuts right to the chase. She shares two words with you, one of which you don’t really even understand.

“Manic depression,” she says. “It’s also referred to as bipolar disorder,” she adds.

“Manic depression is a mental illness that affects roughly two percent of the population. It is characterized by intense periods of mania that are marked by racing thoughts, hyperactivity, wreckless behavior, irritability, aggression, euphoric mood, inability to concentrate, and decreased need for sleep. Alternatively, the mood can swing to states of serious depression in which a patient can become lethargic and sad, have feelings of guilt, emptiness, and worthlessness, sleep excessively, lose appetite, and can even consider suicide.”

“Dr. and Mrs. Oborny, I believe your son may have manic depression. His behavior over the last four months seems to indicate that he has this illness, but I am hesitant to diagnose him because this is only one incident and he is so young. We would like to monitor the situation and have you consider some possible treatment options if this behavior continues. There are a number of psychiatric drugs that have been proven to relieve the symptoms of manic depression and enable patients to live full and healthy lives. We know that you have expressed a disinterest in medication, but it is an important thing to consider, and I must recommend it in the event that your son continues to experience the same symptoms.”

You are filled with both feelings of horror and relief. You are horrified to learn that the results of all that testing actually did confirm your worst fears: that you were and probably still are mentally ill. You are relieved, however, to know that there is a name for what you have. The doctor described your symptoms perfectly. You would later pick up a book on manic depression and scan the laundry list of symptoms for mania and apply an imaginary checkmark by each and almost every symptom. Some of the symptoms mentioned in the literature, however bizarre and unique they may sound, have actually been experienced by enough other individuals with the disease to warrant documentation. Some of them are more descriptive than the symptoms your doctor shared from the DSM-IV, the psychiatric diagnostic manual (often referred to as the bible of psychiatry).

“Excessive self esteem or gradiosity,” you read.

“Check,” you utter with a sense of amusement.

“Tendency to engage in goal-oriented activities,” the book continues.

“Check,” you admit.

“Voluminous writing.”

“Yep, you could say that.” You start to chuckle. These symptoms sound so strange to you. All of these symptoms describe you precisely, and you are floored by the fact that all of your behavior can now be explained. You didn’t even notice how odd and askew from normalcy your behavior was until you read this list of symptoms telling you that it’s all tied to this mental illness that you have.

“Uncontrollable spending sprees.”

“How did they know?” You furrow your brow. Now it’s almost creepy. Like someone has been surveilling you.

“Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences.”

“Hmm,” you conjecture, “that would explain climbing up the side of a cliff in the middle of the night.”

“Bizarre thoughts and behaviors, i.e. feelings of invincibility, belief that one has special powers or abilities, religious delusions, magical thinking.”

“Well, guess what? Check, check, check, and check.”
Imagine living through hell on Earth for four months confused, terrified, and worst of all, blind. Blind to the most important feature of yourself to know. Manic depressive illness.

As I look back on my first experience with manic depression, I am deeply saddened by the fact that my family, my friends, and most importantly, I lacked any semblance of knowledge about this disease that could have possibly made my transition from “normal” to bipolar just a little bit easier. If I had known anything about this disease, perhaps I could have saved myself from the immense amount of shame that was tied to my behavior in that first episode. My successive episodes have been traumatic and painful, but not nearly as shameful as the first episode. At least I knew what was happening to me the second and third time.

The primary mission of this book is to raise awareness of this illness to enable more people to recognize the symptoms of manic depression EARLY. It may be difficult for anyone outside the very close circle of friends and family of a manic depressive to recognize the symptoms. In my experience, I went to great lengths to disguise and shield my behavior from the outside world. At first, the symptoms expressed themselves only as small ripples on an ocean to both myself and this close circle. Like me, my friends and my parents especially, wanted to believe that I was okay. Some of my friends were completely oblivious. By the time I finally “cracked,” the ripples had crescendoed into such a tidal wave of gargantuan proportions that anyone trying to stop it would be swallowed by the fury and vengeance that the disease unleashed.

