MY SECOND BOOK

 

 

MY FIRST book left off with where mood and personality intersect. My second book picks up the story with a manic episode that rendered me unemployable. This occurred in the late 80s. I'm an introvert, but my new job demanded extravert skills. I struggled mightily to adapt - I performed superbly, in fact - but something had to give. Something did.

Thus we have a prime example of the dynamic between our personality traits and our mood states. Surprisingly, very little has been written about this. In fact, this is the first book to look at behavior from a bipolar perspective.

From my opening personal experience, we investigate how the micro-world of genes-cells-circuits and the macro-world of environment and evolution converge in our everyday world. Along our evolutionary path, we developed brains not only large enough to get stressed out by predators, but by each other.

We take a look at the stuff that is holding us back - such as our tendency to get overwhelmed - as well as qualities that make us special, such as intuition and empathy. Life may be a series of accidents, but in our search for answers we find meaning in our lives.

I drew on experts from anthropology, genetics, neurobiology, history, cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, and animal behavior. I also drew on my personal experiences. Most important, I was guided by the true experts - you, my readers. Over the years, your input has both validated me and challenged me. The result, I hope, is a book that is worthy of you.

Personal note: In the middle of work on my second book, in July, I experienced a major cardiac crisis. Three days later, a surgical team performed a quadruple bypass. When I got back to writing my book, it was with far more of a philosophical bent. I call myself an expert patient, but now I joke about my upgrade to a philosopher-patient. Trust me - the book I wound up finishing turned out to be a far different book than the one I wound up starting. But all the way through, I never lost sight of the fundamental question: We do so many of us feel different, like we don't belong on this planet?

To answer that question, I left no stone unturned. In this regard, I found inspiration from Eric Kandel, who trained as a Freudian psychiatrist but devoted his career to studying the neural circuitry of the humble California sea snail. As a young boy, Dr Kandel fled Nazi-occupied Germany. As he grew older, he was haunted by the burning question of why a country so civilized and cultured - a nation that gave us the likes of Beethoven - could descend into such barbarity. As it turned out, his studies into the snail cracked up the secrets of the neuron and neural circuity, and shed invaluable insight into human behavior. For his efforts, in 2000, Dr Kandel shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine. In the process, he may have found answers to some of his burning questions.

I spend an entire chapter devoted to Kandel's work on the sea snail. Then I move to rats and mice, which serve as perfect examples of stress. Then to primates, whose brains are now sufficiently large enough for them to become stressed out by each other. This sets the scene for the entry of humans. Our large brains quickly moved us to the top of the food chain. They made us infinitely resourceful, but they weren't built for thinking. In this regard, Homo Sapien is a misnomer. We're not really all that sapient.

The human brain is a wonder to behold, a tightly integrated unit where thinking and emotion combine to get us out of tight spots, plan ahead, and give meaning to our experieinces. But evolution took a wrong turn at agriculture. Here, I depart from the standard narrative. Yes, civilization moved ahead when we settled down and built cities. But it came at an enormous cost. I make the case that we were born to be wild but bred to be compliant, leaving us at the mercy of opportunistic sociopaths. We may identify sociopaths with the type of people who fill up our prisons, but the privileged ones who can rein in their impulses have a way of rising to the top.

A poll I conducted among my readers revealed that they had more problems in dealing with people than with their bipolar symptoms. This, they told me loud and clear, was what was holding them back in their recovery. We are social animals, but our different brains have a way of turning us into outsiders. Even our strengths set us apart. Fitting in is always going to be a challenge. Often the price is too high. The "normal" majority tend to ask too much of us, for us to - in effect - give up our identity. Who the hell are we, in the first place? Thus, the search begins in earnest, the search for our identity ...

 

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