For years I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a blog but I never followed it through because there I always came up with a reason not to write about myself. I haven’t done the travelling I wanted to do, I haven’t accomplished financial greatness and I haven’t had the romantic heartache that most girls were having from about the age of 11. I have never tried drugs, I haven’t even smoked a cigarette, so yeah, why would anyone who has done all of those things and more want to sit and read anything about me?
Well writing a blog is a funny thing. It’s only when you sit and start to write that you realise life isn’t always about the things I’ve just mentioned. Its not all sex, drugs, travelling and cigarettes; you don’t have to be a CEO or have a Doctorate or speak and understand fifty languages to show people you’ve lived a life…
(NB – as I write this its 8:10pm and I’m making a note for myself to re-read that last sentence because I had a conversation with Mum earlier where I described the opposite so tomorrow I need to remind myself of this moment)
…sometimes life looks different for us, that’s why we’re…
In 1989 I was seven. I only remember one thing about being seven and it wasn’t my birthday, it’s nothing to do with my friends or my toys or whatever me and brother got up to when we were playing in the street with the other kids. No, the one thing I remember about being seven has to be the biggest discovery that no other seven-year-old can possibly have discovered. It was a discovery that was both entertaining and an escape. It played out like a gentle hum in the back ground of my younger years, it mapped out my teens, it created an unbreakable connection to one very special man and in 2016 a life long dream happened in a way I never imagined possible.
What was the discovery?
I’m sorry if it’s not what you expected and by all means log off the blog and I won’t be offended but if you are curious to know what the hell I’m on about then take a seat and I’ll tell you a story…
One night I switched on the TV (this is back when I was seven by the way) and the police walk into a house and tell a woman her husband has been stabbed and he’s died and obviously the woman is devastated but the most gobsmackingly astonishing moment of the scene is when the camera pans behind her and the son of the dead guy is listening on the stairs. Shock horror.
Well I was gripped. I didn’t know what this was. Who were these people? Who was the boy? Why had the guy been stabbed?
The following day I went to see my grandparents and I was excitedly retelling this story to my grandad who informed me this little gem of televised discovery was Coronation Street. I remember him filling me in on the characters and the storylines and he called it Corrie. That in itself was just pure genius.
When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have a TV in my bedroom. Back in the 80’s and 90’s if you had a TV in your room you were royalty. Well I didn’t feel like royalty but I got to watch Corrie whenever it was on and the next day I’d sit by my grandad’s chair and we’d talk about it and I’d sip the incredibly sweet tea from his mug that was as big as my head (I think he put about six sugars in there when I was really young) and I’d feel alive and it was a moment we shared all the way up to when he died in 2005.
My grandad was a saint, that’s how I felt. He was the most beautiful man I have ever met in my entire life and I mean no offence to any other man in my life but even the characters I created in the stories I wrote and still write, were never a patch on the man my grandad was.
I left home at 18 to go to university and this time I had no TV with me. Every day at 6pm my grandad would ring my mobile and he would read to me the notes he’d taken from the last episode of Coronation Street. When I moved to Edinburgh to work the Fringe Festival we would work our phone call around my crazy shifts. When I was in hospital with a crippling bout of Bernard the Bipolar my grandad would find all the change he had in his house and give it to me so I could call him on the pay phone on the ward and he would read every episode of Corrie to me so that wherever I was in the country or even out of my mind, I never missed a single thing that happened on Coronation Street.
December 2016, I’d been married for about a month, we’d been living in our house for just over a year, I was a Volunteer Employment Ambassador for Bipolar UK and I’d been doing my public speaking thing for almost two years but there was nothing much to shout about.
I have no idea where I was when I got the call but I was definitely in a car when Sandra from Bipolar UK called me and asked if I could go to ITV at Media City with her on Friday and meet with some writers who were doing a storyline with a new character who has Bipolar. I asked her which soap – casually, obviously – she says…. Yeah you guessed it…
Well as you can imagine, I lost all sense of decorum and any volume control on my voice completely went off the scale but, seriously! Don’t throw Corrie into the ballpark and expect me not to throw it right back out! Please. But then she says…
“Now you can’t tell anyone about this Kat. It has to be completely confidential we may even have to sign something to make sure we don’t talk about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, absolutely, that’s no problem. I won’t say a word.”
