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Catching Up …

February 18, 2017 at 10:22 am


A lot of exciting new stuff to report. Real quick …

New Blog

I am on the road. In late Jan, I packed my remaining possessions into my car and pulled out of San Diego. I’m calling my adventure, New Heart, New Start: A Journey of Discovery, Healing, and Connection. Right now, I’m in Arizona. Who knows where I will end up. That’s the point.

You can check out my road adventures at New Heart, New Start.

New Book

In late Dec, I published the second book in The Bipolar Expert Series, IN SEARCH OF OUR IDENTITY: UNDERSTANDING BEHAVIOR IN BIPOLAR DISORDER. My first book, NOT JUST UP AND DOWN, investigated the link between mood and personality. My new book picks up where we left off and covers entirely new ground. Essentially, I asked myself a question that has dogged me my whole life, namely why do so many of us feel so different, as if we don’t belong on this planet.

IN SEARCH OF OUR IDENTITY is available on Amazon as an ebook and paperback.
More updates soon …


September 12, 2016 at 4:41 pm

I just added this to the draft of my book, IN SEARCH OF OUR IDENTITY: UNDERSTANDING BEHAVIOR IN BIPOLAR, due to come out in another couple of weeks …


In May 2016, I set aside work on this book to attend to another project. In mid-July, a week or so away from returning to these pages, I experienced severe shortness of breath, chest pain, and a tingling in my upper left arm.

I called my brother, who drove me to the nearest ER. I was half-expecting to be sent home with a baby Aspirin. Three days later, a highly dedicated medical team cracked me open like a lobster and performed quadruple bypass surgery.

By rights, my heart should have stopped beating months before. It was totally blocked, and my cardiologist had images to prove it. I had been breathing on borrowed time. Had I not called my brother, had he not picked up the phone, I would not have dialed 911. I’m guessing, then, I would have been down to my last or second-to-last sunset.

In the past, I have characterized suicidal depression as a heart attack of the brain. Everything inside shuts down. Your life is hanging by a thread. Now, actually having survived both a severe cardiac crisis and a suicidal depression, I can attest that my comparison was far more accurate than I ever could have imagined. I just need to add this one observation:

Until my surgery, I simply assumed that severe medical crisis equated with high drama. With my heart about to stop beating, I figured my face should be turning purple as I fell to the floor, clutching my chest, pulling down at least one floor lamp in the process. Only then, should I call 911.

Seventeen years before, I harbored a similar misconception regarding suicidal depression. Common sense told me that I should be on a window ledge looking down, someone 20 feet below looking up and leaning into yellow crime scene tape, trying to establish a rapport through a bullhorn.

The reality – both times for me – was far different. Over a period of more than two years, right to the very end, my depression convinced me it wasn’t real. As my depression slowly claimed new territory, neuron by neuron, my mind came up with a million rationalizations. Call it a stealth condition. Even in the ER, demonstrably falling apart, I felt that I didn’t belong there, that I was unworthy of medical attention.

The heart plays similar tricks. For nearly a year, whenever I exerted myself, my breathing would become labored. Over the months, even as my condition grew more apparent, I found reasons to avoid coming to the obvious conclusion. Even the day I called my brother, I wondered whether I wasn’t being melodramatic.

My first hours in the ER seemed to confirm my hypochondria. My initial tests showed a robustly beating heart and fully oxygenated blood. To play it safe, the doctors decided to keep me overnight for further observation and testing. They lined up some routine stress tests for me the next day. Then a late blood test came in. An enzyme reaction indicated signs of my heart in distress. They would skip the stress tests and go straight to shoving a tiny camera up an artery.

Reading between the lines, I guessed the medical team would find a minor blockage, which they would rotor-rooter out. Then they would insert a supporting stent in the affected arterial region. Easy-peasy. I would be home a few hours after the procedure.

Instead, I woke up to holy fucking shit news. That evening, as I was getting out the word to those close to me, nurses and technicians prepped me for surgery to take place first thing in the morning. Talk about a stealth condition. The doctors and nurses and technicians, to a person, incidentally, congratulated me on my decision to go to the ER. My symptoms may have been subtle, they advised me, but the people who fail to get themselves to the ER are the ones they never get to hear about, the ones who don’t live to tell their stories.

So, yes, a suicidal depression is like a heart attack. But I needed to experience both to fully appreciate the quiet perversity that is their MO. How they have a way of sneaking up on you in the dark, how they can deceive you into thinking it’s all in your head, how they contrive to convince you that it will all blow over, that it’s nothing, really, that you will wake up feeling much better, until – of course – you fail to wake up.

