It’s world suicide prevention day and Owen talks about his experience of living with bipolar disorder in the hope that his story will inspire others to share their journey too. 

In 2015 I was increasingly sexually, financially and alcoholically impulsive. I became romantically and then religiously delusional, with psychotic symptoms and eventually a suicidal year of zombie-land. I lost my home, my job and very nearly my wife.

I'm writing this because, simply, it's the first time I've ever felt up to it; at a point in my life where I can start to value my experience and the strength it may have given me to share in it. I was also asked recently, and for the first time by an NHS counsellor, whether I had ever considered writing about my experience. As someone who happens not to have used pharmaceutical treatment or to have gained a diagnosis and support until these last three years, she suggested that my story might be an interesting one to contribute to the thankfully growing pool of openness. And I must have wanted that push - that question - because here I am.

An overwhelming constant throughout any troubles that I've experienced has been a secretive reflex on my part, even from those closest to me, until very recently. This was enforced by a lack of support from workplaces and medical professionals at the regrettably rare times when I had spoken up, at least in the first decade or so of these troubles. I have sympathy, as it was a chicken/egg situation, where I hadn’t the assertiveness or language, without the self-awareness that support brings, to clearly ask for support. So to now be writing the experience down for public consumption seems both counterintuitive and long overdue. I feel shaky even as I feel a weight lifting.


As I seem to have become more and more well and in control of my life since 2015, I’ve also become more and more afraid that I’ll be found out, that I’m not a good person and that this will be revealed to the world by those my behaviour have hurt at a point when I feel most recovered and therefore, ironically, most vulnerable. So, by doing this, I’m also attempting to overcome that fear by writing my way to the bottom of it. More problematically, I have to admit, there is an element of attempting to prove to those that I’ve hurt that I acknowledge what I’ve done and that I’m sorry, that I’m trying my very best to be a kinder and more considerate person, as though the publishing of this blog-post will be shouted from the rooftops and all will come running to read it, posting on this  platform their blessings and forgiveness.


I think I know who I’ve hurt and how, were a person ever really able to see themselves that way, and I still feel ashamed. But shame and fear can do strange things - they are not modest emotions but grandiose. Shame can repeat a wrong until it’s trodden into your memory. It can inflate its wrongness beyond what you objectively know it to be, can stretch its flagellation long after you have apologised or improved, making you crave affirmation for your amendments, repeatedly until you’re serving nothing but this addictive thought. It can be an internal form of self-harm.


For me, success is kindness. Corny, but all I want is to be a decent person. The being of and the being thought of are, however, worryingly entangled in the way that I value myself since taking the very public nose-dive of a manic breakdown. I know I’m a good enough person because, for a start, I’ve been so terrified of being unkind to anyone since this breakdown. During that year, when I was twenty-eight, I acted in an impulsive, confused, misleading and self-absorbed way that resulted in friends, family and partners having their feelings badly hurt and lives badly disrupted.

The shame of that experience, and the unavoidable necessity for me to rebuild my cognition and life from scratch following that breakdown, mean that I have had to self-improve since, and obsessively so at times. It must, of course, be good to want to be kinder, but at my most ashamed I want to be a perfect person, with a clean sheet of kindness, any blemish rubbed and rubbed away, as if that were possible of anyone. The mistakes I made - those that hurt others - during and preceding that breakdown therefore increase their haunting the further I get from a person who would behave that way again, as if the more I value myself, having come from a place of loathing, the more I have to lose.

I take full responsibility for my behaviour, without excuse, which was in many ways vital to rebuilding most of my life and relationships. But it also meant that self-blame was ingrained into my interpretation of my illness, of which I still question the diagnosis for this same reason, and which I find very difficult to accept as a contributing factor to my mistakes despite the clear evidence, continuing recovery and traumatic memory of being so unwell.

Everyone I know, including most crucially my partner of then and now, has forgiven me if ever they even felt the need to. It's only those who my life has turned away from that I fear must – my paranoia assumes they give it a second thought - still hold me to task. Truthfully, I want them to see me now, to know that I’m not that kind of man and even to tell me that they forgive me.

It can be the most difficult and selfless thing to move on without the affirmation of others, the seeking of which, even through apology, can just as well cause harm as it can benefit. I don’t have an answer because I’m not yet out of these woods. But I can feel hints of myself coming round to the wisdom of friends and support workers who’ve suggested that I let this blame go, somehow, and trust that others will have too. To cope with those that haven't, as and when their blame may arrive, rather smother my present with that possible future and this troubling past. To see that my happiness and my guilt rise hand-in-hand and to ask why. To accept my little place in this world and feel of enough value.

Why not join a community of peers also living with bipolar disorder sharing similar experiences, help and advice at regular points of the day. Joining the eCommunity is free and you can do that today.