Well there were at least two other people in the car that day so that was that promise out of the window! But in the lead up to that day I swear I didn’t tell anyone else that I was going to ITV to speak some writers about Bipolar. I swear…
You know how kids get on Christmas Eve when Santa is going to creepily break into their home, eat the contents of their parents fridge and then leave them a stack load of presents before he goes off to an infinite number of other houses and does the exact same thing? Picture that level of excitement… because that was me the night before I went to the ITV studios. I was a just like a kid on Christmas Eve.
Admittedly some aspects of that day are a little blurred. I had to look like a professional, I was supposed to advise these writers (the verbal geniuses of my most favourite soap in the world) on how to conduct a realistic representation of my illness.
Anyone who knows me well knows my ultimate dream growing up was to be a writer, I wanted to write for Coronation Street. By this point, at the age of 34 I knew I was never going to achieve that and this is the opportunity so much. Bernard has prevented me from doing so much with my life, if things had been different maybe I could have fulfilled that dream, we’ll never know; but this was the next best thing.
That first visit we were given lunch. It was a buffet. Heck. I hate buffets. Give me a plate full of food and I’ll eat it but for God’s sake don’t ask me to queue up in a strange environment behind all these creative professionals and expect me to somehow not stick out like a sore thumb.
Buffets are like first dates. Why do people go out for meals on a first date? You’re nervous so you can’t eat or you’re so self-conscious you feel like you shouldn’t eat, or maybe if you do you’ll drip sauce down your new top or you’ll get lettuce stuck in your teeth. Buffets are the same. If you put too much on your plate you’re greedy but you have to put something on there because otherwise you’ll be weird and ungrateful. I went for minimal sustenance.
So we go into this room and it is exactly like you’ve seen on TV. Massive room filled with tables in a large square and they’re covered with white cloths, so I also can’t spill anything off my plate because then I’m messy as well as everything else. The room fills up with people, they smile and nod and they eat their lunch and once the room is to full capacity there’s a man sitting next to me and he introduces Sandra and me and explains we’re from Bipolar UK. Sandra talks about the charity and I have no idea what she’s saying because all I’m doing is looking around the room at the people wearing funky glasses, quirky tops with stripes and they’re the exact replica of what I wanted to be when I was growing up. At some point they opened up their MacBook Pros, switched on their iPads and in my head I’m thinking…
“I still write in a Moleskin and think it’s cool.”
I look down at my plate baring a king prawn next to a slice of cucumber expertly curled and a cherry tomato that keeps running away from the fork shaking in my hand and I know full well, there’s no way that food is meeting my mouth in this room.
That room was my dream. In that room I told myself that even though I hadn’t achieved what I wanted to, I was part of something so big I could never describe to anyone how it big it really felt.
I imagine to the writers in that room, it was just another storyline. Just another bunch of characters they had to find dialogue for. The thing is, when you’re putting a label like Bipolar on a character you have to get it right. If you get it wrong and you upset the audience you’ll lose that audience and the whole show falls apart. That’s why they ask real people to go in and tell them what the illness is really like.
I’m a co-facilitator for the Manchester Bipolar UK support group and every month (pre-Covid) I always stress that everyone’s Bipolar is different. You’ll never get two people the same so getting a character to represent an illness and also be an individual is tricky.
I got to tell them my facts. I got to show them the way to introduce the character so that they didn’t anger every Bipolar person in the country. They laughed when I talked, they thought I was funny. Someone in the room casually said…
“I think you should be sitting here”
…and I thought…
“Yes, I probably should.”
How do you go back to your office job on Monday having been in that room? How you copy and paste and click send into countless emails after you’ve been with a bunch of writers who you should be sat next to not in front of?
Wednesday 5th March 2017
Let’s cut to the chase. Sandra and I were invited to go back to the ITV studios, only this time it’s a little different. This time we’re meeting with the researcher, two producers and the actress playing the Bipolar character; Connie Hyde.
