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I’m reading at a quite prodigious rate at the moment – I covered about as many books in the first three months of this year as I did in the whole last year. It’s not that I have too much free time on my hands at the moment, rather that I need something to take my mind off things in the evening.
So, what about Electroboy? The book is subtitled “A Memoir of a Mania", and that’s what it is. It’s the autobiography of one Andy Behrman from New Jersey, movie producer, art dealer, public relations agent – but also male stripper, hustler, hardcore drug user, and convicted felon for selling counterfeit art. Driven by an intense manic depression that went undiagnosed and untreated for a decade, he attained ever greater heights, securing millions in PR contracts and art deals, working 22-hour-days. But he spends the money as soon as he takes it in, on shopping sprees (spending 6000$ for pullovers because he thinks they’re all so wonderful), flying from Zürich to the Bahamas and back, to balance the cold and hot weather, flying to Berlin to see the fall of the Berlin Wall, storing his money in wads of 25.000$ in his freezer till he feels the compulsion to take it all out and spend it.
Behrman is the “real Americal Psycho” – a real-world version of Bret Easton Ellis’ protagonist. Outwardly, he is hugely successful, fitting right into the crazy world of 1980’s New York art scene. But he is also driven by an intense mania, over which he has no control. He craves the thrill of his manic episodes and will do anything to experience more of them.
And – much to the dishonour of the psychiatric profession – his illness is not properly diagnosed for more than ten years, even though he is almost constantly in some kind of therapy. But this may also be due to him only seeing a psychiatrist for his depressive episodes, not for the manic episodes. He is almost addicted to his mania, and sees no reason to stop it. He only seriously persues therapy when in addition to mania and depression, he experiences psychotic episodes. In the end, one psychiatrist finds a drug cocktail that, combined with electroshock therapy, seems to help him and make him sane again.
What are the implications of this book?
I think it reminded me that the playing field is level for all of us. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
In our youth, we all have idols – people we admire, people we envy, people we strive to be. But you also have to be aware of what you have to sacrifice in order to attain that kind of life. If you find someone who excels in one field, chances are he had to give up other things – things that may be very important to you yourself. And if you stumble upon a career that seems to be too fabulous to be true, perhaps the person had to sacrifice something equally fabulous, like his own sanity. Everyone has to find his own mix, everyone has to find out which elements of his life are important to him.
I have been in situations that demanded that kind of decision – decisions about which kind of person I want to be. I declined some opportunities that, perhaps, would have led me to a much more exciting life. Perhaps not, perhaps I’d have failed the challenges. But in the end, I found my own way of life, found out what’s important to me and what challenges I have to overcome in order to get happy. I made some wrong decisions, but also a lot of right ones. I learned a lot. I found out a lot about what makes me happy. I think that some of these revelations would have taken a much longer time, had I chosen a different path through life.