Welcome to my A-Z guide to bipolar (also known as manic depression). This book is no way intended to be a diagnostic tool, so if you are wondering if you have bipolar, then your first point of reference is your GP. However, once bipolar has been diagnosed I suggest you turn to a very useful publication written by Dr. Monica Remires, ‘’Bipolar Workbook – Tools for Controlling Mood Swings’’. A good few years of clinical supervision has confirmed that I have bipolar II, but only after a very long, fraught and uncertain time for me and my family.
The book is narrative based touching only on subjects, feelings and medical comments pertaining to my experience. The A-Z guide, whilst rudimentary, is simply a bid to bring some order and clarity to proceedings! Excuse me for directing you back to certain chapters and if I am sometimes repetitive. I decided to write this book for a number of reasons. I am ashamed to admit that the first reason has been in a purely selfish bid to try and amend a lifetime of wrong choices, missed opportunities and let’s just be honest and say wasted potential! In my chaotic mind of self-aggrandisement, I would also like to become immensely famous and rich and give most of my money to animal and children’s welfare charities!
Realistically though, I hope nothing more than to complete a project, to actually see a finished result and possibly pat myself on the back for a job well done. It has been a long time since I have felt any sense of achievement. Whilst knowing that past failures and misdemeanours have in part been due to this insidious illness, and sadly a very late diagnosis, it has also been due to a reckless 20-year path of self-destruction that I believe can be attributed to 100% bipolar. My nature is sensitive, addictive, leaning towards the defensive, objectionable side and other numerous characteristics that are a veritable breeding ground for such a self-indulgent disease. In this account I will endeavour to give a searingly honest and purely personal version of my bipolar journey and its consequences, not just for me but also for my dear family, friends and former colleagues. (You tend to get sacked after numerous drinking binges, and change jobs a lot but more of that later). The second reason and obviously most important is not only to apologise for past and on-going mistakes but to try and impart some knowledge and help to those of you who are new to the disease or indeed hardened sufferers/survivors. I struggle with the word ‘’sufferers’’ because, whilst absolutely acknowledging how ghastly and painful the illness is, (physically and mentally) it is also relative and I loathe the ‘’victim culture’’ so I will try to stay as upbeat as possible and use the term bipolic. Of course in the past it was plain old manic-depressive.
This book has been written in moments of depression and mania over the course of 2 years and the tone will obviously reflect that. There are many times when there has been and is great happiness and hilarity, unsuppressable and inappropriate fits of giggles that I would not swap for all the tea in China. And many times where a dark hopelessness envelops the landscape.
As mentioned before it is a personal account, so for some readers there will perhaps be some aspects that may be missing and again I apologise for unanswered questions. I have endeavoured to list useful websites and books that have helped me enormously which I will chronicle throughout with gratitude. There will be many references to other authors, clinicians and experts in this field. Obviously I am not a qualified clinician so please use the information wisely and don’t make any changes to medications or lifestyle without first consulting your doctor.
My thanks go to the unsung heroes of this illness, the family members particularly who have to live with this extremely pernicious, stressful, destructive and trying disease. I have included a chapter entirely written by those closest to me, so we can see their reflections on the illness and how they have been affected and in some cases their lives deeply impacted.
I am also aware of the quote ‘’there’s a book in everyone and that’s where it should stay’’!!!
About me – Aunt’s perspective
I am the author’s aunt and have been a part of her life since her birth in July 1970. I think I can truthfully say that during that time I have acted as her loyal supporter, confidante, sounding-block, chauffeuse, small time benefactor, ‘mediator and advocate’ and – on a couple of drunken occasions – her metaphorical punching bag! I would describe our relationship as mutually close and beneficial, especially now that we can ‘talk’ every day via e-mail should we so wish which is a God-send for families who live in different countries. Otherwise, the actual time we spend together is limited to big family occasions such as weddings, significant birthdays, new babies and baptisms.