My return to life was nothing short of a major miracle. But before I could fully celebrate, my financial and living situation entirely collapsed. Meanwhile, – and this is perfectly routine – over the next month, in a strange house, to go with the severe energy-depletion of my sternum mending and the rest of my body trying to figure out the new world order, I experienced a life-sucking major weight loss.

Oh, yes, and the type of draining depression that is part and parcel to patients recovering from heart surgery.

Welcome to a new form of death in life. At the same time, though, here I was, in deep gratitude, marveling at the miracle of my rebirth and resurrection, even while I was experiencing major obstacles with any task more complex than breathing.

But the important thing was – I was breathing. Real breaths, not labored breaths. Through the fog of my weakened condition, I began planning my life, the one that against all conceivable odds did not end months short of my sixty-seventh birthday.

As I write this, the weight is piling back on. My strength is returning. Once I am fully recovered – and this includes cataract surgery – I will be loading camping gear, a few didgeridoos, and other odds and ends into my car and taking to the road.

I’m calling it New Heart, New Start. I’m describing this new page of my life as a journey of discovery, healing, and connection. I plan on being on the road for 12 months.

I anticipate taking to the road in November. The first stage of my journey will take me out of San Diego north to Joshua Tree National Park, then east to the natural wonders of Arizona, New Mexico, and lower Utah and Colorado. This leg of the trip will be devoted to my physical and spiritual healing. The land heals. The American Southwest is very generous in this regard.

Eventually – in the spring – I will find my way to New York City to be with my daughter and her family. Then up into New England before heading west across the northern states. From there, who knows?

All along the way, I am looking to make connections – both with people I have known over the years and with a new generation of boon companions. In the course of my travels, I anticipate a gradual falling away of my outer core, and a renewed relationship with my inner one. At many points along the way, I expect to be meeting myself for the first time. Such is our search for identity. I trust I will be happy with the outcome.

This book addressed the central question of why we seem to be born different, why we feel so out of place in a world that every day seems to offer yet more convincing proof that we were meant for life on any planet but this one. The original intention of this book had been far wider. Behavior, after all, is a limitless topic. But my return from heart surgery convinced me to keep a much tighter focus. Our search for identity cuts right to the heart of all our issues.

When I saw my cardiologist a week after being discharged, he asked me if I had any questions. “Only philosophical ones,” I found myself answering. On the way home, I found myself contemplating the fact that here I was, all these years, still holding myself out to be an expert patient, the author of a bipolar expert series of books, no less. But expert patient, I began to realize, didn’t begin to tell the whole story. Yes, I still identify as an expert patient, but the process of writing this book, together with the many personal realizations coming out of my heart surgery, had the effect of turning me into a philosopher-patient.

When I returned to these pages soon after the fog lifted, I began channeling that inner philosopher. Consciously, this was not the book I set out to write. Unconsciously, this was the book I needed to write.

Thank you for reading this.

Bipolar and Creativity

May 26, 2016 at 11:06 am

One of the first things those new to bipolar want to know about is the connection between bipolar and creativity. It’s as if we’re looking for some kind of silver lining to compensate for all we’ve been through. The good news is – yes – there is a connection, validated by a number of studies. The bad news is that our depressions and manias are an impediment to creativity. The same studies that validate the bipolar-creatity connection also show that the real beneficiaries are the first-degree relatives. These are the ones who have hit the genetic jackpot – north of normal, south of bipolar. Our goal then, is to aim for that sweet spot.

In this video – our new Youtube Series called Bipolar Stuff in the Shack – Maggie Reese and I explain the ins and outs of bipolar and creativity. We also look at what you can do to enhance your creativity. Not all of us are born to be artists and writers and musicians, but we can stoke our inner Van Gogh by buying a coloring book and simply having fun.

Be sure to get on the Stuff in the Shack mailing list at stuffintheshack@gmail.com.

New Video Series: Bipolar Stuff in the Shack with John and Maggie

May 25, 2016 at 8:50 pm


Last Wednesday, I showed up at the home of my good friend Maggie Reese with a video camera. Basically, I let the camera roll as the two of us talked for four hours. The result is 13 amazing videos on bipolar topics ranging from meds to exercise relationships, and including a whole bunch we don’t ordinarily associate with bipolar, such as music and faith and spirituality.

