It’s Saturday night… I’m not even going to try and dress this up anymore…next to me I have my tipple of choice, decaff tea, a two-litre bottle of squash because my drug of choice in the name of Lithium makes me thirsty and a piece of pumpkin cake smothered in cream cheese frosting – I actually had to eat a piece just for the photo, at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Matt’s just gone to the cinema with his nephew so I’m home alone with the cat and a heated blanket because my house is freezing even with the heating on.
Before he left he asked me what this blog is going to be about and I replied…
“I don’t know yet…”
…which is true, I don’t; but off the back of falling into the bath the other week I’ve been thinking about a few things.
I know I mentioned that a friend passed away in September and since then I admit I haven’t been the kind of self I like the world to see.
My friend was superwoman. She was my idol, my Bipolar idol – you can all keep Stephen Fry, I don’t need him because I had my friend – she was my Bipolar Mum.
Bipolar is a funny thing; it’s selfish and cruel and mean and it takes no prisoners. It spares no one and doesn’t give two hoots about the carnage it leaves behind.
On all the writers courses I have ever been on the tutors tell you to never use cliché’s, but Bipolar Disorder is just one massive cliché.
You can have an episode and you miss out on months of your life and you say…
“Where has the time gone?”
You might make it through the hospital admission and in your Christmas card to your family you might say…
“I love you to the moon and back.”
And my personal favourite is one that I have yet to use…
“And they all lived happily ever after…”
Growing up I had a vision of what my life would be like and it went a little like this…
- 6th form
- Travel the world
- Meet a boy who plays the guitar in a band
- Get married
- Have one child
- Become a famous writer
- Live in a tiny village and ride a bike with a basket on the front
- Die happy!
Nowhere in that list did crippling mental illness and misery appear. It was not on my radar; it was not allowed and it certainly was not welcome because I had dreams, I had desires, I had a whole load of things I wanted to do with myself like graduating with my friends. I wanted to throw my cap in the air and have a group photo with all of the people who had soldiered on through the three years of hard slog coupled with the parties and the crazy nights out that were never intended to happen but they just did. It was supposed to be three years, it should never have taken me six.
I wanted to live in Edinburgh, a place that felt like home from the very first second my foot touched the platform ready to do my first Fringe Festival job in 2002. I love that place, its energy, the creative chaos; it was something I’d never seen before. I made life long friends, I saw things I would never see in Bolton. I was a different person and I lived my best days there so was it too much to ask to just hang on to that and keep it?
I wanted to travel the world. In 2006 I went to Australia for six weeks and it was the trip of a lifetime. I saw my Fringe Festival friends again and I lived in those six weeks the life I had always wanted. Even though I was diagnosed, I was physically scarred and I was teetering on the edge of an episode because I never really knew if my medication was right or not and I was still wondered if I really needed it when I felt well.
When I came home from that trip I made plans to go back on a working holiday visa; but Bernard had different ideas. I was going on a trip, that was for sure, but it wasn’t to Australia…a locked ward on a psychiatric ward was as far as I was ever going to get.
Bipolar Disorder robbed me of the things I wanted most in the world. It took from me…
Losing my friend didn’t put things into perspective; it tipped everything upside down and made me question every single relationship with every single person I have ever known. Because at the hands of Bernard I have lost so many friends, people that I admired, people that I adored and would have fallen backwards in the bath for!
In the last few weeks I have asked myself…
“How embarrassing was I?“
When a friend who I thought loved me got engaged I could not have been more happy for her. It was all she had ever wanted; to meet her prince charming and stop kissing frogs. But when I was excluded from every celebration that took place in the run up to the wedding I was hurt – actually I was more than hurt because I understood her reasons why.
