Kev and Hill standing in front of the London Eye

Witnessing bipolar

As parents and doctors, Hil and I had first-hand experience of the effects of bipolar disorder.  We had seen devastating psychosis presenting as confusion and mania, sometimes culminating in arrest by the police or acute admission.  This, followed by weeks of hospitalization and then months of recovery as those affected and their loved ones try to come to terms with what had happened.  At the same time these events threaten friendships, education and job prospects and further add to the depression experienced by sufferers. 

Bipolar affective disorder is a poorly understood condition and, as is often the case with mental health problems, poorly supported and treatment is limited to a handful of medications. 

In truth bipolar disorder had dominated our family’s life for 15 years. 

When we retired a few years ago from medicine we decided to upgrade our ancient tandem to one which could split in 2 so we could transport it by railway.  Hil had never learnt to ride a bike confidently as she had been raised by a busy road in North London and it was considered too dangerous to cycle.  So we acquired “Ruby” a steel framed British made tandem.  Having done several hundred miles, and for the most part getting on well, we decided to cycle from London to Paris. We were keen to find a charity who supported people with bipolar disorder. Bipolar UK promotes peer support where potentially 2 people benefit.  Someone with the condition is empowered to help someone else who is struggling to cope and understand.  We wanted to raise money for the charity but also provide opportunities for conversations to be had. So we designed our own Bipolar UK Cycle tops and wore them with pride!  Within minutes of starting our journey our outfits began to stimulate conversation in the street and on the train.  Complete strangers wanted to support the charity.  The journey took some planning but there is a booklet Avenue Verte published by the charity, sustrans, which we would recommend.

Keith and Hil with their tandem look up at the London Eye

The beginning of our journey from Jubilee Park and the London Eye

The Avenue Verte

The Avenue Verte takes you from the Thames to the Seine.  Much of it is along traffic free paths and quiet roads.  The Wandle trail, leading out of London, previously one of the most polluted rivers in England now has brown trout and kingfishers. It leads to Farthing Downs the most extensive area of semi natural downland in Greater London with scarce plants such as greater yellow rattle. East Grinstead has a beautiful statue of the surgeon Archibald McIndoe who pioneered the treatment of airmen who sustained terrible burns earning East Grinstead’s reputation as the “town that did not stare”. The hills of the South Downs are quite steep for us tandem riders and the rain once we got into Normandy penetrated every item of clothing! For the most part we stayed in small B&B’s or Chambres d’hotes as they are called in France.  The hosts often wished to sit and chat over coffee and croissants and put up with our school level French.  Rural France is unspoilt and much of the early route is along railway tracks where we saw orchids, bullfinches and heard nightingales.

On the outskirts of Paris the route goes along the Seine where huge barges ply up and down. You pass the Island of the Impressionists and much graffiti art.  The Parisian streets are busy and the biggest hazard are e-scooters which weave silently in and out of the cycle lanes.        

After we started planning our journey, Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire on 15th April 2019 and its spire and most of the roof were destroyed.  As we gazed up at the cathedral we felt a sense of achievement at arriving at our destination. However we were humbled by the reflection that there was a  parallel between the fire which had engulfed the Notre Dame and that of an individual with psychosis where life goes up in flames and will then require much time and support to rebuild.

Keith, Hil and bike outside Notre dame


Arrival at our destination Notre Dame Paris

We thank Keith and Hil for their amazing fundraising challenge for Bipolar UK. If you've been inspired by their effort and would like to know more about fundraising for us, please email [email protected]

Your donation will help provide a range of services offering the support people need, when they need it. You can make sure there's someone at the end of the phone to listen, a nearby group to share lived experiences, a 24-hour peer forum and more.

Together, we can support the person behind the diagnosis of bipolar.