By Polly Riggs

I wake up and I know it’s going to be an awful day. There is this pulling feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I’m being pulled downwards by some invisible mix of guilt and shame.

The sun stares balefully through the window, the bare branches swaying softly in the wind. A bird chirps mockingly.

Pulling the cover across my head to shield me from the horror of the world, I clasp my knees close to my chest. I pull one arm across my ribs to hold myself together.

Vivid colour

Just a few days ago the world was full of vivid colour. The city seemed a metropolis full of noise and light and yellow buses shouting past as I hurried through the streets, a museum to the old and new. 

A few days ago, nothing was fast enough. Thoughts would streak along my consciousness like F1 cars, adding to a never-ending to-do list.

Sitting down was a chore. I was bright, loud and the rising sun was just another winking spot of potential.

The crash

And now, it’s gone dark again.

Welcome to the crash.

This is bipolar 

When cars speed on the motorway, weaving expertly between their silver and black counterparts, burning tyre tracks into the sticky tarmac, no one is surprised when they burnout.

There is a certain inevitability in the crunch of warm metal, of the fragments of glass shattered across the worn road. There is a second of silence before the rescue efforts kick in, the familiar shriek of sirens and blue flashing lights. Another casualty of reckless drivers.

And so it goes. Speed, colour, light, the feeling of flying as the speedometer ticks up on the dashboard. A disregard for the consequences. An element of surprise, for the driver alone, at the scale of the noise and debris left in its wake. This is bipolar.

The wreckage

I crawl out from the wreckage of the car. Sometimes I’m cut out by paramedics, sensible nurses with understanding eyes and little boxes of pills and promises that things will get better.

Sometimes, I have to climb out through the window on my own, stand looking with horror at the twisted bonnet and burned out wheels. And then, it’s time to fix things.

Sometimes the car is a write off.

Sometimes it’s not, and there are things that can be salvaged from the wreckage: a decent job, an ongoing relationship, a mortgage still somehow paid despite the chaos.

Starting small

Sometime in the next few days, I pull the duvet from across my face and examine the wreckage of my life. There’s little I can do about some things, but you have to start small.

I start with a cup of sweet tea and listen to Simon Rimmer on Channel 4 explaining how to make haddock risotto. Then I take a deep breath and begin to pick up the pieces again.

Driving too fast 

Having bipolar is like driving too fast, the wrong way up the motorway, but having no idea you’re doing it. Even when the people you love keep tapping you on the shoulder from the backseat telling you that what you’re doing is dangerous, you hush them with the wave of a hand.

Everything is fine. How can it not be, when everything is so exciting? It’s that they can’t keep up, that’s all.

Saying sorry 

Possibly the worst thing about the crash is having to tend to the wounds your driving caused for passengers, too. Having to look into eyes which trusted you, eyes full of fear and weariness, and say ‘I’m sorry.’

It’ll be a while before I trust myself behind the wheel again. So for now, I call work and tell them I can’t do it anymore. I strip everything right back to four walls and a blanket, my whole universe wrapped up in bubble-wrap to protect me from myself.

Eyes on the road

I’m wounded, bruises pillowing under my translucent skin. Some people are amazing. They’ll keep getting in the car, again and again, with me at the wheel, trusting me with blind faith that they won’t get hurt, this time.

Sometimes once is enough. And all I can say is, this time it will be different. This time, I’ll keep my eyes on the road, drive slowly under the speed limit and stay in the left-hand lane.

One day, I will wake up and look at the sky and it will be grey, but bright. And I will make coffee and I will pull on a striped jumper and a swimming costume, because they say that exercise will help fix this, and I will walk to the cafe around the corner and I will begin to write.

This is how this story begins.


Last updated: 18 April 2024