A young man grapples with bipolar “voices” via religion, hedonism, activism, and Lithium.
In his debut, Monroe-Kane, a Peabody Award–winning public radio producer, brings a fresh perspective to familiar memoir territory. During his childhood, his impoverished family stressed a spirit of eccentric independence, which enabled him to conceal symptoms of mania. “For the most part, I didn’t worry much about the voices,” he writes. “But at night, things could get dicey.” In adolescence, the author was drawn first to evangelicalism, deciding the voices meant he’d been “anointed by God as his special emissary,” then to the Mennonites he met at a small religious college. Diagnosed as schizophrenic following a breakdown in college, he threw himself into volunteer missionary work, which led to immersion in the leftist radical scene around Amsterdam. He enjoyed sexual and chemical awakenings, while his manic energy compelled him to organize grass-roots events, although his frustrated comrades eventually expelled him after a monthlong LSD binge. Humiliated, he then went to Prague, where the post-communist cultural awakening inspired him to give up psychiatric medication for the next 15 years. “The time had come,” he writes, “…to bring back the voices. To admit more loose associations.” The narrative speeds up into a further blur of hard drug use and sex until an ominous encounter with organized crime during a scheme to open the city’s first internet cafe points him (rather neatly) toward a resolution. The conclusion finds the author married with children, done with hard drugs, but relying on therapy and medication: “My daily doses were back, and with them returned all the old doubts.” Monroe-Kane writes about his fevered youth clearly and thoughtfully, underscoring how religious fervor, politics, and a party lifestyle can all mesh dangerously with mental illness.
A casually told but often compelling account of wrestling with inner turmoil against gritty, dramatic international settings.