Bipolar UK media volunteer Darren Clayton explains what it was like to make a programme for BBC radio 4 portraying what it’s like to live with bipolar.

Listen to the programme here

Even after the introductory Zoom call to talk about my involvement in making a radio programme for radio 4, I hadn’t appreciated the importance of this project. But like many of “us” I tend to be impulsive and everyone seemed great, so I was all in.

Yes, I had read through the helpful guidance note on becoming a media volunteer from Bipolar UK and largely ignored it; because ignoring rules/guidance is what I tend to do. I did remember this one - once a broadcast is out there it can’t be brought back. But that wasn’t at the front of my mind here.

The team has been unwaveringly kind, intelligent and sincere since that Zoom call. But, living with bipolar, we aren’t entirely used to others understanding how we feel (or trying to). What counts is only how we present to them. I remember some years back finding that the only way to tell how my behaviour was, would be to judge the level of horror on their faces.

Feeling misunderstood

A few years ago, I found myself unexpectedly on a mini break in a psychiatric ward and on return to earth was persuaded, too soon, to go to a dinner party. There were questions asked and all were well meant. These included whether I had ever attempted suicide, which wasn’t a great start to my over-sharing project.

It is so difficult to speak about something we seldom understand ourselves so how can others be expected to understand? With the brain wipe we often have when an episode ends it is hard for us to know where to look too. Has it all been a terrible mistake? Am I an imposter? We ask ourselves these questions until we are bitten again in some small way as a reminder.

My way of understanding

Talking and writing have always been my way of understanding and like many people with bipolar I am desperately impulsive. So, a few months later, I convinced myself that I had something special to say and so began my book of thoughts to explain it all.

I launched into 250,000 of largely unusable words without any direction at all. These included an erudite exploration of why Barbra Streisand’s song “Memories” could not possibly “light the corners of her mind” unless it was square.

The book was written in three months to the sound of Jean-Michel Jarre’s then latest album on repeat. I even wrote to thank him. The moral of which is that it is good to want to share and be honest, and it is good to try and help others. But not without direction or any view of who you want to reach. Certainly not when you are yourself unwell.

Luckily, I realised I was too unstable to share what I’d written, and I packed away my dog-eared word document. I laid low until, a few years later, I got the chance to serve as a Bipolar UK media ambassador and a project was suggested that began with that Zoom call. It was wonderful to be a part of it and to be given the direction needed to say something worthwhile and to direct it to those who may want to listen.

The process

The process was hugely different to any attempt I could have made alone. I’ve never worked with professional broadcasters before, but the obvious care Loftus productions took of me from the outset made it easy to relax and even enjoy it. Does mental illness always have to be so serious, even when it is serious I wonder?

To do my part, they give me a microphone and a lot of space. To a person living with bipolar – what could possibly go wrong? The idea was that I was to record short segments over time and say whatever I felt like saying on that day and leave the editing to them. The alchemy was their ability to reflect what I wanted to say in the edit.

Being casual and including the sounds around me was encouraged, especially when including Teddy the dog (my supposed support animal). Me sounding like David Attenborough not so much.

A wonderful production team

Catherine, and later Maia, of Loftus were open and just got it. If they didn’t, they sure learned fast as the edited 29 minutes (from all of that recording time) was the best 29 minutes that I could ever have recorded in a single take.

Along the way, Maia created a soundscape to accompany my recordings. When all was finished Catherine played me the final edit and asked me to explain my experience. I said “wonderful.” Wonderful to play to others, and wonderful to help others – and in what they have made of my too-many words.

I am so glad I can be part of it

Everyone who lives with bipolar has their own experience, their own cross to bear and I can only ever speak for myself. But I think the programme will speak as if from others too. I hope this includes those who live alongside us who can find all this rather baffling. But through this, Bipolar UK works hard to help us all and I am glad I can be a part of that.

So, as I write, I’m conscious that I have used the word “I” a lot here and I apologise that I couldn’t find any other way of writing it. I couldn’t find any other way of saying it for the broadcast too. But when I said it, I include the wonderful people at Loftus who made that a “we.” My hope is that as many people as possible will turn that small word into a “them” and “you” and “us.”

Last updated: 17 July 2023