In 2010 I retired – aged 63 – from my primary job as a medical secretary. Over the years I have typed literally thousands of letters about people with mental health problems and as a reflexology practitioner – my secondary profession – I have treated many patients with similar issues. A sympathetic listener I may be but I’m no psychiatrist so anything I have to offer in this chapter will either be an indisputable fact, which may or may not have contributed to her illness or a personal opinion based on experience and – I hope – common sense.
Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old and her mother has never re-married.
Her father has played no part in her life since that time and her mother (my sister) brought her and her younger brother, single handedly with no financial support. Both sister and brother have enjoyed a close sibling relationship their entire lives.
She did well at school and 6th form college, going on to study law at Bristol and achieve a 2.1-degree followed by a Masters in Criminology from Cambridge University. Most of her close and enduring friendships were forged during this time.
She did not fulfil her early academic promise but flitted from one menial job to another, changing locations regularly, setting up small businesses and generally failing to settle for any length of time in any one place. It should be mentioned here that between 1994 and 1995 she came back to England from Europe (where she was then living) to help her mother look after her grandmother, not an easy task.
She had her fair share of romantic liaisons throughout her teens and twenties (sometimes disastrous!) and finally met and married a very decent and long suffering young man who has stuck by her in sickness and in health. Sadly after this book was completed, they are now divorced, however their beloved daughter is a source of great joy to them both and the separation remains amicable.
To my knowledge, my niece has never self-harmed, suffered from bulimia or anorexia and has never considered taking her own life. She has, however, struggled with weight and appearance issues from an early age – she is a natural red head (now a stunning blond!) and is at last comfortable in her own skin, having had a surgical breast reduction two years ago and a recent dramatic weight loss, achieved by diet and increased exercise.
She was (and still can be, even without the help of stimulants) the life and soul of the party. She is fundamentally a gregarious individual, highly intelligent, well educated and qualified, articulate, well read and vital, interested in the lives of others and current affairs, sympathetic and generous to good causes. She sometimes exhibits a flirtatious nature, which can be misleading, but since her illness she claims to be ‘anti-social’, enjoying the company of close family and friends only but she has never lost her talent for insightful and often self-deprecating wit. I have noticed over the years, though, that although she can count some successful high flyers among her peers and friends, she also tends to attract ‘losers’, people of both sexes and all ages, ‘non-copers’ who thrive on her kindness and are not above emotional blackmail. These needy characters eventually cause her a great deal of angst and sap her already diminished energy but she is not combative enough to get rid of them; indeed – to escape – she would almost rather change job/town/even country than confront them directly.
It is my firm believe that her self-confessed character weaknesses are inherited, largely, from her father. Having said that, her biological brother is one of the most well adjusted, easy going people I have ever met, to say nothing of being a devoted husband and father, so it can’t all be in the genes!
Although I have been divorced myself and have grown up children, I am still a strong believer in the institution of a happy marriage and the stability this affords to youngsters. I doubt that I would be writing this chapter now had she enjoyed the benefit of having a loving, stable, reliable, self-disciplined and respectable father.
In my considered opinion, her own mother’s overwhelming fortitude, hard work and generosity somehow ‘cocooned’ her daughter from the harsh realities of life, the need to stand on her own two feet and to ‘go it alone’ without a safety net. It is only in more recent years that my sister – through mounting concern for her daughter’s welfare – has adopted a more ‘ cruel to be kind’ approach. Also, almost six years ago she denounced alcohol altogether in an attempt to lead by example. Both these tactics appear to have worked successfully I am delighted to say.
I think the diagnosis of bipolar (long overdue) and its attendant treatment regime have come as something of a relief to the family who have struggled with her symptomatology. It is now easier to understand her mood swings, her intense anxiety and depression, her headaches and erratic behaviour that for a long time were blamed – erroneously – on alcohol abuse which is apparently a feature of this illness rather than its cause.
She herself has, I believe, become less self-absorbed and self-analytical and better able to deal with the very real and far ranging effects of bipolar disease. I hope with all my heart that the successful completion of this project will help give her the self-confidence and self-belief, which she richly deserves.