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article imageReview: Peter Goodman’s 'Buzzkill' — Bipolar disorder in the raw Special

By Paul Wallis     Mar 21, 2014 in Health
Sydney - Bipolar disorder affects millions of people. It’s a little understood condition, and books from the frontline perspective of those having a bipolar condition are few. Peter Goodman’s Buzzkill is a look at the facts.
It’s confronting, it’s funny, and it’s a journey through a world hardly anyone understands.
A few basic rules for reading Buzzkill-
1. Forget anything you think you know about bipolarity- Bipolarity relates to the individual, and generic thinking is basically off target.
2. Be ready to be hit with anything and everything. A close relative of this book is Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
3. Be prepared for a type of honesty you’ve probably never seen before.
The only way to describe Buzzkill is “endlessly jaw dropping.” It’s not often I read a bio where I actually have to worry about putting in spoilers in the review. Franz Kafka, Joseph Heller, and Kurt Vonnegut would understand this book, which has some echoes of The Trial by Kafka, Heller’s Catch 22, and Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut.
Peter Goodman’s writing style is fast, effective and contains a lot of depth. It’s as much a raging fire as a book. You need to stay with him as he explores a life full of adventures, misadventures, and extraordinary experiences.
I met Peter through some publicity work I’m doing for a site which works with writers looking for creative outlets. We got talking, and I got this book. Little did I know what a massive amount of information and staggering situations I’d get in a couple of hundred pages. I already knew Peter was very articulate, but the book went off the scale in a couple of pages.
Describing the bizarre, the improbable, and the impossible is difficult for most people. Peter does it on a routine basis. Imagine your first trip to a psychiatrist as a sort of Rite of Passage, sponsored by your ambivalent, heavily medicated mother. Simple? No. Not when you’ve got some guy with a face that looks like it’s melting doing the counseling, and that’s just the start.
Then there are the meds- Truckloads of them, with side effects, and an overwhelming lack of interest in accurate monitoring and diagnosis. Anyone who’s ever been railroaded by the meds industry’s shills will get the message, loud and clear. (Interestingly, Buzzkill lays out some unexpected issues about meds, the ones that work, and makes a lot of points about practical issues for users and those prescribing the meds.)
Add to this situation a few other things, like the necessity to have a life, earn money, survive strange jobs and stranger people, and be a functional human being, (remember them?) and you have Buzzkill. Fortunately, Peter’s endless humor turns Buzzkill into a very entertaining book for readers. The experiences are extraordinary, and the way he got them all into a book should be studied by physicists as well as psychiatrists and writers. It’s an extraordinary achievement.
Peter Goodman is passionate about the issues of bipolarity. Buzzkill has delivered some very interesting responses, both from a large number of people with bipolar disorder as well as psychiatric professionals. It’s even used as training material by Dr. Kenneth Gold at LaSalle University.
Interview with Peter Goodman
I thought the best way to get more information about Buzzkill was direct from the source. Fortunately, Peter Goodman does interviews the same way he writes:
Why did you write such an uncompromisingly personal, raw and gritty book?
Because I don’t think what is out there on the subject really tells the reader what they want to know about Bipolar Disorder. It’s either books like “Bipolar for Dummies,” which assume you’re already an imbecile from the get go, and basically feeds you Bipolar pabulum. Or, something like “The Dark Side of My Hand,” which is so esoteric, high-brow and laden with euphemisms you can’t figure out how the hell it relates to your life. I wanted to write a book about Bipolar Disorder that was real. So I wrote it about the Bipolar sufferer I know best… Me. And my life with the disorder has been raw and gritty, so I told it like it is. Once you start sugar-coating it you do a disservice to your readers.
What was the objective of writing a book like this?
To cut through all the rhetoric. To say to others suffering from Bipolar Disorder “you’re not alone. Look what happened to me.” To take some of the most sensitive situations, which many of us are embarrassed about, and be the one to open up about them so nobody else has too. Or, maybe encourage others to chime in and tell their story. And, do it in a humorous self-deprecating manner. Offering myself up as the “sacrificial mental patient.”
How would you define the major issues facing bipolar people today?
Most everything is an issue when you’re Bipolar; Finding the right doctor. Getting on the right meds. Dealing with the side effects. Learning to deal with acute anxieties. Whether or not to make your condition known in the work place, and if so, to whom? However there are certain overriding issues that should be on every mental health professional’s radar regarding Bipolar Disorder:
• The outrageous cost of psychotropic medications.
• When is too young to diagnose a child as Bipolar?
• How old should a child be before they should be given psychotropic medications?
• Making it easier for people to find qualified doctors in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder. Not just General Practitioners dealing out Prozac from a big candy dish in their waiting room.
• The warehousing of Bipolar people in jail or prison instead of getting them the appropriate help. And what kind of acute care are Bipolar people receiving if they are locked up? Where is the oversight?
• The over- diagnoses of Bipolar Illness.
Equally important, dispelling the ridiculous myth that Bipolar Disorder is all in our heads. Well it is, except it’s real! And it’s so destructive it causes people to destroy their lives, sometimes by their own hand. Can you think of anything much worse? And the medications to treat it have saved countless lives. For those who say psychotropics are worthless or conversely in the order of narcotics, answer me this; who in their right mind would take a medication with its miserable side effects if it didn’t make them functional? Happy pills my ass. And Bipolar Disorder is not a diagnosis some psychiatrist in Beverly Hills concocted to supplement his ADD business, like adding fries when you order a Big Mac for just a dollar more. For hundreds of years it was called Manic Depression. With no medications to treat it people were given lobotomies and uncalibrated electroshock to stop the mania and severe depression.
