Gorilla and the Bird
A memoir of madness and a mother's love
By Zack McDermott
A powerful memoir of one man's journey to madness and the mother's love that brings him back.
The story of a young man fighting to recover from a devastating psychotic break and the mother who refuses to give up on him.
Zack McDermott, a twenty-six-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed as part of an audition for a TV pilot. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he saw was a cue from 'The Producer' to help inspire the performance of a lifetime. After a manic spree around Manhattan, Zack, who is bipolar, was arrested on a subway platform and admitted to hospital.
So begins the story of Zack's free fall into psychosis and his desperate, poignant, often darkly funny struggle to claw his way back to sanity, regain his identity, and rebuild some semblance of a stable life. It's a journey that will take him from New York City back to his Kansas roots and to the one person who might be able to save him, his tough, bighearted Midwestern mother, nicknamed the Bird, whose fierce and steadfast love is the light in Zack's dark world.
Before his odyssey is over, Zack will be tackled by guards in mental wards, run naked through cornfields, receive secret messages from the TV, befriend a former Navy SEAL and his talking stuffed monkey and see the Virgin Mary in the whorls of his own back hair. But with the Bird's help, he just might have a shot at pulling through, starting over, and maybe even meeting a woman who can love him back, bipolar and all.
Written with raw emotional power, humor, and tenderness, Gorilla and the Bird is a bravely honest account of a young man's unraveling and the relationship that saves him.
Zack McDermott is originally from Kansas and now lives in Brooklyn as a public defender. In 2014 he wrote a brief account of his first psychotic episode and hospitalization for Gawker that received more than 88,000 hits, was featured on Longreads, and Kansas Public Radio's Morning Edition. The Morning Edition piece was named Best Complete News Feature of 2014 by the Kansas Association of Broadcasters.
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- Publication date:
26 Sep 2017
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A startlingly moving memoir of mother and son, structural injustice, and inflammable mental illness. Gorilla and the Bird is as piss-cuttin' a pietà as anyone has any right to hope for. And Zack McDermott- the guy's a fleet, funny, unsentimental storyteller who manages that rare thing: he allows a damaged soul to be found. — Kent Russell, author of I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son
This remarkable book illustrates Willam Osler's dictum, 'Ask not what disease the person has, but rather what person the disease has.' When that disease is bipolar disorder spiked with the Truman Show delusion, and that person is Zack McDermott, a terrific and terrifically funny writer, the result is an incredibly powerful read. Zack's mother, endlessly strong and supportive, reminds us that we also need to ask what family the disease has. — Joel Gold, MD, author of Suspicious Minds: The Truman Show Delusion and Other Strange Beliefs
Zack McDermott's portrait of a mind under assault from bipolar illness is both fascinating and heartbreaking to observe, and he takes us into his experience with riveting intensity. But McDermott's real achievement is capturing the moving determination and steadfast love of the mother who saves him, the remarkable Bird who breaks the loneliness, quiets the fear, and gives him a home worth returning to. — George Hodgman, New York Times bestselling author of Bettyville
Despite the subject being really rather heart-wrenching, I found myself laughing out loud at regular intervals throughout Zack's memoir. This is a depiction of mental illness in all of its raw, unnerving honesty - and a true testament to the life-changing power a mother's love can deliver to you. Everybody needs a Bird in their life. — Stella Dwyer, Grazia