(Little bit of filling the grey bits in for those who don’t know, Connie was playing Gina who is Sally Metcalfe’s sister)
Believe it or not this was less intimidating than the square table situation. While we were waiting to be greeted in the lobby Eileen walks past and then Rita from The Cabin waves bye to the receptionist and then Ken gets in to a really flashy car and all of this just blows my mind because I have never been any good with celebrities. Star struck just doesn’t cover it.
Dominic the researcher took us up to the canteen for lunch, this time I got wise and said I was too excited to eat (I said I was less intimidated, I didn’t say I was composed), he did manage to make me a cup of tea and I wondered if I could take the ITV mug home with me (I didn’t). Sandra was talking away and I looked around and in one corner Eva was laughing with Peter Barlow, a few tables down Gail was eating a sandwich and then in walked Audrey and I just thought…
“How the hell am I going to look normal?”
People always tell me…
“You know celebrities are human, they poo and wee just like the rest of us.”
Yeah, I know that. But right at that moment, when Rita walked past me she looked exactly the same as she does on screen, just perfect and I tried to tell myself that she is just like me only I kept thinking, her poos are probably golden! I’d been watching her on my television for 27 years, I’d seen practically every husband, every bad choice, every humorous comment she’d made within that time, the woman was royalty! So how was I going to conduct myself in a professional and sensible fashion when I was smiling like an animated Meerkat on speed!
I have no idea how we got to the next part of the building. I remember shaking hands, I remember smiling and being shy but trying not to be because I’m trying to portray this punk-ass public speaker type image to show people I’ve achieved something even though I’m the one in the room with the diagnosis. Sandra’s the messenger, she’s the one who tells people the facts but she doesn’t have the real insight into the illness, that’s my job. I’m the one who has to tell the story and try and show these people all angles of my condition because remember, no-one is the same and while I can’t represent everyone who has the disorder, I am in that room to represent myself, at least.
The room overlooked the whole of Media City. Everything was calm, it was all still and strangely, so was my heart. It’s a funny thing being me. I freak out and then something in me just changes. Like going on stage before I do a talk. In the lead up to it I question myself a million times,
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why are you doing this?”
And then, right before I step on the stage I think to myself…
“…because there’s a reason for it…”
Everyone has dreams, writing was always mine, but I was not a writer I wanted to be and I’ve always felt that Bernard took that away from me. Yet here I was using the one thing that takes no prisoners and destroys everything in its path; the thing that has almost ended my life on so many occasions and I’m about to use it to influence a television program and a whole team behind it into creating a realistic representation of Bipolar Disorder. The very thing I would kick to the curb in a heartbeat.
That was the reason behind my sense of calm. My job wasn’t to write but I was still there to tell a story.
When Connie Hyde walked into the room she had a folder in her arms. She shook my hand as she sat down in front of me and she opened up the folder. Sandra went through the technicalities of the illness… and then the floor was mine.
I’d be lying if I said I can remember what Connie asked me but I remember she started to write. I gave her my story. I told her how Bernard came about, I told her about all the weird things I’ve experienced, the obsessions with drag queens and swans, the compulsion to save the world, the six admissions to locked psychiatric wards, losing friends, losing myself, losing hope.
I remember looking directly at Connie, into her kind eyes and at her pen as she wrote down my words. I remember glancing to my left and one of the producers was crying when I told them that the system gave up on me and my life was deemed pointless. Then she laughed when I told them all that I’d achieved everything they said I never could, I even touched my face with my left hand so they could see my wedding band to prove it.
That room was incredible. The feeling was indescribable. Who would believe this? It was so far off the scale that even though I was there I wasn’t sure if it was really happening.
When we filed out of the room I handed Connie my business card. It was my first business card, the one before the website, before the blog, before anything really. Sandra panicked and wanted any contact to go through the charity but it wasn’t about drumming up business or staying in contact, it was about proof. I wanted her to have something to remember me. I thought maybe if she was struggling to get into character or she needed a reminder of the face behind one version of the illness, then she could look at my face on my business card and remember who told her their story. I wanted her to remember that even though her role was a work of fiction, it was real for someone.
