THIS is not a “how to” book.
I don’t know how.
Not really. I have been a frequent failure in work, love, parenting and relationships. The booze has gripped me, and my brand of bipolar disorder has dictated terms more often than I would have liked. But there are many occasions where I have liked those terms. Me, does like. So, at times, I’ve just run with it. That’s the truth of it. I enjoy many aspects of being bipolar, and I also believe it has been, in part, behind many successes and victories I have had. It has revealed a mysterious and magnetic world to me that has transformed the impossible into the possible. My life has been a rush. It has been an odyssey of unusual experiences with situations and scenarios I would never have otherwise known. Same goes for people. And women. Women aren’t just people. And I have built short and long relationships with people and women I never would have without bipolar as my perpetual wingman.
Far from describing foolproof ways to manage bipolar, this is a description of what life looks like for one person with bipolar, the special highs and the desperate lows, but perhaps more importantly, how they play out across your broader life and shape your own philosophy. Your path. This a collection of stories that I hope will provide just a sliver of insight into what it feels like to be in the hold of hypomania and depression. But that is an ambitious task.
This isn’t a book only about bipolar. Please don’t think that. Bipolar is just my vehicle for my story. I want to tell you about my world. I want to give you a glimpse of my soul. But she is elusive. She is my muse. She is my Marilyn Monroe. Try to see her as she dashes and shifts in the filtered light of my sentient mind. I have never trusted anyone else the way I trust you now. I am anxious in telling you. Yet I trust you.
There’s a lot chitter chatter and consternation surrounding, and within, mental health. It’s written about all over social media and it continues to be the interminable battle for mental health advocates. It clearly gets a lot of people down. It shapes their lives. It helps to kill some too. Which is why we must manage the mental health mosquito now. The end is just too long to wait. It might be days or even weeks from now. We don’t have that much time. Not nearly. Some of us are hurting right now.
The Reaper is breathing on our clammy necks, as we lay stricken in our hot beds in blacked out rooms. We haven’t eaten. Our rent is late. There are red marks and blood on our arms and empty bottles at our feet. Our phone is not here. Our friends are not with us. Our families are lost in the dust. Piranhas are crashing in packed, relentless lines against our flimsy doors. They haven’t eaten either. We can’t keep them out any longer. So let’s go to Us. Let’s go to Us now, while we still can…
This is also a story about beauty. And I believe it is fun. It is sexed up, there’s no doubt about that. Because I am sexed up. But mostly this is about the soul and the spirit, as best as I can manage to write about those two fundamental facets of the universe that I have grown to know.
I experienced the ups and downs of bipolar in writing this book. Sometimes I thrashed the keyboard so fast and hard my fingers bruised, and it became hard to write. At other times it took everything in me to get up and simply re-read chapters. But that’s why I love books. There is so much given in the writing and in the reading. You get the moods. Irrepressible moods. All of them. But only if the writer and reader are honest with themselves. I love movies too, and fine art as well. But movies don’t give you the complete palette. They are more like a one night stand. The sex can be good. But not like the sex you have with a true lover. These are lasting relationships that resonate and guide forth.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder type II, I moved to my natural game and started to read. I read from countless experts, and I read from people who have bipolar. By far and away the book and story that resonated with me most, personally, was Manic, a memoir by Terri Cheney. Ms Cheney’s honesty directly inspired this book. But my story is very different. As they all are.
Yet, it is these personal stories that I reckon on having the most impact. As a journalist I spent a long time telling people’s stories, so I firmly believe in their power. I write because I need to. But I write because it’s the best way I can give back. Probably the only lasting way. Stories should not be about telling people what to do, but to give insight and understanding in a way that may help shape a person’s way of thinking, feeling and acting. That’s why I’m telling mine. Not because I think it will be some kind of cure or easy answer, but, rather, a source of peace of mind, levity, context, perspective, kinship and maybe identification.
During the re-write, I balked at what I had written and seriously considered cutting stories out, for fear I would offend others or expose myself, and the people in my life, too much. But this is still a book about being bipolar, so that would be an act of cowardice and a premeditated deceit of both my readers and my kind.
It was requested that I leave my boy out of the story completely for fear it would somehow affect him badly. I seriously considered doing so. But I can’t tell my story without him. If for no other reason than I was diagnosed after he was born. And either way, we are bound by blood. You will soon see I am no role model in the traditional sense. But I must be his role model in teaching him the importance of truth.
I am not a bipolar expert or a formal advocate. But I am a loyal comrade to anyone charged with the duty of managing bipolar or any mental illness. As much as support from advocates, medical professionals and the other people in our lives can be helpful and comforting, the reality is that people who don’t have a mental illness also don’t really know what the rest are dealing with. They can easily imagine what it must be like to break an arm, but not to break a mind, as everyone seems to say these days. Subsequently, while their words and actions can be nice, they often have no cut-through. They don’t usually have a lasting positive impact. In fact, they can sometimes have the opposite effect, creating confusion, sadness and frustration.
You will hear me whisper and kiss softly. And you will hear me howl like a dog war is coming. I will rage and fight against the night and I will cry myself to sleep while the sun kicks in. As I’m sure we all have. Don’t be frightened of my dark bits. These are only words and how I feel about any one thing can change in an instant. This book is a polaroid picture taken in the year 2018. Not before and not after.
My experience is that we are, to a significant degree, in this on our own. No two cases of mental illness are the same. Therefore, no strategy to deal with a unique individual’s case can ever be exactly the same. Which means that we are all pioneers, adventurers and Vikings in charge of our own ships heading out into a mysterious Sea of Who Knows What.
Even the highest standing medical expert will readily admit they know very little about the sophisticated functioning of the human brain. I don’t even know if they’ll be calling bipolar, bipolar, in 20 years’ time. They’ve changed the name once already. What I do know is that I have led a life of high mayhem and creativity fuelled by cunning and invisible impulsivity with dreaded bouts of despair, brain and soul injury. All of this underpinned by a vexed and intense sensitivity that can make and break me. But I have also fallen desperately in love with my world and the people who I meet.
Rather than drag you all through the joy and quagmire of every strange, scary, dangerous and sexy moment, I’ve chosen to explore some selected memories which I feel represent my more universal life. In other words, I have tried to find the universal in the particular. These are the events that, in one way or another, defined my life and altered my direction. For good and bad.
This is certainly a story about bipolar and mental health. It’s best and its worst, and what that really looks like, for just one person. But really, in my essence, I am not defined as bipolar. This is a story about trying to stay true to an ever-evolving philosophy and a dream. It’s about managing fear, going for broke and what that can really look like too.
In my view, to successfully live with bipolar and any mental illness you must see its beauty and exotic nature. You must see your own beauty and your own exotic nature. Then you have to be brave. Every single, solitary time there’s a rat-a-tat-tat on your door.