Maggie is the author of The Runaway Mind and a mother of a nine-year-old. Whenever we meet for breakfast or a burger, we spark off of each other and can’t stop talking. We decided to see if we could capture that magic on video. We did. You can view the thirteen videos on our YouTube Channel at Bipolar Stuff in the Shack with John and Maggie.

On Monday, we shoot another round of videos. Be share to get on our mailing list at stuffintheshack@gmail.com.

My Readers Talk About My Book

December 31, 2015 at 1:18 pm


My book, NOT JUST UP AND DOWN: UNDERSTANDING MOOD IN BIPOLAR DISORDER, was released in November as an ebook and in December as a paperback. My readers tell a better story than I can, Here is a sampling of their Amazon customer reviews …

This is such a valuable book. Not only for people who have the diagnosis of bipolar, but for those who want to understand a bit more about psychiatry, the complexity of mood disorders, or how to understand a loved one with interesting brain wiring. John is ahead of his time in presenting balanced, well-researched information in a manner that is entertaining. A true writer, his words are easily comprehended – especially on such a sophisticated subject matter.
– Therese

When it comes to exploring the gray matter between our ears, John’s got chops in this area of the mental health field, period. As a been-there-and-back journalist-turned-expert, he disseminates profoundly complicated layers of history and inside drama into a story the lay person can understand without the glazed-eye effect. No snoring. The man gets your attention and keeps it!
– Tamara

I have been reading John McManamy for years and he is compelling, insightful and a fine writer. His thoughts on hypomania feeling the most “normal”, on managing cycles within cycles gives fascinating criticism to the DSM5 definitions that obscure rather than illuminate. …What is most compelling is his experience with the states, medications and choices he writes about. He has “skin in the game”. And that outweighs the excessively neutral tone of academic writing on the disease.
– Herb Lady

His perspective is refreshing and thought-provoking. He has once again done a great service, not only to people with bipolar disorder but also to their loved ones.
– Carlo

There are simply not enough of these books for the public to read. McManamy stares directly into the soul …
– Budster

I find John an original and erudite thinker yet a very clear communicator (his years as a journalist no doubt plays a role there). He is devoted to science and firmly grounded in the reality of his own experiences as a patient. I have been following his work for years, and have been eagerly awaiting his latest book for some time now. All I can say is, John delivers.
– Gina

John McManamy has years of seasoned insight. In a world of too-quick pharmaceutical numb-downs, John presents a human experience that everyone goes through on one level of intensity or another. … I am grateful John holds up a lantern as he lights the way to open hearts and greater understanding.
– Jonathon

McManamy strives to make each person with depression and bipolar disorder an expert patient. Far from being at the mercy of doctors, therapists, programs, hospitals, family and other caregivers, people with mood disorders can take the driver’s seat and harness a care team to get to living the life we want to live. … Walking the walk and not just talking the talk is key to McManamy’s expertise …
– Amy

Even as someone who has a mental illness, I tire of mental health books that re-hash information I already know and often tell depressing stories. Not Just Up and Down is different! He is an expert with a sense of humor …
– Whitney

This book is so well written I didn’t want to put the book down! My husband who doesn’t like reading about mental illness picked it up and said, “My goodness this guy knows how to write!” He goes into detail how bipolar works, how you can help yourself, how one is able to cope with this illness. John McManamy is a brilliant writer. What a gift he is to this world. I highly recommend this book to families dealing with bipolar and those who battle this illness.
– Christina

I read this book and found it to be very informative about a condition that can be very confusing to many. I loved the balance between reasearch and personal antidotes. I learned about the history of psychiatry and its impact upon diagnosis and treatment. Mostly, I love the hope this book offers.
– Jade


Purchase the Kindle edition from Amazon.

Purchase the paperback version from Amazon.


A Quick Thanksgiving Post …

November 26, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you have been reading my new book, NOT JUST UP AND DOWN, you may recall this passage:

Remember that proud moment at the Thanksgiving table when you told Uncle Shithead what you really think of him and his stupid politics and where he could stick it, along with the cranberry sauce and stuffing?

It was your finest hour, no doubt about it, but for some strange reason your partner didn’t congratulate you. No, on the drive back—pointedly and with great emphasis—she didn’t say a word. Tacit. Allegro con silentio. Then, at home, in your pajamas, just as you were dimming the lights, she let loose. She tore into you. She ripped you to shreds, lacerated, eviscerated—folded, stapled, mutilated—pulled out a Sharpie and wrote Mongolia on the one patch of contiguous skin remaining on your forehead, affixed a stamp, and tossed you in a snowbank in the general direction of the mailbox.