Today, I thank the man who perceived these ripples on the ocean. At the time he confronted me, I despised him. I collected all of my pent-up anguish and transformed it into a rage that would have surely landed me in jail if I had set it loose on someone other than my dear friend, William. For releasing my inner demon on him, I am truly shameful and dishonored. I pray that he has forgiven me, and I believe he has. He’s not one to hold grudges.

Unfortunately, I doubt some individuals may have a friend as clever and perceptive as William. There are many stories of manic depressives who have had intitial episodes that did not end quite so happily as mine. In a 2004 study, Quanbeck and his colleagues found “manic symptoms place bipolar patients at significant risk for criminal offending and arrest.”1 In addition, bipolar patients are at significant risk for drug and alcohol abuse as well as sexually transmitted diseases caused by sexual promiscuity. Moreover, Muller-Oerlinghausen et al. report, “About 10-20% of individuals with bipolar disorder take their own life, and nearly one third of patients admit to at least one suicide attempt.”2 Whereas I’m simply trying to cope with some feelings of shame, some manic depressives are dealing with jail time, life-threatening drug addictions, and death. I wonder how many suicides, crimes, and other unfortunate events could be prevented if those with manic depression either recognized the symptoms themselves or were confronted by another individual who recognized the symptoms.

The primary purpose for this book could not be clearer.

How does one raise the awareness of manic depression? My first answer would be through film. I believe that the story of John Nash’s life, A Beautiful Mind, has been very effective in raising public awareness concerning schizophrenia. “Then why write a book?” you ask. First of all, it’s much easier to get a book published. Secondly, it seems to often be the case that many films are actually based on books. A Beautiful Mind was first a book. I may not be a nobel prize winner, but I hope you will find that my story is at least as interesting.

While John Nash may be well-known to some, it might shock you to learn of the vast number of celebrity figures who have or have had manic depression. I will share a few of them from several categories. Many of them are famous actors, writers, musicians, painters and poets who channel their illness to fuel creativity: Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Kurt Kobain, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Robin Williams, and Peter Gabriel. In the political arena, I separate the manic depressives into two groups. On the dark side are Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon. They are equally balanced by Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Winston Churchhill.

How different our world would be without manic depression! Can you imagine never listening to Beethoven or Rachmaninoff? Or reading Dickens or Hemingway? No Starry Night. No Sistene Chapel. No John Cusack blasting “Your Eyes” from a boom box to Ione Skye in Say Anything. The course of history has been changed by manic depression, and it would seem important for everyone to know something about it.

While I am sure there have been countless biographies on these individuals, there have not been any literary works based on their lives that focus specifically on the struggle with manic depression, and with good reason. I doubt that many biographers would look at the life of one of these amazing individuals and write a novel pitting the protagonist against manic depression as the primary conflict in the book. Manic depression should not be the defining feature of someone’s life.

There have been a number autobiographical stories relating to manic depression that I know of. The bestselling of these autobiographies, An Unquiet Mind: A Memior of Moods and Madness, was written by Kay Redfield Jamison, a famous psychiatrist. She also co-wrote the most comprehensive medical book on manic depression. An Unquiet Mind is an excellent book due to the fact that Jamison’s medical expertise and clinical experience have given her so many useful insights regarding the illness. This is a must read for anyone attempting to understand manic depression. Other important manic depressive autobiographies include Brilliant Madness by Patty Duke, Detour by Lizzie Simon, and Electroboy by Andy Behrman. There has been one film regarding manic depression. Mr. Jones portrays Richard Gere in a taboo relationship with his psychiatrist, Lena Olin. While there is an adequate depiction of some symptoms of bipolar disorder, I felt that the screenwriters had failed to capture all the dimensions of the disease. The phenomenon of transference/counter-transference, in which a patient falls in love with a doctor and a doctor falls in love with a patient seemed to be more of the focus of the film than understanding the illness.