I think the most difficult thing about this process was not being able to tell anyone. God that was hard! It’s like someone sitting on a wasp and then telling them not to move. It’s practically impossible.
When Gina walked onto the cobbles and the monthly meeting of the Bipolar group came round I knew one of the topics of discussion would be the latest Coronation Street storyline. By this point I could tell everyone and everything that I’d been part of the process and I’m not going to lie, I told that story with a smile as wide as slice of watermelon!
But it’s a sad moment when you’re revealing your best kept secret and you realise 90% of the room question why it was you who had been picked to go. The simple fact is I’m an ambassador in the north west and that’s it. It’s the charity’s red tape, it’s just geography, it’s nothing personal and it’s not about picking favourites; I was just local.
The best thing about being part of the…I guess you can say…storyline or maybe the plot, was sitting in my living room watching it play out and the actions on the screen mirrored the things I’d talked about. I was proud of the writers because they showed they’d listened to what I had to say and I’d been taken seriously in a world where that’s sometimes difficult.
There’s one thing that I loved about watching Gina on my TV, it was like watching me. I don’t know if it was intentional or if I’ve seen something that wasn’t really there but so many people asked me if Gina’s obsession with dogs on plates was a representation of my love for swans? If it was, I’ll take it!
I’m not going to lie; I was gutted when Corrie didn’t take Gina’s story to the heights that it could have gone. They could have shown the soap world how to really do a Bipolar storyline because there was so much they could have done with it. Maybe they forgot about it amongst all the other storylines? Maybe they changed their minds or maybe they were doing what I try to do, prove to the world that you can live well with a mental illness. Who knows?
I wrote an article for Bipolar UK’s magazine Pendulum about my involvement with the show and I sent it to Connie. Over the last couple of years we’ve had a couple of messages here and there and that’s been nice, every message she tells me I helped her and inspired her but I can’t take the credit for her work. The day we met she looked as though she wanted to get her character right. She wanted to portray Bipolar Disorder realistically because it’s so easy to get it wrong and I know she’s reading this because I asked for permission name drop her; so I want everyone to know that she did a damn good job playing Gina and should she ever return to the cobbles, I’ll be glued to my telly like a mask that sticks to your face when you breathe in.
When I started public speaking being an inspiration never entered my mind, I just wanted to tell my story in the hope that people would listen. It’s incredible how many doors its opened, it’s given me so many opportunities that I still find unimaginable.
I haven’t travelled the world but I’ve had some damn good holidays. I’m not rich but I can pay my mortgage. I’ve never had my heart broken and I count myself lucky in that department. I may never have tried drugs or smoked a cigarette but come on, have you seen what those things do to people?
When I started writing the blog I didn’t know if I had anything people could relate to. I didn’t think I had anything that people would want to read about, I felt like I had nothing and I’d achieved nothing. But what is an achievement?
Is it buying a fast car and having a posh job? Is it being able to buy expensive jewellery because you’ve earned the money to do it? Is that what is says in the dictionary? Are those the things it lists?
You can label it whichever way you want to but in reality the definition of achievement can’t always be found in the dictionary. Sometimes we have to define achievement according to how we live our lives as an individual. No two Bipolar people are the same and that goes for human beings in general. We spend so much time comparing ourselves to others and talking ourselves out of things that we don’t realise we could be missing out on something wonderful if we were just brave enough to take that chance and see what’s out there.
These days I think outside of the box. I gave up trying to be something I’m not a long time ago and I’m happier now than I ever was because I set my own goals and, if I reach them I tick them off a list because maybe achievement is about never giving up.
Maybe achievement is about trying to live life the way we want to and seeing what comes our way. Maybe its about trying not to be afraid. Maybe its about throwing caution to the wind and embracing a cloud to get to the sun that eventually breaks through.
Maybe achievement is simple. Maybe it’s about taking a risk and accidentally falling into your childhood dream and even though it looks different to the way you wanted it to, you can still make an old man proud…
Dedicated to Albert Patrick Mullineux
And thank you to Connie Hyde