I have nystagmus
and chronic pain
, and I can tell that I'm nervous and excited that my new book is out today because all of my regular, day-to-day symptoms are worse.
In 1997, when I was 19 years old, I suffered my first brain bleed. A vascular malformation in the pons of my brainstem had leaked: my vision bounced, I fell to my right, my face felt numb. Because the malformation was deep in my brainstem, and the neurologists thought another brain bleed wasn't likely, they recommended not doing anything about it. So I didn't do anything about it, and when I returned to Macalester College, I pretended that everything was fine and covered up my depression, anxiety, and self-loathing by partying. Everyone called me "Happy."
I more or less started to lose my mind, and in moments of clarity, I had to face what I saw myself as: a dying monster. I carried the legacy of childhood sexual abuse and a Sisyphusian fear: of harming someone, of my body failing, of pretty much everything. I was 19 years old and to make it though the days I had to detach from reality.
I started sketching ideas for Happy in 2004, when I was in graduate school at the University of Minnesota but the shape of the narrative didn't crystallize until 2006. I've been working on it since.
I know some sensibilities will be offended by the book — it can be raw — but whether a jock or artist or deadbeat or hipster or academic all-star or whatever — more young men use alcohol and drugs and suffer from mental illness than many people think. It has less to do with one's thought about what "good" and "bad" kids do or say and the often-dismissed reality of how many young people live.
In the end, Happy is much more than a story about medical trauma, or addiction, or brain surgery during hurricanes. It is a love story. It is a story about a mother and a son. A son who learns how to love himself and, for the first time, truly feel his mother's unending love.