Monthly Archives: June 2011

What bipolar is and isn’t…

Most of the time I don’t think about the fact I suffer from a mood disorder, same as the fact I don’t think about the fact I have a ‘congenital abnormality of the hands’ or I have a calf-lick in my fringe or I have the Oakden chin. More often than not, someone else reminds me of all of these things – it’s like I become unconscious of them – and when people remind me, I get a bit indignant.

So, can I first say: I’VE NEVER BEEN SECTIONED. Not once. Not ever. I’VE NEVER BEEN KEPT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION IN ANY PLACE (except a cupboard for a short while and the head teacher’s office). I’VE NEVER BEEN FORCED TO TAKE ANY DRUGS I DIDN’T WANT TO TAKE. Well, except when my mum made me take aspirin and it always tasted horrible. And even though my bother-in-law threatens me with haldol from time to time. Not that I’d be ashamed of being sectioned. It’s not to be ashamed of. If you are forced into hospital with a heart attack or a stroke, it’s not to be ashamed of. Neither is it for mental illness. But I thought it was time to clarify some things.

But I guess to the outside, ‘mental illness’ is a confusing thing. And believe me, bipolar can be scary, especially when you first learn you have it. For me, it was a relief. The ancients believed once you knew the name of something, you could conquer it – this is why they’re funny about saying God and stuff. Once you name him, you reveal his secrets. And it was a bit like this for me.

So what even is it?

It’s two extreme moods that you might get – just you control yours and I can’t always control mine so well.

And people who think ‘depression’ is the blues… it’s not. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. To me, it’s a mind-cancer. It takes every good thought and value you have and corrupts them, turns them foul. You can love life as I do, and depression makes you hate it. You can be social and depression makes you seek isolation. It’s not just feeling sad. There have been times when I longed – longed  –  to cry. And I just couldn’t. It’s like longing to drown. Longing for peace, for rest.

And many people don’t understand hypomania or mania. Unfortunately, idiots like Kerry Katona have a lot to answer for, as does the media.

Hypomania is quite lovely. You’re filled with energy. The world sends you positive messages. The world is kind and lovely. Things seem harmonious. You feel like you can achieve anything. You’re blessed with creativity. Things are beautiful and nothing seems impossible.

Take this a step further. You’re talking nonsense. Nobody understands you because not only are you going too fast, you’re missing out steps. You are frustrated and aggressive with people who don’t understand you. The need to take risks is through the window. All sensible and rational behaviour seems ridiculous. Recklessness takes over. You do stupid things and don’t care about the consequences. You get in dangerous situations.

I share because that’s who I am. I believe in honesty. I believe I’m also incredibly bad at hiding my moods. They seep out. I share because I didn’t know one of my closest friends Elizabeth was in the midst of a full-blown mania until she was sectioned for things that were so out of character I almost couldn’t believe them. I share because mental illness is still stigmatised. It’s noble to have ‘suffered’ cancer; it’s shameful to have ‘suffered’ depression. I share because I don’t want anyone who is ‘mentally ill’ to feel like nobody gets them. I share because I want people to understand this is biology, not psychology. I could no more ‘stop’ my moods without drugs than a diabetic could stop their disorder without insulin. I can ‘manage’ it, like diabetics do. I can do sensible things and maintain routines, just like diabetics do. Yet diabetes isn’t shameful. Nobody ever sends nasty, gloating messages about those who are physically ill. Yet joking that I’ve been sectioned seems to be fun. Nobody would joke about someone being admitted for chemo.

But sadly, some people think mental illness is a laughing matter. They think it’s all kinds of things – a personality disorder, something psychological, something that makes me ‘twisted’. It’s not. I’m actually very straightforward. I’m not ‘mental’ or ‘mad’ or ‘insane’. They forget that I have achieved what I have achieved in spite of mental illness. They forget that in my life I have been commissioned to write books, that I have consulted for the Government, that I have led complex human resources consultancies, that I have achieved amazing grades on all manner of things (incluing a Hay-Mcber ‘Emotional Intelligence’ test that I aced… maybe I’m being silly to say I got ‘cluster strength’ for all emotional intelligence competencies – but it’s my one piece of evidence that says above everything else that I manage to be a well-rounded individual DESPITE mental illness – and more of an emotionally intelligent person than most people who don’t have mental illnesses are – and I think a lot of that is to do with being bipolar) I have a Master’s degree. I learned Japanese. I feel a Donald moment coming on, saying I’m proud of myself. I’ve done it because my family have let me stand on their shoulders and they taught me not only to do that but to stand on my own two feet. And, as I’ve said before, as Ginger reputedly said: “I did what [they] did, just backwards and in high heels.”