I have found something missing in each of these books. An autobiographical format loses some of the narrative power of a novel written in the third person. As I stated before, I am a movie aficionado, and I want to read something that flows like a movie. I want to observe the character seemlessly flow through a sequence of scences and try to experience what it feels like to be the character. This is the only way, in my belief, that one kind really appreciate how it feels to fight mania.

Society needs to understand this illness better. I must sacrifice a small part of myself for the writing of this book.. It will be arduous and painful to recall, but I feel it is my duty. I risk my future professional reputation for telling this story, but I feel that it is that important. The factor that I cannot risk, however, is the anonymity of some of the key characters in this story.

Thus, my story is written in an unconventional format. Imagine this story as a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction. Fiction and non-fiction are shoved into a blender and pureed for this story. I must change the names of virtually every character and place in this story for the sake of anonymity. I assure you that the first three parts of this story are based on reality, and key events actually did happen to me. However, some details will be changed to protect those who would not want certain secrets revealed. The final chapter, however, is a work of fiction. I will narrate the story in the third person and substitute the name Jack for my own. I find that distancing myself from the story allows me to narrate more honestly. I find it less painful to recall. And most importantly, I find that it makes for a better story.

This novel follows a format in which I explain my three episodes of manic depression that actually happened in three individual parts of varying length. The fourth part of this novel is a work of fantasy in which I will resolve the ultimate conflict in my life. I see this final chapter as an exercise to write my life in the way I hope it will become. Throughout the course of the novel you will realize how I learned to cope with manic depression. You will understand my transformation over the course of my life. You will be privy to all of my realizations and epiphanies, not just relating to manic depression, but also my humble contributions to understanding spirituality and the meaning of life.

This book has something to offer everyone. I hope that it helps those individuals who have not yet been diagnosed with manic depression and those who have been struggling for years. I wish for it to entertain others who are simply looking for a good story. And one that matters. There seem to be so many movies and books with virtually no value in application to human condition. I find myself thirsty for many kinds of frivolous entertainment, but I assure you this is not frivolous.

Contained in these pages are a testament to the strength of the human spirit and will to live. The greatest accomplishment in my life is beating and coping with this illness, yet it’s something that’s supposed to be private according to social conventions. I imagine that when I die, if there is a heaven, I will ride in on a white horse to a crowd of angels cheering for my triumph over manic depression and thoughts of suicide that have tormented me.

I also struggle with the most important questions to face humanity. Why are we here? Does God exist? What is the meaning of life? I believe that by subjecting many individuals to different life trials, we are able to form better guesses to these questions. If we summate experiences of the human condition together, I believe the answers begin to crystallize.

I have found the stories of others to be of great help in discerning the meaning of my life, the question of God’s existence, and exactly what it means to be human. Stories are an integral part of the human condition. We thrive on them. I think that the greatest stories are those which allow you to get so lost in the characters that you may sympathize with them so deeply that you can feel yourself as someone else. Our lives would be terribly dull if our own lives were the only ones we could experience.

I have been greatly affected by the films, The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor, Greg Egan’s book, Permutation City, and Nick Bostrom’s “simulation argument.” Most have seen The Matrix, in which the human race is enslaved in a state of virtual reality in order to provide power to a race of machines. The Thirteenth Floor and Permutation City take it a step further. These stories ask if we’re even physical beings at all. Might we simply be programs in a complex simulation? I often wonder if God structured our existence as part of an experiment designed to understand the meaning of His own existence. Doesn’t God have the same questions? Why not simulate all the possibilites of human lives and read a story capturing the glory of each one? Of course, we assume that God knows all the answers. God knows all the answers by the way we define Him. Might we have created a definition of God without considering the possibility that all of the qualities we ascribe to him were our own constructions? I suspect that God is as lonely and confused as all of us. He created humanity to conquer boredom, give himself a purpose, end his feelings of loneliness, and maybe even live vicariously through us.

