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A shock to the system: Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy, recalls his manic thrill ride from the New York art world to hustling, prison, shock treatments for bipolar disorder--and the journey back. (books).

In the early 1990s, Manhattan-based art dealer and publicist Andy Behrman was still living in the '80s: Jetsetting, international shopping sprees, and drug and sex binges were all part of a typical week. On the social scene, the handsome, sardonic Behrman was a boldface name. Little did Behrman and his colleagues suspect that his spirited personality was the result of manic-depressive illness.

"The sicker and sicker I got, the more healthy people thought I was. Because I became more creative, more productive, more efficient," Behrman tells The Advocate. "I just was totally convinced I was in control. But I wasn't."

Over the course of a few months, Behrman's life became a shambles. He concocted a scheme to forge the paintings of his boss, artist-huckster Mark Kostabi, and sell them in Germany and Japan. But Behrman was caught, convicted of fraud, and served time. The fabulous people in his life suddenly fell away. It was soon confirmed that he suffered from bipolar disorder, but more than 30 medications failed to smooth the jarring highs and brutal lows. In 1995, after a severe meltdown, Behrman agreed to 19 sessions of electroshock therapy.

Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania (Random House) is the clear-eyed confessional of Behrman's descent into madness and his return. It is a vivid document of the 1980s and early 1990s, when greed, dolled up in Armani suits and hair mousse, was celebrated as conspicuous consumption. Next to Electroboy, the books Bright Lights, Big City and American Psycho come off as pallid fairy tales.

Behrman's book is sure to jar his old circle. Kostabi, whose career never rebounded from the forgery case, has already complained. But old colleagues may be most unsettled by Behrman's sexual candor. Although living with a woman for five years, he pursued what he calls an "omnisexual" path. (Hypersexuality is a common trait in bipolar people.) He had numerous anonymous encounters with men, did some hustling, and worked as a go-go dancer in a gay club.

Since childhood, Behrman has not drawn distinctions in his sexuality. He was always attracted to both men and women. Manic-depressive illness accelerated those desires. "You have to act out on every single fantasy and thought that comes into your mind," he recalls today. "Everything on the list needs to be checked off, even if it's having sex with this person. It has to get done." Medication has quelled the extremes of his libido. "But," he says, "it only takes two days off of antipsychotics to return to that place."

And the fear of slipping back into the nightmare persists: "The scary part is that I never really know when it's going to happen." But he has learned to recognize the warning signs: a lack of sleep, changes in eating habits, increased sex drive, and psychotic episodes.

Behrman plans to write a sequel on coping with manic-depressive illness. But he emphasizes there is no quick fix: "You're stuck with it for life."

Find more on Andy Behrman, electroboy, and links to related Internet sites at www.advocate.com

Blotcher writes for The New York Times.
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Article Details
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Author:Blotcher, Jay
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 19, 2002
Words:513
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