This is one of those subjects that most people will say has no place in their lives.
Maybe they are right, maybe not, but I do not really care, it is just my point of view.
I suffer from an condition which will affect me for the rest of my life, an ‘illness’ which is very much feared, ridiculed, and mostly misunderstood by the vast majority of the population.
I am Bipolar.
My own journey into madness began when I was nineteen years old, the prime of my life.
In the great scheme of things, it could be so much worse; it can be treated – to a certain degree, and there are periods (sometimes months or even years) when there are no outward ill affects.
It’s not Leukaemia or Cancer or Alzheimer’s, or even HIV/Aids, all of which (and rightly so) gain public sympathy and research funding, whereas a ‘Mental’ illness, still conjures up images of half-human wrecks shuffling along the corridors of Victorian grey-walled asylums, and therefore people thus afflicted are to be avoided at all costs.
In it’s own way, Depression can be as debilitating as any number of physical diseases, and is of greater prevalence than many people realise.
One in every three people in this country will suffer from or know of someone with a mental illness at some time in their lives.
Misunderstanding walks hand-in-hand with ignorance – have you heard the people who say ‘I feel depressed today’, a comment which never fails to make me want to grab them by the throat and scream at them.
Severe depression is not waking up feeling a little miserable, everybody gets the ‘blues’, true depression is not wanting to wake up at all, and then waking up furious because you have woken up.
You do not want to get out of bed because there is no point, it’s a way of killing time as opposed to killing yourself.
Winston Churchill once described his depression as ‘A visit from the black dog’, Sophocles said: ‘When a man has lost all happiness, he is not alive, call him a breathing corpse if you will’.
I myself call it ‘The Dark Place’.
It is existing as opposed to living, functioning on autopilot if you can function at all.
It’s living in chaos because you cannot see the chaos.
It’s been addicted to the euphoria of the mania that makes you feel invincible, almost superhuman in your words and actions.
But, you are also so totally alone, detached from everything, including yourself and your actions, forever at risk from sinking into utter desolation and despair, and that my friend is a very dangerous place to be.
Every meaningful relationship in my life has suffered as a result of my condition, I was always seen as being too ‘Too Much Trouble’ for most people to deal with.
I seemed to always end up in a lot of trouble, spending much of my teenage years and early adulthood in the Care and Prison System.
The odds are that everyone of you knows at least one person who has had a taste of the dark place, if you are lucky, you will also have got them back.
Manic Depression affects about 3% of the world’s population, usually the most gifted and talented members of society, and kills many thousands of people every year.
It is a ‘whole’ body illness, involving the body, your moods and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you dress and the way that you feel about yourself and others.
It can stem from many things; stress, grief, personal trauma, or even more frustratingly, from nowhere at all (like my own condition).
Because depression is such a vague, undecipherable term, it is equally difficult to explain; it covers a variety of conditions and, until recently, the Medical profession were ill-equipped to deal with any kind of depressive illness.
As it is not a broken limb or a stomach or heart problem, the Doctors seemed unable or unwilling to deal with it.
This often has the result of totally inappropriate and excessive medication. Over the last three decades, I have been prescribed depressives, stimulants, sleeping pills, anti-psychotics, tricyclics, monamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), Temazepam, Diazepam, Lithium and even Beta Blockers.
I have even been subjected to a short course of ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy) which was deemed necessary at the time, and was a singularly unpleasant experience.
I have most recently been prescribed Depakote, which seems to have stabilised me to the point where I feel that the benefits of treatment finally free me from the chains of the side-affects.
The Chinese believe that in order to conquer a beast, you first have to make it beautiful.
Confronting the beast of depression in order to tame it is the first, and indeed, hardest step of all.
At first, the vast majority of prescribed treatments were of very little use – and even worse, were damaging my physical well-being.
Doctors have told me, ‘to pull myself together’, and to ‘work through it’, while at the same time, prescribing enough Diazepam to wipe out a small town.
For many years, I flatly refused to take the treatment that was on offer, preferring instead the ‘freedom’ of my illness as an alternative to the restrictions placed around me by the medication.
Many people will never admit to having any sort of depressive illness because of the stigma attached to anything even vaguely attached to madness.
There is after all, still an all too common misconception that mental illness equals madness.
I myself cheerfully admit (at least when I’m not there) that my manic episodes, make it seem to the casual observer like I’ve totally ‘lost it’, ‘going nuts’, or ‘going into one’.
A depressive illness is not a sign of physical weakness, nor is it a condition that can be simply wished away. Yet, in an ever moving, changing and competitive world, people are finding themselves under more stress than ever before, exacerbated by the inability to admit the truth of their condition.
I have never told my family about my Illness, they seem happy believing that I have been abusing drugs & alcohol for most of my adult life, and was at best ‘A Lost Cause’, the only person who really knew me, and therefore understood, was my father.
He was the only one who continually took me in when I was at my lowest, never questioning, and never judgmental. In fact, he was the only member of my family who even expressed an interest in my condition.
The world I have always chosen to live in, has in general, been far more accepting and indeed tolerant of ideas & behaviour which contradict and threaten public perceptions.
It is never easy to acknowledge that your friends and loved ones are in difficulty. All too often, it is easier to make a sometimes superhuman effort to not let the facáde slip, and to keep up the persona that the world sees.
It’s nearly always the case that the people who have the problems are the ones that that you never expect.
Unfortunately, living this way means that nobody can ever truly know the person behind the mask.
I have been truly alone most of my life, always too afraid to reveal the euphoric and beautifully colourful chaos that is one half of me, and the utter desolation and darkness that makes up the remainder.
What someone in trouble needs is understanding and support, and that kind of support is not easy to find or even to give.
During my last ‘vacation’ to the Dark Place, my then partner was terrified every time I left the house, half – expecting to never see me alive again.
That relationship, like many others, have been absolutely torn apart by my condition.
(Volatile and disturbingly dangerous relationships go hand-in-hand with the condition).
The knowledge that somebody can be there for you, can really make a difference. In a crazy sort of way, having Manic Depression has made me acutely aware how precious life really is when I get to stand in the light.
I have been there so often, and I have stood on the edge of the abyss many times, looked over into the darkness, and was able to take a step back, and each time I leave my Dark Place, I appreciate the light so much more.
So why, you may ask, do I have to go there anyway?
Simple answer? I do not know.
That is the nature of the beast I’m afraid, the very point of Depression is that there is no point, there are no answers and there appears to be no logic to any of it.
The bottom line is…. It happens. End of story.
Living in the world I have chosen, having my children and the few people of my own choosing around me has helped me get through the darker times, almost as much as the medication.
These things are vitally important to me, and are maybe just important enough to prevent me from taking that final step and staying forever in the Dark Place.
Not everybody has that, and sadly, not everybody makes it through.