How do you introduce your friends and the family of the man you’re about to marry to a person who is the epitome of depressingly single? She doesn’t have a job and she’s spent however many years going in and out of a psychiatric ward like the revolving door to a cheap hotel? How do you explain to every successful person in the room that this is the kind of person you are associated with and you didn’t really want to invite them to your nuptial celebrations because it’s shameful to have someone so unfortunate in your life, someone who doesn’t match up to the rest of your acquaintances?
“Don’t worry, I get it.”
…How bad of a person was I?
Did Bernard make me bad as well as embarrassing. I know I would sometimes look at my reflection and I’d wonder who the hell was staring back at me but, was I bad? I know I was unrecognisable at times, different to the person I once was but was I really bad?
Was I a danger?
I know that I had a tendency to hurt myself but were the people I loved and adored worried that I might have the potential to hurt them? When they had children did they think I was a danger to their child? Or was I just too difficult to explain?
Was I an embarrassing conundrum?
Now I don’t mean to hurt or upset anyone who reads this; that is not my intention. This is just something I have to write because it’s been spinning around in my head since Bernard made an appearance nineteen years ago and I know I am not the innocent party in all of this. I would even go as far to say that I have done exactly the same. I put my hands up in the air and I will openly admit – because I am all about taking responsibility for my actions – I have cut people out of my life simply for self-preservation in order to move on from a chapter of my life that I don’t want to be reminded of.
I’ve said awful things about people… and I meant them. I have lied, I have been a coward and I have run in the opposite direction of proposed happiness because I believed that I wasn’t entitled to it because of the person I had become.
A few years ago I said if someone was to put a pill in the palm of my had and say…
“This will take away your pain, this will take away Bernard and he will never come back.”
…I would take that pill and I would swallow it down with or without water and I would kiss goodbye to the illness that Michael Douglas calls…
“…a terrible disease…”
…and I would not look back my friends! I would not look back.
In that room someone said…
“Even though it’s made you who you are?”
I was so insulted! So I said…
“Bipolar is not there to be your friend; Bipolar is there to kill you.”
I know I upset people with those words because they implied that I would happily give up everyone and everything that had come my way since the illness or disease came in to play.
You know what? The implication is an accurate one, I would. I would give up everything because it would mean having a simpler life and I would give up everyone I know because I believe in fate and I think if you’re meant to meet people you will meet them somehow; it doesn’t have to be because you have an illness.
My comment wasn’t well received and I was reprimanded for it but I still stand by what I said because I meant it but; there is no magic pill. I can’t give everything up and I can’t get back time I feel I’ve lost nor can I get back the people that I still think about, still miss and still love.
I look at my life today and I can tick off four things on my childhood list and let’s put it this way, that’s more than what was predicted for me at the time of my diagnosis. Sometimes lists aren’t always the things we should live our lives by. Sometimes life just doesn’t go our way and no matter what we do sometimes life is mean.
But I am not ungrateful, I am not ashamed and I am not sorry. I am thankful for the people who stood by my side and didn’t give up on me when they so easily could have. I am grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way in recent years and I would not have been able do to those things if I had given in to Bernard’s demands and I’m not ashamed of where I’ve been or the people I met within those places.
Over the fifteen years that I knew my friend she taught me how to spot the signs of my illness because on more than one occasion she knew I was ill before I did. She told me that I could still be a success, it just might look a little different to how I imagined it to be. She told me that Bipolar Disorder is a learning curve; it’s test after test after test and a constant reminder of what we have lost… but on the flip side it’s a reminder of what we still have and what we have in spite of it.
I’m happy now, believe me I am. I know reading this it might not sound like it and in the last few months through my anger and my grief I lost sight of how to live the way my friend did for so many years. I concentrated so much on every bad thing that Bipolar does to a person that I forgot that it doesn’t have to beat you.
So now, even on my most self-indulgent and self-absorbed of days I promise to remind myself…
…that all that I have lost has given me everything I have.
Dedicated to my friend Sheila.
You will always be my Guru, my inspiration and my teacher. All I can say is I’m sorry… but I promise I won’t let it beat me.