Book Review - The Rules of the Tunnel: A Brief Period of Madness by Ned Zeman
What would it be like to lose a couple years of your life to amnesia, trying to pick up the pieces of relationships that you apparently destroyed but have no idea of what you did? Ned Zeman lived through that ordeal and relates his story in the book The Rules of the Tunnel: A Brief Period of Madness. In short, this is a raw, disturbing read that is brutally honest. At the end, I'm not sure if I would have liked Zeman before or after the episode, but I could feel compassion for what he went through.
Zeman was a writer and editor for Vanity Fair magazine in New York, where he struggled to fit into the lifestyle and hectic pace of the culture. Although he appeared mentally healthy leading up to the age of 30, things started to change. He became obsessed with personalities he profiled, people who had lived life out on the fringe, people who would solidly qualify as manic depressive or bipolar. At 32, he developed his own symptoms, and thus started his own slide into the tunnel. He tried drugs, therapy, hospitalization, and everything else he could think of. Finally he came face-to-face wit the treatment of last resort... electroconvulsive, or "shock", therapy. In all, he ended up receiving 20 sessions (an extremely high total) which put him on a roller coaster ride of emotions and behaviors that taxed the patience and love of those around him who were committed to helping him get better. As he emerged from the tunnel, he had lost around two years of his life due to amnesia. He had to reconcile the fact that although he was "better" now, his actions during that time alienated many of those he cared about. He knew intellectually that he had treated them badly, and he accepted the fact that they had every right to turn away. The only thing he couldn't do is figure out exactly what he did in each case. Those memories were completely gone...
The Rules of the Tunnel whips you around emotionally. Zeman's writing style is dark and gritty, and he doesn't attempt to hide or sanitize any of the ordeal. Specifically towards the end when he's into the shock treatments, you have a view into his head as he attempts to build lie upon lie to keep his "protectors" at bay. He tells his significant other in one sentence that she's the best thing that ever happened to him, and in the next breath compares her unfavorably to his ex-girlfriend. He impulsively flies from LA to NY for an overnight trip to talk with his ex-girlfriend, racks up over $900 in room charges for one night (with no idea what he did to spend that much), and then tells about five different stories to everyone to hide where he actually was. He's not a likable person during these times, even when I'm trying to remember what type of treatment he's getting for his mental illness.
For me, the biggest impact was thinking about what it would be like to not remember things you did on an hour-to-hour basis. People and situations would be like a ghost... something you might catch a vague glimpse of, but when you look directly at it, it's not there. And I'm really not sure I could live with myself knowing that I had been a horrible human being to all my friends for a couple years, but I couldn't remember what I had done with any level of detail.
The Rules of the Tunnel isn't a feel-good story, and it will likely make you feel very uncomfortable and disturbed in a few places. Having said that, it's worth reading if you want to get a sense for what a person with mental illness might be dealing with inside. At the very least, it will cause you to hesitate for a few moments before you pass judgement on someone who doesn't seem to be coping with life very well.
Obtained From: Library