Interview with  Michael J. Schiuma.
Author of (In)Sane: Memoirs of a Manic Millennial

 

Author Michael J. Schiuma’s (In)Sane: Memoirs of a Manic Millennial is the story of a mind lost in mania.

After years of suffering through undiagnosed Bipolar, Schiuma found himself at the precipice of disaster - jobless, broke, and alone in a psych ward. This harrowing account of his sojourn through the mental-healthcare system touches on the moments of desperation and triumph alike.

He answered some questions from the Great Northwest Book Festival on his work.

GREAT NORTHWEST: The book is obviously deeply personal. What was the toughest thing to write about?

MICHAEL SCHIUMA: As the first half of (In)Sane was written during mania and I found myself especially loquacious and without inhibition, I found no difficulty in pouring words onto the page - within 2 weeks’ time, I had written about 100 pages in the height of my episode. However, revisiting the text after recovering was painful, as it was hard to reconcile my actions during my mental-health crisis with my true character as a person. Thus, lending perspective to the events that were transpiring in reality during my psychosis was taxing, because I had to relive and tap into my mottled thoughts, and then make sense of them in order to convey my meaning to the reader. Overall, I feel that I was able to provide insight into what it truly means to endure the tribulations of untreated mental illness, and how to find success and euthymia on the other side.

GNW: Were your parents/friends/relatives surprised by any revelations?

MS: Yes. Many of my friends and family were not aware that I was in crisis, and only found out years later. Also, as I discuss in the book, from the outside, my life appeared normal - I was highly active and performing well in most aspects of my life.

Reading about some of the darkest moments of my life came as a shock to many, as they found it difficult to envision me behaving in the manner that I did during mania. I think another source of surprise was the fact that I was able to recount my story, especially during this harrowing saga. People who were close to me at that time and aware of the situation believed that I had lost grip of reality within my psychosis, and this was partly true. Yet, I was able to maintain enough wherewithal to recall events, anecdotes, times, places, and other striking details, even in all of my distress.

GNW: You were good at disguising your depression. Can you recognize that in others?

MS: Absolutely. I have often found those suffering from mental illness to be kindred spirits. There is a certain way that anxiety and depression affect thought patterns and a person’s outlook on life that it is often apparent to me when I get to know someone more intimately that they also suffer from a mental illness, even if it is not strictly Bipolar. Constant self-doubt and self-deprecation, overthinking and ruminating thoughts, and a higher-than-average capacity for empathy and tolerance for pain are among the traits that I find common among these people. Moreover, mental illness is so widespread that it is easy to encounter someone that struggles with it. This is why I feel that sharing my story is so critical - countless people suffer in silence every day, and it’s time that we take action to better serve them, and save some lives in the process.

GNW: What was said to you on the church retreat where you finally recognized your condition

MS: In reality, it was a brief moment when a girl in my group reached out and touched my hand lightly and said, “...me too.” She was responding to me after I had revealed that I felt that I might suffer from depression in a moment of unadulterated

candor. From that moment, I knew that my life had changed, even though it would take me 6 more years to seek treatment for my Bipolar. Simply recognizing that what I was feeling wasn’t the norm was enough of a revelation that my outlook on life had changed, even if my approach to dealing with my inner turmoil hadn’t. Although I regret that I didn’t take action sooner, I truly believe that my severe manic episode was paramount to ultimately finding the right treatment, and that the outcome of it has amounted to something even more life-changing - the opportunity to share my journey, and make sure that fellow sufferers know that they are never alone.

GNW: How did writing this book help you?

MS: Since childhood, I have always wanted to be an author. When I typed out the first word of (In)Sane during my manic episode, I did not have a set purpose or goal in mind. Dumping my thoughts onto the page was simply a way for me to grapple with the endless and chaotic stream of consciousness that inhabited my mind during psychosis. However, after years in my Google Docs, I chose to re-read the wild concoction that had resulted from this effort to soothe my mind, and found that, despite a long period of recovery and normalcy, the text allowed me to reconnect with the emotions and perspectives that I held when I was enduring mania. Ultimately, this is what makes (In)Sane invaluable - it is a transparent account of the inner workings of my mind and the persistent rationalization of irrational behavior during this time that allows the reader to dive into the middle of a psychotic episode, and make sense of the ‘why’ behind the actions of people suffering from a mental-health crisis.

GNW: Would you have fared differently if you had been born later?

MS: Mental Health Awareness has come a long way in the wake of younger generations that are more courageous and honest in sharing their battles with mental illness. I believe that, if I had been born later, there would have been a better chance that I would have come to the realization that something was wrong sooner, and sought the help that I needed at that time. However, I am grateful to be a part of the Millennial generation, as their commitment to improving the mental health within our society is truly commendable. I hope to carry on the torch, and make sure that future generations find the strength to open up about their difficulties, and make it not only acceptable, but encouraged, to attend therapy and work through these deeply personal issues.

GNW: What kind of reaction do you get at public talks?

MS: Often, relief is the foremost reaction that I receive when conducting speaking engagements. For families that have loved ones in the midst of a mental-health crisis, the opportunity to ask questions and receive honest answers from someone who has had similar experiences provides some comfort in a situation in which they often find themselves powerless to convince their loved one to accept treatment. Additionally, my journey reaffirms that people suffering from mental illness can make a full recovery, and continue on to lead fruitful lives. I cherish these opportunities to connect with people, and show them that all is not lost - there is a light at the end of the arduous tunnel of mental illness.

GNW: How does living in the New York City area help or hurt you?

MS: New York City is undoubtedly a difficult place to live due to its frenetic and often discouraging nature. However, living and working in the city has provided me a certain resilience, and the energy that constantly surrounds me helps me to stay motivated, and connect with other people who are looking to make something of their lives. The greatest difficulty I find here is the sense of anxiety that seems to pervade this concrete jungle - between the endless cacophony, danger, and sheer number of people inhabiting the same space, I often find myself mentally fatigued. Regardless, I sincerely believe that this is where I am supposed to be, and that there is no better place to chase this dream of mine to become a successful author, and to transform the lives of others suffering from mental illness.

GNW: What’s next for you?

MS: As a self-published author, I wear many hats. Between creating content, marketing the book, networking, and managing speaking engagements, I often find myself overwhelmed. However, there is fulfillment in this as well, because it is the realization of my passion for writing and giving back. In the coming months, I plan to continue to grow my following on social media, spread (In)Sane as far and wide as possible, and truly immerse myself in the community of people looking to change the policy and approach to treating mental health in our country. Although it is in the distant future, my dream of becoming a bestselling author still drives me to pave the way to that vision, and I am beyond fortunate to have a platform to share it. Remember - it’s all a matter of perspective.

You can check the author's website here.