Hopefully, your holiday is going better than that, but always keep in mind that staying home and and watching CSI reruns in your pajamas may not be such a bad idea, either. You know best what is good for you. I happen to be home in my pajamas right now, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the peace and quiet.

Till next time …

Looking at “Normal”

November 18, 2015 at 12:06 am

Writes Therese Borchard in her blog, Sanity Break, on Everyday Health::

Ten years ago, when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was working with a psychiatrist who wanted me to alert him at the first hint of a creative thought. Whether it was an article idea or, God forbid, a concept for a book — any scribbling into a notebook, because that was surely an indication that I was experiencing hypomania and needed a higher dose or a different kind of antipsychotic — he wanted for me to get in touch. He put the fear of God into me that any sign of life in my comatose brain or body meant that I was spiking before crashing into a debilitating depression.

She adds:

Even after I left him to work with a much more skilled physician, I had this paranoia about feeling good: “Am I hypomanic?” I would ask my psychiatrist. “I don’t want to die today, which clearly means I’m hypomanic, right?” Every emotion and response to life’s events became a symptom. I categorized all crying sessions as “depression,” and filed any type of excitement or energy under “mania.” The terrain between the two, or what we consider “normal,” was a thin thread of land that I visited as often as the Gaza Strip.

Here’s where I come in:

But we really should widen our concept of “normal” — challenge ourselves to see our responses, temperaments, and our very selves as more US than illness — explains mental health expert John McManamy in his new book, Not Just Up and Down: Understanding Mood in Bipolar Disorder, the first of a Bipolar Expert Series.

She goes on to cite a passage from my book:

I had no idea when I began this book of the emphasis I would give to “normal.” Once I got several chapters in, though, it became clear I needed to regard normal as a mood episode unto itself, as worthy of our respect as depression and mania and hypomania and anxiety. This was one of those Newton-under-the-apple tree moments for me. From there, “normal” literally took over the book.

If our “normal” fails us, our depressions and manias and anxieties are sure to follow suit. Or, looking at it from a slightly different perspective, if our normal is too fragile, depression and mania and anxiety are going to come crashing through the door. This is where the Socratic injunction to “know thyself” acquires a new sense of urgency.

Therese, who I regard as the one of the few people on a planet of seven billion that gets me, totally grasps where I’m coming from, namely:  We can’t come to terms with our bipolar until we come to terms with ourselves. Our ups and downs only have meaning in relations to our sense of “normal.” And normal has many ways of failing us. As Therese explains:

Throughout the book, he demands that his readers get to know themselves, to evaluate their history of symptoms and life circumstances, and to navel-gaze a bit and explore themselves as if they were a foreign country for which they desire a visa. That knowledge, he asserts, is going to help you expand the time you spend in the normal Gaza Strip of your life, and better manage your episodes in the seas of depression and mania that border. Normal is what we’ve striving for, and ironically, we might be there more often than we think we are.

Lots more on “normal” in blog posts to come. In the meantime, I urge you to read Therese’s post in full, and to check out my book on Amazon …

Purchase now.

Therese Borchard likes my new book …

November 7, 2015 at 10:55 am


Therese is the acclaimed author of Beyond Blue, founder ofProject Beyond Blue, and is my all-time favorite blogger. You can follow her Sanity Break blog on Everyday Health. Yesterday, she posted on Amazon, a customer review of my book. Here is her review in full:

I have known John personally and respected his work for ten years. We were among the first mental-health bloggers out there going public with our stories and possibly the only two people at the time that were interjecting a sense of humor into this often somber subject matter. In his past writings and with this book, he has done a masterful job of helping people become experts of their illness–educating them about the history of psychiatry, especially the development of diagnoses included in all versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–so that they can be a well-informed participant in their recovery and not be afraid to think for themselves. “My goal in this book is to help make you an expert patient,” he writes in the first chapter, because “patients who take the lead in learning about their illness and in managing their own recovery fare far better than those who simply wait for things to happen.”

John is a perfect guide to help persons navigate the messy terrain of bipolar disorder because not only does he suffer from the illness himself, but he has a wealth of knowledge tucked away in his noggin. He has studied virtually every classic text on psychiatry and mood disorders—quoting a variety of experts dating back to Hippocrates—and has attended (and sometimes presented at) practically every conference held by the American Psychiatric Association and other professional psychiatric organizations.