So don’t judge me. I have a big enough critic. She’s called LJ. And she’s harsh.

I’m going back to picking cherries now and commenting on world (would-be) leaders. It’s far nicer in that world. Please, if you have something nasty to say about my mental health, don’t hide behind a pseudonym. That makes you crazy, not me.

Money, money, money…

Yet again, the headlines, either alarmingly so or melodramatically so, are all pointing to global catastrophe. Today, The Telegraph reported that Britain is a nation of debtors, introduced by my favourite Mr Micawber line about misery and happiness dependent on income.

It seems, according to the article, that the country has been spending more than its income since 1982. Almost thirty years of over-expenditure. This does not bode well. What doesn’t bode well is the fact that everything that marks inflation – food prices and petrol prices – are increasing, and are going to continue to do so. Whether you think it’s media spin or you’re in agreement with Oxfam’s declaration that we are heading into triple prices and famine, one thing cannot be denied: the population of the globe is rocketing and we are going to be unable to sustain life as it is.

Oxfam point to several causes, all of which are more than evident in the world around us. The first is climate change. Whether it is or isn’t, whether we caused it or it’s just Mother Nature, some things are indisputable: sometimes, we have ‘bad’ years. This is what gave Joseph his power, way back when the technicolour dreamcoat was a myth: seven years of feasting followed by seven years of famine that brought Egypt to its knees and made a slave into a national hero. And did we learn from this?

Obviously not.

Causes of climate change aside, there are bad years and good ones, and in the bad – like this year here – where it’s been bone-dry since April and now cool and overcast in June – and the President himself is meeting up with local farmers to talk about the drought, you know it’s going to have a knock-on effect on food prices. Chicken food has gone up from 1.95 for a 5l bag to 2.95.

Not only does the climate have a massive impact on inflation, but petrol does too – in two ways. Firstly, we’ve come to be so hooked on cars and petrol that we now can’t live without it. I’m reminded of what Morpheus said to Neo about unplugging people from the matrix. “Most people are so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.” And is that not what most of our OPEC wars are about? Hmmm.

But because we can’t live without petrol (and we’ve really only had access to cars, wholesale, for about 70 years, how bad is that??! We’ve become petrol junkies, as a species, faster than it takes to get hooked on heroin, in terms of the length of humanity) we can’t envisage any other way of living, so we invent biofuels. When I was in Brazil, 40% of cars ran off biofuels. I thought that was cool. It isn’t. Biofuels mean you are growing them instead of crops, and that means some people in the world starve whilst others drive. We – as a species – can’t seem to think of any other way of getting about other than in cars or on planes. Amazing to think that two hundred years ago, we lived in ways without cars, planes, bicycles… I’d like to hope we could be in a world like that again, simply because it’s much less environmentally violent.

I for one would start breeding Clydesdales, Friesians or Shire horses, donkeys and oxen, get myself a cart and move about that way. And I’d like it very much!

But, whilst oil will continue to rocket, price-wise, and we’ll see petrol prices spiral – I remember in 1995 buying petrol for 64p a litre and thinking it was expensive! – few of us make any real attempt to stop using our cars quite so much. I definitely use my bike more, but it’s not for any noble purpose, just because petrol’s too expensive for me to buy any more. France isn’t set up for public transport outside the big cities. Whilst a train ticket is 14.50 to Limoges, beating the cost of petrol there and back to drop us off at the airport, there’s no longer any public transport to the airport. What’s the point of that??! There used to be a shuttle bus, but there isn’t any more. Not only that, if I wanted to get to Calais and travel across as a foot passenger on a boat, I’d have to go by TGV, bumping up the cost. To be honest, the train journeys are pleasant and I wouldn’t mind one that’s four or five times slower but it’s impossible to get there without being strong-armed into expensive rail travel… which, by the way, embarrasses England’s trains with their standard ‘on the day’ cost of a ticket between London and Manchester of £215.00. Or £315.00 return, first class. How is that justifiable??! So… until Governments get their heads around better public transport – which, let’s face it, isn’t going to happen when car production and tax on petrol are shoring up the economy – it’s just not viable. It only will become viable when we, as a species, get really, really stuck and there’s no oil left and there’s global disgust for biofuel.

So… if you’re not committed to Oxfam’s GROW you should be… because we ARE our brothers’ keepers. And the quote ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ has never been more appropriate.