Friday, May 23, 2008

Turn pages for wellness

Book signings set for festival

Express Staff Writer

Electroboy” by Andy Behrman. Random House. $13.95. 273 pgs.

Many people will recall that New York City, a place known for its conformity-busting milieu, has frequently been a place where extremes are taken in stride. And so it was in the 1980s. Greed was good, to paraphrase the movie "Wall Street." The art market was booming: the bigger, splashier and more outrageous the better. AIDS was just a flicker, and mind-bending drug use was rampant.

New Jersey native Andy Behrman fell deep into the '80s, partly because of his manic depression, which he'd been diagnosed with at the age of 28. After graduating from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., he led parallel lives as, among other things, an aspiring filmmaker, a pimp for visiting Italians, a public relations agent, a stripper in Times Square and a salesman for painter Mark Kostabi, a darling of the downtown art world.

Kostabi was known for signing paintings of which he'd conceived but didn't paint. It was a money-making gimmick that ensured that his name alone was enough for a sale. Behrman and another employee of Kostabi World switched the tables by peddling fakes—she painted and forged Kostabi's signature to unsuspecting buyers in Tokyo. In 1991 the scheme blew up. Two years later Behrman was convicted of conspiracy to defraud.

"We knew I was a little nutty when I was 6," a level-sounding Behrman said from his home in Los Angeles. "There was no mention of mental illness in the '70s. They all just thought I was different. I was obsessive-compulsive, which is typical of people with bipolar syndrome."

Behrman said many of his friends took the business school track but when he moved to New York after graduation he had no focus.

"I raised money for a film, then spent that money. I lived the high life, recklessly spending. I spent an inheritance, and went to work for Georgio Armani running errands, which turned into pimping. Then I did the more reputable job of stripper. My mother was so proud," he said laughing ruefully. "This behavior is all part of the illness—hyper-sexuality—no one likes to talk about it. It's not a pretty disorder."

Even after five months in a community corrections facility, eight doctors and 38 medications later, Behrman still suffered from severe mental illness, obsessive-compulsive behavior and thoughts of suicide. In 1995, he, his family and his doctors made the decision to have elctroconvulsive therapy, more commonly known as electroshock treatment.

"When you've exhausted everything, the last resort is ECT," he said. "It's very common and was very successful to break my mania. I had 19 treatments over 18 months. I had this tremendous desire to get well. I wanted to get well. I can't live with this illness, with this disability. There are many people who don't have the resources. I did and I was able to pay for it. People who don't have the resources are screwed."

There wasn't a book out there that addressed "the real issues of mental illness, or that showed the shame," Behrman said. So he wrote a book about his experiences.

Random House published his memoir, "Electroboy" in 2002, then it was translated into seven other languages.

"The book was optioned (for a movie). That's how I met my wife," Behrman said. "She's a film producer and her mother (who was also bipolar) had just committed suicide. We had a lot to talk about. Then we got engaged. Who else would marry me? When I was in prison and psychiatric hospitals I never thought anyone would even date me."

Now a father, Behrman still writes, and travels to speaking engagements at colleges and support groups and to mental health professionals.

"I speak to people who don't know what the hell I'm talking about when I talk about bipolar," he said. "People have lumped bad behavior into bipolar. I'm not cured—I just cope with it every day. People are often misdiagnosed. Every time I talk to people I have the same routine but every audience is different. The idea is to tell my story to explain what I've been through. People always have great questions."

Behrman will sign "Electroboy," at nexStage Theatre at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 24. There will be refreshments and hors d' oeuvres served.

If she wasn't a newswoman, just who was she? When Maria Shriver left her longtime job with NBC as a news correspondent, her sense of self was thrown into disarray. She was now a wife, mother of four and (by the way) the First Lady of California. But it wasn't what she'd intended for her life. When her son called her a "housewife," that did it. Shriver, a well-known personality on her own, had lost what she considered her identity.

Then a nephew asked her to deliver the commencement address at his school. At that moment, she knew she had to recover her real identity, to figure out who she was so that she could present something to the students that made sense.

Her address to the students is the basis of her new tome, "Just Who Will You Be?" which is subtitled: "Big Questions. Little Book. Answers Within."

In the books, she writes that those who heard her "all told me that what struck a chord with them was the question I'd posed in that graduation speech. It wasn't just 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' It was, 'who will you be? Who is the person you want to be? Who is the you you'll become? Who are you?'"

Shriver acknowledges that her fame comes from being a Kennedy, the wife of actor/governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and as someone on TV. But what she reached for in order to speak about life to the students was how to be accomplished while being true to yourself, how to give your inner life as much space as your outer, how to believe in yourself and how to understand that all people are "works in progress."

Shriver is the author of five other books. She will sign "Just Who Will You Be?" at Chapter One Bookstore, at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 24.

Festival Schedule

Friday, May 23

· 1-4 p.m., workshops and presentations at Sun Valley Resort. Visit for times and locations.

· 7 p.m., keynote speaker Dan Millman, Limelight Room, Sun Valley Inn. Tickets: $100 VIP, $40 general.

Saturday, May 24

· 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., workshops and presentations.

· 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Exhibit and Hands-on Hall in Limelight Room, Sun Valley Inn.

· 8-10 p.m., Sally Baldwin, "Communion with the Archangels," nexStage Theatre.

Sunday, May 25

· 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., workshops and presentations.

· 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Exhibit and Hands-on Hall.

· Chapter One Bookstore signings: Maria Shriver 5 p.m. at store. Andy Behrman 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., at nexStage Theatre.

· 8-9 p.m., Alberto Villoldo, "Courageous Dreaming," Continental Room, Sun Valley Inn. $35.

Monday, May 26

· 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., workshops and presentations.

· 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Exhibit and Hands-on Hall.

· Tickets are available at Chapter One in Ketchum or Students receive a 15 percent discount with a valid student ID.

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