On the other hand, I wonder if some other kind of intelligent beings could have created us in a computer simulation for the same reasons. Provided they have incredible computer processing power, they might be able to fast forward through such a simulation and arrive at the answers almost instantaneously. Think of it as digital relativity. While our lives are fast-forwarded in reference to their time, we go on living our time at a normal rate none the wiser. They could then spend more time analyzing everyone’s lives and playing them back rather than watching the simulation in real time.

Of course, this is all very speculative. But it causes one to wonder… What’s the difference between living in a computer simulation designed by intelligent beings in a physical world and living in the real world created by God? If the purpose of our existence is to entertain our creator/s, give His/their existence meaning, and answer questions to difficult but important questions, it seems irrelevant who created us. It is the why that is important.

One of my most burning questions regards the reason for suffering in the world if God is all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing. Why would God have subjected me to this terrible affliction and all the agony I have experienced? What could possibly be the purpose? I try to answer this question throughout the course of my story.

This is an ambitious undertaking, but I feel that the trials of my life may have purpose if my story is able to help others with the same problem.

Chapter One: The Cloud

Jack tilted his head up at the night sky to confront God’s answer. The question he asked earlier that evening came from the darkest corner of Jack’s soul: “Do You want me to live or die?”

Jack had been living a teeth-grinding nightmare for the last three months. He was miserable inside. He was bursting at the seams. He was filled with a rage and sadness that mixed together in such an unstable state that he could scarcely see the point of dealing with it another day. When would it end? When would those unstable elements combine and explode with such might that they would destroy everything in their wake? Jack couldn’t take the thought of hurting others around him. He decided that the only way to rid himself of this problem was to sacrifice himself for the greater good. If someone was going to get hurt, it would be him and not the ones he cared about. If God wanted him, Jack would submit and call for God to claim him. He hoped it would end tonight. One way or another, he was going to get his answer from the Almighty Himself. “Either smite me in a blaze of glory or deliver me from my suffering,” he resolved.

As he peered upwards, fear consumed him. He did not believe that what he saw was possible. Nothing like this ever happened to him. He had asked God a question, and God was answering.

The sky was overtaken by an immense, sinister cloud stretching from right to left as far as Jack could see. The cloud dominated the night sky with a diabolical obsidian haze. The cloud was probably a hundred yards tall and two miles across. It hovered at a distance of maybe 1500 feet overhead. It was coming to claim him. It most closely resembled a boomerang in its shape. Jack could visualize that the two sides lateral to the center tapered into the distance. Jack marveled at the fact that the heart of this beast, the very center, was pointed right at him.

It wasn’t racing for him. It wasn’t taking it’s time either. It was roaring along at precisely the right speed to frighten Jack to the core of his being. It wanted to scare him. Jack wondered, “Is this God or the devil?” Had he called for God and dialed the wrong number?

Jack felt as though he had been tied down on a railroad in the path of a freight train. There was nowhere to go. He could try to escape by speeding away in his truck, but he felt that this cloud would follow him no matter where he went. It would find him. He had to stay here and face his demons. He had to suffer whatever punishment God had slated for him or submit to the will of the angel of death.

Jack could only stand to behold the mighty nebula for half a minute. That half a minute seemed like living through the slow motion instant of a horror movie at the precise moment when a flash of sight and sound blasts you out of your seat.

He felt his chest get heavy. The pain he had felt in his chest had now intensified to such an extent that he believed it would knock him to the ground if this were any ordinary day. He found it hard to breathe. His pulse was racing and his blood was swelling his arteries after every heartbeat with such force that he felt himself expand. Terror was devouring him as though he were a four course meal.

The only way to confront this ominous adversary was to ride it out. He would climb into his truck, turn it around so that it faced away from the cloud, and say his prayers. He scanned his CD collection to find Creedence Clearwater Revival. He played “As Long as I Can See the Light,” turned on a flashlight in reference to the song, and awaited the doom that was hunting him.


Senior Member
if this is a 'novel' then it belongs in the fiction section... even if it's based on a real person's life, it's still fiction, unless written as a straight auto-biography...

you'll need to be sure about which this is, before you submit the finished product to agents and publishers...

love and hugs, maia