on April 26, 2002
Electroboy: A Memoir of Madness is one man's story of his roller-coaster ride through the hell of manic-depressive illness. Fortunately, he seems to have made it to the other side intact enough to write about it. Many others never survive, even as long as Berhman has done, and succumb much earlier to the high fatality rate within this population of our mentally ill.
There is a certain irony in the frustrations expressed by many of the reviewers of Electroboy. They cite the book's disorganized and chaotic approach as its negatives. Yet, looking at this book from another perspective, what I believe Berhman has done remarkably well is to convey just how much his life was one lived in fear, uncontrolled energy and terrifying frenzy.
As I read the book, I found myself needing to put it down every so often just to catch my breath. This may be what caused so many reviewers to react negatively to Electroboy. Yet, my sense of this cyclonic story is that it actually conveys to its audience just a small flavor of the severe degree to which the individual suffering is just simply out of control! Yes, it is filled with alcohol, drugs, sex, bizarre world travel, and other seemingly reprehensible behavior! This is the 'stuff of the illness'
While some may choose to view Berhman's behavior as hedonistic or self centered or egotistical, these conclusions really speak to how little is widely known about manic-depressive illness and most other mental illnesses.Our society continues to hedge on its willingness to recognize mental illness as real. While we have come a long way from parking our disturbed relatives hundreds of miles away in institutions where "out of sight and out of mind" ruled the ways of treatment, even in our more progressive and informed twenty-first century, we still have some very faulty and often superstitious beliefs about mental illness.
Honestly, who would choose to live life in such free fall and utter chaos? I know I wouldn't. Most people certainly don't choose such a life. I don't think those who suffer it choose it either.
For too long we have labeled mental illness as a moral, or religious or willpower failure. Others only describe the behavior by its outward manifestations and related labels: alcoholic, drug addict, sexual deviant, thief, and sociopath... It would seem to me that we need to make some urgently needed revisions on the conclusions and judgments we make when an individual member of our world is so utterly disordered.
We might begin with a simple question pursued diligently by the search for an answer -- What's causing this crazy making? More likely than the failings of morality, or will, we will increasingly come to understand, hopefully soon with empirical evidence, that there exists an authentic organic disease of the brain.
While we have mastered much of the physical body, the brain continues to be largely uncharted territory. We still too often want to view mental illness through the more familiar lens with which we view the broken leg or the tumor or an infection. Quite simple -- Diagnose and treat aggressively! Yet, we aren't so good at realizing that we know much more about the cause and treatment of infections and broken limbs than we do about the malfunctioning brain. We are still in some ways in the dark ages with the diagnostic and treatment approaches for mental illness. Without increased voice for research funding and for insurance coverage, we will probably remain in this dark place for the foreseeable future.
The most compelling and saddening part of Andy Berhman's struggle to gain a level plain on which to live life is how imprecise medical treatment is for mental illnesses. Even with hopeful recent additions to the armament of medications, its seems they are used too broadly with a "one size fits all" attitude. Yet the reality of mental illness diagnosis and treatment is the fact that what works for one person doesn't often work for the next. Dosages need to be trialed and monitored for each individual. Combinations of drugs need to be constantly tinkered with, often over long periods of time. Some people respond to much less medication than others; some to much more than standard.
At the very same time we begin to understand just how complex treatment is for an illness such as this one is, Medical Insurance policies continue to scale back coverage for mental illness. Psychiatric time is often doled out in fifteen-minute segments for a pre-determined number of sessions -- often allocated even before a diagnosis is made. Appointments are often set months apart. Patients are given medications in standard dosages and told to follow the instructions and come back in a month or three! What we know darn well about people who are sick is that they don't have the wherewithal to follow anything with a degree of consistency. To start with these indivduals often don't have much hope left.Why bother with the medications? Beyond this, asking the disordered mind to follow the order required to take a regimen of medications isn't exactly a logical treatment approach. These folks need some help to do things as basic as take medications until they reach a point where they can do it for themselves.
Sadly, on the human level, too often when mentally ill human beings are at their utter bottoms and need their friends and loved ones the most, simply to take care of them in basic ways -- watch their medications, make sure they eat, wash -- these very important people often make themselves particularly scarce out of frustration, fear or their own sense of helplessness.
I hope that Andy Berhman's courageousness in "laying it all out there" for the general public to see helps at least a few professionals to pay better attention to those who come to them for help. So too, I pray that Berhman's story will offer a ray of hope to those (or their family members) still suffering through turmoil similar to that which Berhman himself experienced. I applaud Berhman's contribution to helping us all understand just a little more about the illnesses of the mind!
James J. Maloney
Saint Paul, Minnesota USA
on October 30, 2002
From the perspective of having suffered with manic-depressive illness for twenty-seven years I had great interest in reading, Electroboy: A Memior of Mania. I had read every autobiographical account that I could get my hands on. No other work that I had read affected me as deeply as Andy Behrman's book.