But I also believe the disorder is being over-diagnosed and the medical community needs to be more careful when it comes to medicating children. If a child throws an ol’ fashioned Kentucky-style temper tantrum in the supermarket it doesn’t automatically make them Bipolar. Maybe they are budding professional wrestlers? Or, if they hate school, think everyone hates them and cry a lot, it doesn’t automatically mean they are Bipolar. They may just be tomorrows struggling artist. Kidding aside, if you start throwing the diagnosis around like a discus when it comes to kids, then pump them full of Bipolar meds, two very bad things will happen; the child will never know what their baseline normal is because they are always used to a drug flavoured mood. And, kids can’t articulate very well when a medication is making them feel off balance, tired, more depressed or manic. So they walk around feeling worse than before. Then you incur some real problems. They have some legitimate reasons to act out. So then you pump more medication down their necks. It’s a never ending cycle which could end up ruining perfectly fine lives. I think a child has to be lighting the babysitter’s hair on fire before you start with the meds. Because chances are they will be on them for life. It’s a slippery slope.
The reason I use humor as a coping mechanism is because in the most dire situations you can extract something comical which can make it a little easier with which to deal. What was funny about being suicidal and locked in a psychiatric ward as an indigent in a downtown Philadelphia hospital? This geriatric patient who would hide incapacitated elderly patients he didn’t like in empty rooms so nobody could find them. I was in the grip of a depression so bad I could think of nothing else, but I had to laugh. Or, when I finally found a psychologist, but she was allergic to any kind of perfume scent and would ban me from wearing cologne. On one appointment she even opened all the windows and set up exhaust fans because she did not like the smell of the dry cleaning fluid on my suits. Then she actually banned me from wearing freshly dry cleaned suits to therapy! Half of each session was spent tending to her nasal comfort. You can either be horrified by some patient stashing wheel chair bound patients in empty rooms so nobody can find them, and that lack of unprofessionalism by a licensed psychologist, or find it hysterical and see these incidents as gifts. A little something to get you out of your head. Sometimes if you don’t laugh you’ll cry. I can cry anytime. So I take every opportunity to laugh.
What sort of reactions have you been getting to Buzzkill?
Certain people do treat me differently now that I have put my whole life out there in an often self-deprecating book. I know one woman I used to work with wanted to know why I would tell the world that when I was forced to drink charcoal in the emergency room after an intentional drug overdose it made me throw up and poop myself. Apparently it was too much information. So, we are not friends anymore. Too much reality? But other friends I am now closer to because they have empathy and feel bad I had to swallow charcoal and embarrass myself. And of course there are the friends who have read Buzzkill and are no longer in touch with me because now they doubt my mental perpetude. (“Perpetude” means pattern/continuity of moral behavior.) I was their marketing guru before. Now I’m a bright orange road cone to avoid. My response is if learning of my mental illness makes them suddenly find me incompetent, we really weren’t friends in the first place, so I’m glad they were weeded out. But what makes me livid is when people take responsibility away from me after reading my book. An old roommate, who incidentally loved the book, didn’t trust me to walk her dog anymore. I don’t recall Buzzkill having a scene in it where I barb-o-qued a Dachshund and served it on toast points to my dinner guests. But so be it. I’ll eat my cat.
Reader response has been gratifying. Not only from Bipolar sufferers, but those who just want to learn more about the disorder and the medical professional community. I have received some wonderful and heartbreaking emails. I read every single one and always write back. And I’ve been amazed by all the nice reviews of my book. I wasn’t expecting that from a book that says things like “Portuguese people get no respect from the rest of Europe because they have misshapen heads.” I am disappointed I have not been called more often to speak to book clubs and other groups. It has nothing to do with the money. I’d just love connecting with others like me. And, I enjoy talking with those who have sincere interest in what Bipolar Disorder is. I’m not an expert. But I can share my experience and opinions…. And don’t drink the charcoal.
….And that’s just a few paragraphs, verbatim, of what Peter Goodman has to contribute to the bipolar disorder discussion.
This is the reality.
The health sector could learn a few lessons in basic management with Buzzkill. Supermarket chains and porn sites have “user experience” studies, but the health sector doesn’t. People care if you have a hard time buying a can of beetroot, or if your online experience of a porn site is less than orgasmic, but not if your mental health is an ongoing piñata for decades.
I’ve read a lot of bios, and this one is off the scale for penetrance of tough subjects. There’s no issue-dodging, no “cute” stuff. This is a map of the issues, a Magellan-like global picture of a situation affecting millions of people. Buzzkill’s subjective style does more actual research on any single page than most news media have done in the last 20 years on this subject. Its other enduring legacy, in fact, could also be as a How To manual for first-person writing. Not many people have ever had the guts to write a bio the way Buzzkill is written.
Fortunately for readers, Buzzkill is written in a very accessible, no-guff style, with each situation in context with the overall experience. Any psychiatric or psychological professional reading Buzzkill will instantly see the range of practical issues Peter encounters.
So- Read the book. You’ll get an education and a half, even if you already have a PhD. Buzzkill is for everybody.
Buzzkill is available on Amazon for under $10 from most sellers. Check out the “Look Inside” feature and you’ll see what I mean about this book.
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