My life was in a difficult place. Sixteen years old and at boarding school, which I hated. My mood was spiralling out of control. I was going downhill fast. Too fast. Breaking the speed limit. Down and down. I felt so ill. All I could see was dense fog. I could see so little in front of me. I was petrified. My engine was failing. I was frightened I might crash. What I hadn't worked out was that I already had.

Getting a diagnosis of bipolar

This turned out to be the start of a journey that was to influence my whole  life. At times it proved to be a very difficult and challenging journey but also interesting and  exciting. At other times completely bizarre. I really don’t know how, but somehow I've survived it.  Perhaps it was just plain courage.

I couldn’t cope so I went to see the college doctor. After about five minutes he couldn’t cope either so he  sent me to a psychiatrist called Dr Early.  I was very ill by the time I  got to see him. Had Dr Early arrived too late? Even in my dark mood I could see the funny side of it.  The thought brought a half smile to my face. What a relief.  I could make some attempt at a  smile. Dr Early  assessed me and I got the impression he thought I was too complicated. As it happens I agreed. He recommended I go to London. I felt he couldn’t wait to get shot of me.  What was it about me that makes me such a burden to everyone?

I was sent to see another psychiatrist in Harley Street.  He seemed excellent and very importantly, I liked him. I was very impressed when he asked my parents to leave the room. Something I had been wanting to do for years. I described my symptoms to him. How I could be deeply depressed and suddenly become euphoric and then depressed again until finally things settled down. All of which I'd never understood. What had been amazing was that this had been going on for a year. Up until then no one had noticed.  Was I that invisible?

After a few visits,  a lot of  talking interspersed with a short and sudden burst of euphoria,  he told me I had manic depression as it was called then. Now  more appropriately known as bipolar disorder. What the hell was manic depression?  I had never heard of it.  I looked it up in a medical  book, we didn’t’ have Google back then. I wouldn’t say I'm stupid, but I couldn’t comprehend the complex nature of this condition and even more so that I had it. All l knew was that I felt bloody awful.

I was put on antidepressants, tranquilisers, and had electric shocks to the brain. All very secret. No one wanted anyone to know. Mental illness carried a huge stigma. I was frightened of being rejected because of it, but the person who rejected me the most was me. I felt suicidal. I felt guilty about feeling this way. I didn’t think sixteen-year-olds were supposed to feel suicidal. The thoughts were excruciating  and very frightening.  I desperately needed some of those  euphoric feelings again.  Unfortunately,  one doesn’t get to choose when they come.

Now and again I thought I was having a better day. Maybe I saw a slither of light and thought things were getting brighter. I was wrong. Perhaps it had just been vain hope.  Hope springs eternal. For me it lasts about twenty seconds. So unsurprisingly every time I thought I saw a light at the end of the tunnel it was always the light of an oncoming train.

I tried to stay afloat just to survive. I would hide my feelings and my feelings would hide me. I could be in a room full of people or on a busy street and no one would notice me  I would look in a mirror and there was no one there.  Life went on outside of my body. Inside there was nothing, but somehow I had managed to make room for the pain. I wouldn’t talk about it to anyone  because I  didn’t know how to. There were no words. My  depression was the loneliest place in the world.  It felt like time  in a bottle.  I was completely isolated. No wonder I felt I was the only one. Although I thought I would never get well, a common feeing  with people suffering from depressive illness, eventually I did. I remember thinking at the time I'm never going through that again. Little did I know.

Over the years I've been through a number of episodes, some more serious than others. I got to the point when I had just had enough. I wanted to be the  old me. A  cliche I had heard many times but one that I never thought I would use. But did I ?  Did  I really want to be the old me?  He  hadn't been that great a guy anyway. I could be arrogant, often selfish, sometimes unkind.  It was time to shape up,  be a different person.  Embrace change.  Manage my  bipolar  by taking on the challenges it has set  me. Be more psychologically aware of myself and others. Emotionally more mature and in touch with myself.  All things I had never considered before. I had a lot to do.

Understanding triggers

Many years later in therapy I  figured  out what triggered that very first episode. Past triggers are important to me.  They can help keep me stay well in the future. Then and now so many things are always buried deep in my subconscious. Some good, some bad, but it’s the bad ones that find  a way of catching me out. They are all  different,  but they are all the same. They  are all branches from the same tree. In my case the family tree.  Academically my brothers were much cleverer than me.  I was more creative. We had a demanding father who expected me to do as well as they did. Academically. No chance!  There was the first branch.  There were important exams coming up and I was frightened of failing them. I never took them. I think my subconscious came to my rescue. I had the major Bipolar illness I referred to  earlier and left school.  The illness was lying there dormant anyway. It just chose its come out. Predictably my father expressed his disappointment and told me to pull myself together. Different branch. Same family tree.

discovered some very important things about my bipolar disorder since that first episode all  those years ago. Every  time I recovered I felt like  l had beaten the old enemy. But is bipolar really my enemy? I don’t think so.  It has, and always will be a part of me. It has shaped my life and  has  made me who I am. It’s part of my talent, success, but also my suffering. It is my creativity. It is who I am,  and where I  have come from. I can't and won’t disinherit it. It’s me.

I don’t look back anymore. I look forward. I don’t want to be anything new. I just want to be me. I like being me. Most of the time my life is terrific. Exciting. Fulfilling.  If having bipolar and being desperately unwell at times is part of that, I 'll take it.

 I've learned a lot in my life, but undoubtedly the most important of all is that I'm not the only one.*


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