I devoured Electroboy in four hours. I became hypo-manic when I read it. Other accounts of the disease that I have read DESCRIBE the mood swings that one experiences having the disease, Andy Behrman makes you FEEL his highs and lows along with him. Andy Behrman's brutal honesty about his manic behaviors helped me to understand my own. I know longer feel the shame that I once felt and have achieved a self accetance that I never had before through his writing. My whole life I felt that I was speaking a language that no one understood. After reading Electroboy I felt understood. Andy Behrman understood me. The best part that a family member read the book and told me that after reading Electroboy she finally understood my illness after all these years. That understanding is a major accomplishment for which I would like to thank Andy Behrman for. When I got to the last chapter entitled Bodega Roses I did not know that it was the last. But through his words I sensed it and cried. I cried because it was over and I did not want it to end. In summary Andy Behrman's writing style is quick-witted and heart warming. It is a memior that in my eyes is the anthem for those who suffer from this serious disease and a helpful tool for family, friends and loved ones who live with those afflicted.
on April 12, 2002
Ostensibly a book about one man's bout with manic depression, this memoir chronicles Behrman's dizzying journey from part-time male hustler / full-time white-collar professional to convicted felon for art forgery. This period of his life is filled with sexual confusion, financial worries, unrealizable ambitions, stunning successes, equally spectacular failures, compulsive shopping, substance abuse, frenzied traveling, selfish stunts, generous acts, and ridiculously long work hours.
And that's the problem with this book. Although Behrman describes the events leading up to his conviction and therapy, you never get a sense of how his behavior or his actions stem from his illness. I do not mean do imply that the author is not manic-depressive; rather he fails to convey how his experience is any different from your average Wall Street broker, celebrity, advertising director, crystal meth addict, bartender, alcoholic, or Enron executive--or, for that matter, just about any young male living in New York City. After finishing this book, I still have absolutely no idea what it's like to be manic-depressive.
Indeed, the book at time seems more an autobiography of addiction than "a memoir of mania." Although one psychologist suggests substance abuse is a common symptom of manic depression, it`s a marvel that no psychologist or psychiatrist, at least according to the author, speculates at any time that addiction may be the root of Behrman's problems. By his own account, he is continuously and excessively drinking, snorting cocaine, freebasing, and abusing the many prescriptions his doctors supply to him. The author even compares the sensations caused by electroshock therapy to the enjoyment of "everything I liked to abuse--alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, sex," and his full recovery occurs only when he finally stops drinking and using drugs.
Reading his confessions, any sensible reader is going to waver among the four reactions that appear in other reviews on this Web site and elsewhere: (1) Behrman may well be manic-depressive; (2) the diagnosis of manic depression could be as wrong as the previous diagnoses supplied to him by a number of respected psychologists and psychiatrists; (3) the author may have accepted this particular diagnosis because it provided him with an excuse for his irresponsible and embarrassing behavior; or (4) he misses the limelight so much that he has pulled off yet another stunt by publishing this book. Behrman's account doesn't really persuade the reader which of the possibilities should be believed.
And then there's his writing style. The fragmented, journalistic staccato may have been meant to be "manic," but instead it's just tedious. While many of the situations Behrman gets himself into are actually quite funny or tense, the prose overall is astonishingly flat and without any sense of wit or suspense. The exception is the retelling of his first electroshock treatments, when the memoir becomes, at long last, surprisingly humorous and affecting. But, for the reader, it's an awfully long haul to the payoff of those few pages.
on August 7, 2002
Here is the itinerary for ELECTROBOY: Prologue, my relatively normal childhood, college, going insane in college, wasting lots of money out of college, some porn, attempts to produce an amateur film (which pans), therapy, job at Versace, meet male escorts, get job as stripper/hustler, move in with girlfriend, get job at sister's PR agency, some more therapy, more sex, and a job making deals for a prominent, industrial artist--Brace yourself, that's only the first 100 pages. From there on it is a wild ride describing Mr. Behrman's forgery schemes which make him a felon and send him to jail for five months, his diagnosis of manic-depression, the impulsivity which characterizes this disorder, and finally, after many attempts at medication, undergoing electroshock therapy, and then stabilization.
While the book itself was by no-means dull, I have numerous criticisms of it. First of all, there was very little information about bipolar disorder. In fact, the only factual information I can recall was about the four theories on how electroconvulsive therapy can treat mental disorders. I know Mr. Behrman wanted his memoir to be "cool" rather than dry and factual, but he could have worked some facts into the narrative. Second of all, I found myself dissatisfied with a completely sensationalized telling of Mr. Behrman's life. Roughly half the book is taken up with pornography and bizarre sexual situations. I don't mind explicit sex but there was so much of it and if I had wanted to read a book about a post-college student's freaky sex life, I would have picked one entitled just that. It seems like Mr. Behrman was trying to "hide" his story under the respectable guise of a psychological illness, when really, he just fills it with details of sex, drugs, parties, and spending binges. Even the electroshock which supposedly saved him seems meant to be outlandish. The title "Electroboy" seems to be shouting "Look at me, look how crazy I am. I needed shock treatment!" Lastly, I feel that the reason why the manic-depression got so bad was because the author did not take treating his illness seriously. He quits taking various medications because they lower his sex-drive. Given his sexual impulsivity, I would think this would be a GOOD THING for him! I certainly wouldn't consider it a priority at a point where the man was psychotic!
