Interview with Paul Stark

Your memoir is such an intimate and revealing work, how did you come to write it?
It didn't start out that way. It began as a book about spirituality more than a decade ago. At that time, I was steeped in a persistent psychosis that revolved around religion. Thinking that my views were revolutionary, I wanted to share them with the world. When I look back on those early drafts I can see my mental illness in all its fierce manifestation. Over time, and through the course of improving treatment, it took shape and became a more coherent piece of work. It slowly grew into a memoir.
Was it difficult to write?
The actual writing was easy for me. The difficulty was in revisiting and rehashing my past. Parts of it, particularly those parts when my illness was at its worst, are very difficult for me to think about even now. Through it all I kept "flashing back" for lack of a better term. I would begin to experience the intense emotions and stresses of those times and on more than one occasion it triggered episodes of mania and near panic. I'm subject to those even now.
Why write it? Why publish it?
It's an important work that I think must be shared. Through it, the reader gains an understanding of what a major mental illness can do to someone even as seemingly successful as I was. It also shows how a person can dig themselves out of such an illness and go on to live a meaningful and contented life despite their ongoing affliction. It ultimately offers a glimmer of hope for the lives of people in such desperate need. This not only goes for those afflicted with mental illness, it equally applies to those who care for the afflicted and shows them what can be accomplished. For those interested in psychopathology it gives a first-hand account of the swath of destruction that can follow in the lives of those afflicted with mental illness, and their experiences with day-to-day life in a modern psychiatric hospital.
You witnessed criminal activity and received at least one credible death threat. Why take the risk of bringing things up now?
Yes, that happened in more than one company. I wouldn't raise any of it now if I felt it posed a threat to anyone in my family, but the guilty have long since moved on or died. They would gain nothing by coming after me now, and would risk a lot by doing so.
In your book you say, "money comes and money goes." How do you feel about all that money slipping through your fingers?
If you're asking me "am I bitter," the answer is "I am not." Understand that in my family money is power. It is the means by which people exercise control over others. My grandfather controlled my mother, and my mother controlled us. When I started into business, money was all I could think about. I was upset on my 30th birthday because I had failed to make my 1st million dollars (and having $1,000,000 is defined as being able to write a check for that amount in cold hard cash.) Many times I came close to that goal but it remained just out of reach. Later, when I rebelled against my upbringing, I had come to view money more as an evil than a good. I knew that in my rebellion I was abandoning my opportunity to inherit the family fortune. I no longer had a desire to control people as such. This has sometimes left me in dire financial straits but my wife Lynn and I have always seen our way through.
What's next for you. What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I am working on 2 other books about mental illness. The 1st is in the form of a rough draft right now. It provides practical advice to those who love and often care for someone with mental illness. It is directed who love and care for their spouses, parents, or children. The 2nd book is the one I've been writing on and off for more than 3 decades. It is taken many shapes and forms, mostly influenced by my mental illness. I finally have a clear direction for this work and in my new found lucidity I finally feel prepared to write it. The book deals with religion and mental illness as it is manifest in my life, and in the lives of religious figures. This one requires a great deal more research and will not hit the shelves for about 2 years. I have a lot of reading and studying ahead of me for this one!
You sound very busy. How is that possible with your illness?
On good days I am busy. On bad days I am not. My creative process ebbs and flows with my illness. I am not required to meet hard deadlines or cater to the expectations of others. The way I write, it's enjoyable and very low stress. I leave all the publication details to somebody else. I also have the freedom to pursue my writing as an advocation, not a vocation. I do not need to make money off of it, though a little income would be nice. I'm not counting on it to live so I have no stress or pressure there. This gives me the freedom to write as I enjoy writing and not from any external requirement. It keeps me off the streets and out of trouble.
In your book you said that you still suffer serious symptoms. What is that like day-to-day?
To begin with, I never know what time in the morning I am going to wake up. I may wake up at 8 o'clock after 10 hours sleep, I may wake up at 2 o'clock having only had 4 hours sleep. Then and never know what to expect. My moods tend to start out okay, but they decline toward the afternoon and evening. I may fall into depression, I may zoom off into mania. I may have a psychotic episode. I just never know. There are some things that trigger episodes. Certain movies, particularly those on the big screen with surround sound and 3-D can set me off. Speaking of financial matters or insurance matters with Lynn can also be a trigger. Any kind of stress is dangerous. Simple to-do list of a few items might be achievable one day and might be overwhelming the next. I might be energized and enthusiastic, I may be tired and depressed. It permeates every aspect of my life. I may even be hungry one day unable to eat enough food, and not at all hungry the next. Luckily, there are also things that are stabilizing influences. Being with Lynn is a powerful stabilizer. Being with my children and my grandchildren is stabilizing as well. I try to focus on those activities I know are good for me and they tend to be grounding and often creative.
You make it sound like every day is a challenge. Is your condition really that unstable?
No, not really. Most days I am okay, so long as I avoid stress, but every couple of weeks I do have an episode of some kind. If I'm lucky I may even get 3 weeks of good days in a row and then I'm may experience one hellish week. But I don't do, is I don't avoid life. I've made a very clear to my doctors that I intend to live my life to the fullest as I am able, and though it may mean being triggered by movies from time to time, I don't avoid going to the movies. I go, and I let the chips fall where they may. I always have a backup plan in my pocket.
Does your backup plan involve medication?
Predominately yes. If I know I'm going into a situation that is potentially triggering, I make sure I go with someone I know. That way if I am triggered I can take medication and get a ride home. The medication treats the episode by knocking me out for a couple of days until the episode passes. I carry these with me always. As I said, I don't avoid life, and I find that most of the time things work out.
Published 2014-02-19.
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