By: Ryan Heffernan
Mental health is hell of a thing. Changes a man, truth be told. Kills some too. I have done serious time at the mercy of my bipolar moods. But mercy is probably the wrong word. Because mercy is noticeable mostly for its absence. But then that’s not fair either. Because mercy has given me sweet home Alabama hugs and kisses, that’s for sure and certain. I’ve cheated death, and the police, and various government authorities for that matter, more times than I care to chronicle right now. That’s not man machismo. That’s just what happens in the desperate life of a little bipolar boy.
My personal relationships have been poetic, loving, volatile like a Molotov cocktail, and destructive like a government. But very importantly, despite the poverty and ominous presence of ruination, my manic episodes have also been a source of authentic joy and revelation, delivering a diamond sparkle of glitter and magic into my Universe. A one-of-a-kind Universe, that, I believe, I have only been able to see because of the way my mind works. Without those diamond sparkles and electric smiles to punctuate the Devil in my darkest heart, I can’t be at all sure that I would have found inspiration to get up this time.
Some nights I’m like a hungry stray cat hissing at every other cat in broken down alleyways. On other nights my cat cream belly is full on the finest stinky fish, and I’m purring at the moon while she shines a toasty stagelight down upon me, and seemingly no-one else. On those nights the moon and the stars belong to me. But it’s more than that. This is how I’ve described it in my bipolar memoir, Clown & I.
“I truly believe that to successfully live with bipolar, and perhaps any mental illness, you must see its beauty and its exotic nature. You must see your own beauty and your own exotic nature. Then you have to be brave. Every single, solitary time there’s a rat-a-tat-tat on your door. Be brave. Be brave.”
And I think I was brave in my own small way, in taking on bipolar and mental health this way. I punched the keys through tears and razor blade anxiety and room stomping laughs as well. It’s all in there. From the clashes with authorities to sex dungeons while manic and hypersexual, lost jobs, broken relationships and the hard side of family. Yes family. Indeed, as a direct result of what I have written, I have little contact with my immediate family. They don’t value stories the way I do. They value privacy and presentation. But I can live with that. My story is for the mentally unwell, the black room fighters, the icy trenches freedivers and the searing desert nomads - the ones who know that impulse ain’t any kinda thing you can just brush off with a little discipline. They also know the Reaper will gladly welcome you 24/7. My readers are the ones who see things they shouldn’t and hear things in a way that makes their bones shudder. They’ve walked to the edge and the ledge. But they’ve also lit up the streets with paradise and star diamonds. These are my people. And how can I spend my lifetime asking other people to tell me their stories if I won’t even have the decency to tell my own?
So that’s my answer to “Why?”
Clown and I – A Bipolar Memoir, and all the bipolar poetry and art that surrounds it, is about me articulating the truth of my life to people who have bipolar or any mental illness that has seriously impacted their life and continues to.
Because I am a story chaser and a story feeder. From Ernest Hemingway to Oscar Wilde, Amy Winehouse and Nina Simone, I chase people’s stories, and especially their art, because they articulate more to me than a textbook, mindless gossip, shite reality TV, or even a medical diagnosis, ever will. People’s stories give me pleasure, release, empathy and a genuine understanding of my wilderness world and the creatures I meet. Stories are my power. This time around, my own story chased me down. It caught up with me when I was cold diving naked and unarmed in my dangerous Abyss.
Down a marriage, down on cold, hard cash, almost down my wondrous son and sporting a fraught relationship with the demon drink, I was kissing dirt. At this cavernous point, as I lay drenched in sweat in a blacked out room, listening as piranhas pounded against my flimsy door in packed, relentless lines, I realised I was ready to tell my story. I realised that I had to tell my story.
And so I got up.
Standing up was the only way left to bring on the Phoenix. My splendid Phoenix, who has, so far, never failed to rise me up again. But I would never have made it this far if I didn’t believe, in my soul, that I have a story that may be of some use to you. Take it. Please do. My story is yours. It means nothing without you. This is my truth as best I could tell it in the year 2018. Not one year before and not one year after. Do as you will with me. Do as you will with my story. Do as you will with the Bipolar Clown. He helps me, through comedy and writing, to make some sense of the love and carnage that is the world I live in. And he’s real. He has his own story.
*Incidentally, The Bipolar Clown and I have come to the conclusion that the very things that break us down in the beginning, are also the very things that make us in the end…