All of the chapters contain entertaining anecdotes, interesting studies, and sound advice, but I especially loved what he had to say about normal, because going there is brave—what we know is extremely muddled, unclear, confusing. As John rightly points out, our neat diagnoses confer on us a sense of absolution: It was my depression that kept me from remembering your birthday, it wasn’t me! My mania took over when I hit on your girlfriend, it’s not my fault! We see our depression and mania as entitles apart from ourselves, even giving them names like “black dog” (Winston Churchill). A sense of detachment benefits us. John writes:

“Normal” doesn’t let us off the hook so easily. It’s personal, it’s painful. We have to come to terms with ourselves. In the long run, though, our enquiry is the source of our salvation. Normal, as we have seen, can be an extremely frightening place. But it is also the repository of all that is good inside us, together with all our hopes and dreams.

I appreciate his insights right now because I’m starting to reevaluate some of the beliefs I’ve held about my illness for 25 years … like maybe several of those moments I categorized as “depressed” or “manic” were just me. I am a deep thinker that tends to reflect (okay, obsess) on the suffering of the world. Maybe that’s my “normal” and not all “illness.” My playfulness is also who I am, not necessarily hypomania.

This is such a valuable book. Not only for people who have the diagnosis of bipolar, but for those who want to understand a bit more about psychiatry, the complexity of mood disorders, or how to understand a loved one with interesting brain wiring. John is ahead of his time in presenting a balanced, well-researched information in a matter that is entertaining. A true writer, his words are easily comprehended — especially on such a sophisticated subject matter.

I applaud John for this amazing work of art!


Right now, I am offering the book to readers for $2.99. This is both a thank you for those who have stayed with me over the years, as well my effort to get the word out. In January the price will go up, but I am still committed to keeping it affordable – at $4.99. Anyway, you start reading it in few minutes by clicking the link, which will take you to the Amazon site.

Purchase now.

Now on Amazon!

November 6, 2015 at 11:43 am

cover copy_edited-1 copy

Purchase …

NOT JUST UP AND DOWN challenges the simplistic notion that bipolar disorder is an episodic illness characterized by extreme shifts in mood from depression to mania. Instead, John McManamy presents a far more nuanced picture of bipolar as a cycling illness with the brain in perpetual motion, extremely sensitive to nature’s slightest whims.

In this book, award-winning mental health journalist and author John McManamy seamlessly integrates expert scientific and patient wisdom, as seen through the eyes of someone who must face the daily challenge of his illness.

Among other things, you will learn how to distinguish your depressive and manic “traits” from your depressive and manic “states.” Not everything is as it seems.

You will also gain insights into:

*The bipolar spectrum, which overlaps with depression and anxiety and personality.
*The mysterious interplay between genes and environment and temperament.
*Your own true “normal,” which needs to be regarded as a mood episode in its own right.
*Your own anomalous behaviors, ranging from creativity to road rage to exuberance to thinking deep.
*The bipolar’s dilemma, namely: Do you take a chance on exerting yourself and thus risk triggering a mood episode, or do you play it safe, only succumb to isolation and despair?

In the process of learning to “know thyself,” you will grow to take stock in yourself and become your own expert patient, in a position to manage your own recovery and set your own goals in life.

“John McManamy has produced a brilliant book, north of normal, south of crazy. It’s as good an education about depression and manic states, and about psychiatry in general, as I’ve seen in one place, written from a first-person perspective of someone who’s experienced what he’s writing about. It’s well-informed, based on careful study, explaining complex concepts simply but not simplistically, citing all the right people, and the wrong ones too (on purpose). Read it, and it’ll cure you of your average-itis.” – Nassir Ghaemi, Professor of Psychiatry, Director, Mood Disorders Program, Tufts Medical Center.

Purchase …


Not Just Up and Down: Major Endorsement

November 5, 2015 at 1:10 am

By John McManamy


This endorsement, just in …

“John McManamy has produced a brilliant book, north of normal, south of crazy. It’s as good an education about depression and manic states, and about psychiatry in general, as I’ve seen in one place, written from a first-person perspective of someone who’s experienced what he’s writing about. It’s well-informed, based on careful study, explaining complex concepts simply but not simplistically, citing all the right people, and the wrong ones too (on purpose). Read it, and it’ll cure you of your average-itis.”

– Nassir Ghaemi, Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, Tufts Medical Center