Many times I have enjoyed the euphoria of hypomania but all too often it has been followed by the chaos of a full blown manic state. From there inevitably I would encounter the agony of depression by entering the gates of hell without knowing where the exit sign was. Throughout all of this adversity there is one thing that has remained constant. I survived.

Survival requires a great deal of endurance and no small amount of courage. I needed all of that courage just to stay alive. That was hard to do when all of my instincts were telling me to do the opposite.

an all-encompassing obsession that is driven by total despair

In 2015 I had such a ferocious depressive episode that it became necessary for me to see my psychiatrist Judith, at least once a week and to talk to her most days.  One question was always top of the agenda, 'Do you think you are safe?' She was referring to my suicidal thoughts which dominated every conversation. The same question always elicited the same answer. I wouldn't do it to my wife, I wouldn't do it to my brother. That response was a great relief to her. She knew that if I was planning to take my own life I would certainly not be considering the feelings of others. It just doesn't work that way. 

Others don’t come into the equation of the hopelessness that is suicide. Contrary to common opinion it is not a selfish act. It is an all-encompassing obsession that is driven by total despair.  It’s not something I would talk about either. It would be my secret.  Suicide is a silent killer and comes well camouflaged. It is like a thief in the night.  It never advertises itself.  It manipulates and it seduces, and when it seems there is no other way out of the darkness it is no longer a last resort. It can become the only resort. It can be, and too often is, irresistible.

The darkness is never ending

The tragedy of suicide in bipolar is that the people who take their own lives during depression would undoubtedly have, by the very nature of the illness, recovered.  But they find themselves unable to wait for what they see as a myth because they don’t believe it will ever happen. The darkness is never ending. Nothing can convince them there is a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t the light of an oncoming train. Living becomes untenable. That is when it’s over. I know because that’s what I went through.

I refused to believe my psychiatrist, my therapist, in fact anybody who had anything positive to say. I was playing by my rules. Rules that were deliberately self-destructive.  That's the illness at its worst. At its most aggressive. When every shred of hope has disappeared. When everything, as the renowned American playwright Eugene O'Neil wrote, 'seems like a long day's journey into night'. If only they could have hung on. Valuable, productive lives would not have been prematurely ended. Family and friends would not be going through the most terrible grieving process of them all. I was fortunate.

Against all odds I had won

The times I was convinced I would  never get well again were amongst the darkest I have ever experienced. There are few things as painful and debilitating as a complete lack of hope and an overpowering sense of helplessness. I doubted I had the mental resources to even remotely function. Every shred of confidence I had ever possessed had disappeared. 

I did hang on and I did recover and during that recovery I had a revelation. Suffocated by the confines of depression, what I had conveniently pushed to one side and selectively forgotten, was there had never been a time when I hadn’t beaten it.

Seduced by negativity I had decided to ignore that and disregard there was a future worth fighting for, a life worth cherishing. That is what depression does. Over time it had been a battle, but to my eternal surprise somehow I was still here. Against all odds I had won. Against all odds I had survived. But was it against all odds? Or was it that innate desire I have to live? I suspect it was the latter.

through all the suffering and all the mayhem I have survived

Over a period of many years certain songs have become lodged in the memory bank of my life. They often have some significant meaning for me. It might be a time, a place, a person. This happens to a lot of us. Music is the backdrop to our lives and it certainly is to mine. I'm a songwriter.

For a number of reasons the Bee Gees ‘Stayin Alive’,  as soon as I heard it, became one of those songs. It has  been on my playlist ever since. It is a great song by anybody’s standards and as with any really great song it has no weaknesses. Lyrics and melody are a perfect marriage. The performance is flawless.

For me, being a songwriter and living with bipolar, it’s all in the title. The words that, after all those years of doubt, I finally believe. Through all the suffering and all the mayhem I have survived and by doing so I have very much stayed alive. The Bee Gees got it right.