By Jason Pegler
First Published: 2002
This Edition: 2010
Key Themes: bi-polar, manic depression, depression, alcoholism, mania, drug abuse, recovery
“A Can of Madness does what it says in the… er can. A brilliant memoir of mania; all the pain, humour, fear and despair is chronicled here in prose of clarity and distinction. Unforgettable and important” – Stephen Fry
“This book will help people to understand one of the greatest issues of our time, how to treat those who are mentally disturbed, as human beings” – Rt. Hon. Tony Benn
“The author has done all of us a service by writing about how it feels, not just to be manic depressive, but to have a life of fraught and edgy encounters with just about everyone” – The Times Literary Supplement
A vivid, honest and sometimes disturbing memoir about the experience of having a diagnosis of manic-depression. Like other books in this genre, the author is often painfully honest about his experiences. He recounts a dizzying, dark and sometimes euphoric journey through a world of elation, despair, binge drinking, drugs, raves and psychiatric wards. As well as attempting to educate the reader, the book also provides optimism and hope, showing that it is finally possible to learn to live with, and accept, having a mental health problem.
About the Author
Jason Pegler was born in 1975 and lives in London. Jason was diagnosed with manic depression in 1993 and wrote ‘A Can of Madness’ to stop other seventeen year olds going through what he went through. Graduating from Manchester University in 1998 he founded Chipmunkapublishing the mental health publisher which aims to help mental health sufferers. Pegler is a mental health activist, journalist, rapper and public speaker. In 2005 Pegler won the New Statesman’s Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He is a key figure in the mental health movement.
As I was being driven off in the back of a police van in a space suit, I thought I was Donovan Bad Boy Smith being driven to a rave. I could hear music in my head and flashed back to another night at The Brunel Rooms in Swindon. The Brunel Rooms, a hard-core Mecca for druggies from Gloucester and surrounding areas in the early to mid nineties. Donovan was so hardcore when I saw him there that he’d refused to turn off his set at 3. He’d carried on until 3.30 when someone finally turned off the electricity mid flow.
Talking of flows (as opposed to stable mindsets), just how the fuck do you live with a mental illness? Don’t ask me, I’m still trying to find out now. After all, it’s not something you plan, let alone something you’d ever expect to have. As we all say: it won’t happen to me. But it can. And in this case, it did.
And if Hercules and Ajax couldn’t hack it, how the hell could I? Unsurprisingly, I didn’t – and that’s why I wallowed in self-pity for so long.
So, do you want to know what it’s like to be crazy, mad, loopy? Well I’m about to tell you. I’m also going to tell you how it feels to be suicidal for months on end – the fate of the manic. One thing, however, is for sure: The sooner you kill mania the better. For you’re a danger to yourself and other people when you don’t know what you’re doing. The longer mania is allowed to continue, the longer and more severe the inevitable depression will be.
The problem is that mania is a unique and sometimes beautiful experience, even though its genius is flawed and must be quelled. The irony is that it draws strength from imperfection. Think of the Mona Lisa without her eyebrows. She’s more appealing because there’s something that’s not quite right. She is in some way different, contrary to the norm and thus fascinates the observer.
I also draw strength from Van Gogh, as I imagine him painting just down the road from me in Stockwell. Slipping in and out of consciousness when writing, I try to summon up his own ‘madness’.
Finally, I take comfort from the poet and composer, Ivor Gurney. Like me, he was manic, and like me, he came from Gloucester and moved to South London. Apparently, he would often walk from one to the other, singing folk music and sleeping in barns along the way.
Hucclecote, one of the more pleasant areas of Gloucester (although still with its fair share of pingheads and run-of-the-mill crims) is about a mile, mile and a half outside the town centre, on the Cheltenham side. We moved there because my parents were keen that my brother, Harvey, and I did well at school – Hucclecote is a bike ride away from the renowned Grammar school, Sir Thomas Rich’s, in Longlevens. The plan was that we would each would pass our 11+ and get in.
Green Lane, where I lived, was quiet, (lower-) middle class and had a huge green at the end of it. Because it’s right on Hucclecote Road, access to either Gloucester or its more upmarket neighbour Cheltenham, located only seven miles away, is easy. But that’s enough on Gloucester for now. Let’s meet the family.