Overall, this just did not seem like a quality-book. The writing was okay, did well enough to carry the story. But I can't give this book better reviews for its writing style alone. Andy Behrman lacked the humor of Elizabeth Wurtzel or the poignancy of Susanna Kaysen. If you want a freaky, totally-out-there tome with some manic depression thrown in as a bonus, then read this. If you're looking for a memoir of a person with a crippling illness, read something else.
on August 2, 2004
Sometimes, being a therapist, you forget what real true mania looks like because you don't get to see it too often. Granted, you see some hypomania, but you don't see the graphicness of true mania: $20,000 Barney's shopping sprees, prostitution, 3 a.m. random travel to wherever, or lying, cheating, and stealing without fear of getting caught. Reading this book was like watching a horrible TV special on fast-forward (horrible because it made you feel uncomfortable for Behrman and also for the people he knew, not because it was written poorly). I read paragraphs out loud to other therapists and they told me to stop because they couldn't follow what he was talking about. I sat and shook my head, thinking, "You did WHAT?" I definitely suggest this book to anyone who is interested in knowing what a full-blown manic episode looks like and all the possible ways that the psychiatric community can deal with it
on September 22, 2005
The book seems to be divided into two parts: the first, mania; the second, depression and recovery.
The first part is total mania, like a apeeding train rushing into trouble. He resists no impulse of any sort. 'Anything worth doing is worth overdoing' seems to be his credo. Impulse cash purchase of a round-trip ticket to Tokyo? Yes, he's done it. Any possible tawdry activity in Times Square. Yes. Shopping himself into a guilty funk? ($8,000 in three hours on clothes.) That too.
He gets a high-paying job in the art world that fits perfectly with his mania. Now his incredible jetting around the world is a requirement of that job.
In the second part, wild cycles from elation to despair fill the pages. His solution involves the title -- electroshock. And lots of prescibed psychoactive drugs.
He must be one of the most medicated people on the planet, certainly for a mentally troubled person outside of a hospital. He takes 15 pills every night -- nine diffrent drugs. Some of the drugs require he take other drugs. His anti-psychotic drug needs more pills to control its side effects.
Then, too, he becomes an electroshock abuser. He takes lots of the treatments, at least partly because he loves the anesthesia given beforehand!
This is both a fast-reading rollercoaster of a book and yet profondly sad. It's not a book of great insight, but at least to me, it seems an accurate narration of a scarey mental world.
on January 2, 2006
Despite all the bad reviews, I liked this book very much. I was recently diagnosed with this same disorder and could relate to many of his thoughts. I think Andy Behrman did a good job not only describing his illness,ie.OCD symptoms and narcissism, but can actually poke fun at himself. Having this disorder, I have found that finding a bit of humor can be a saving grace at times. Thank you Andy for a book well done. From one manic to another you wrote a good one depicting the ramble that goes thru our heads.
on March 19, 2002
While I certainly appreciate the attempt, I didn't feel that Mr. Behrman created a successful book, in that it offers little in the way of substance, or insight into his mental illness. What we have is manic depression as justification for the author's public display of his consumerism, sexual exploits, and "jet set" Manhattan lifestyle, which in these pages is not exciting or shocking, but rather pathetic. One feels the author sold the book to a publisher as a "concept" and then set about cranking out the pages. No heart, little insight, Electroboy feels empty.
on February 22, 2002
Electroboy infused me with enough wattage to light up my day-- yes I read this page-turner in a day, unable to put it down. Behrman's manic hijinx were alternately hilarious and terrrifying. His jet-setting, drug infused, sexually charged escapades come at a price and his struggle through electroshock therapy, prison (though his is definitely a minimum security cake walk) therapy and getting himself a taste of sanity is as gripping as the ride through hell. Most intriguing was the honesty with which Behrman examines his post-manic life. Though partly pleased to be out from the escalating madness he expresses feelings of regret-- Behrman seems to miss his over-the-top existence. I regret having finished this book so quickly.
on July 5, 2011
I have no idea what those other people read when they picked up their copy of Electro Boy by Andy Behrman......but I found an engaging, at times frenetic, compelling, poignant story of honesty, pain, exploration, poor choices, great humor, and ultimately some redemption. Behrman writes this as only someone who has ridden the roller coaster of mood disorder can do. And ridden it hard I might mention.
Recently, I met Mr. Behrman, and never having read his work, decided this was the right time. He reinvented himself so many times in this story, while catastrophically suffering from mental illness - it defies description. I don't want to give away any plot points so I'll just say for those of you interested in this subject matter this is a must-have addition to your library. Bravo Andy & stay well!