*Please check out an update on this blog post which explains how this diagnosis, which at the time of writing this post I accepted, turned out to be a mis-diagnosis*
I have suffered from Bipolar Disorder for as long as I can recall, certainly the last 32 years or so. I have had several major depressive episodes in my life and I am now stable for the past couple of years, thanks to the love and support of friends and loved ones, excellent psychiatric assistance from the Health Service, and medication that I take daily. Both my parents have in their own way suffered and manifested symptoms of their own disorders and my extended family have in their own lives been subject to extreme bouts of either psychosis or severe depression or delusional disorders. One cousin I remember taking me aside and explaining to me in careful detail how he stored up sleeping pills in case he wanted to kill himself and liked hanging around train tracks just to watch the trains speed past. I have seen relatives talk to imaginary saints and invisible people – sometimes for hours at a time, or starve themseves almost to dealth, be taken into hospital with undiagnosable ailments or simply fly off the handle in uncontrollable bouts of rage. I have come home from holidays and seen the walls of bedrooms covered in the most miniscule writing. I remember trying to understand what my uncle had written but was unable to. I thought to myself: golly this must have taken him ages to write! He was taken into hospital again as he had obviously gone off his meds. The stories are endless and have given me endless material to think over and write about. Why am I writing about this? Am I trying to ‘out’ my family? Not at all. Most of the people I am talking about here are no longer with us, but the one thing that does remain with me was the terrible stigma that acompanied their illness. For instance today I had an appointment to see my psychiatrist for a check up, and who did I meet in the wating room but a former neighbour of mine, someone who used live four doors up from me. He nearly wilted with embarassment to see me there. I smiled and shook his hand and tried to engage him in conversation, but he was clearly too embarassed to talk to me. The experience reminded me of long lost relatives and all they went through. It was not enough that that they had to cope with a condition they could barely control, or for the most part their illness made their lives unmanagable, but they were somehow treated as somehow to be pitied or less worthy persons than others who didnt have a psychosis or a mental disorder, something to be kept a secret and divulged under the strictest confidence. I hear stories of people who are diagnosed with some psychiatric condition or other, who hear voices and their immediate reaction is shame and secrecy, a shame and a secretiveness that goes back to an era where to hear voices was to be tempted by the devil, the prejudice and delusion that mentally ill people are posessed, that it means a family is somehow cursed, that all this brings shame on a family, or that parents feel they have failed their children in some way. Its a very natural reacton, and it has a historical and cultural basis and it needs to be addressed. I often have wondered if my writing has come from that place where my bipolarity resides. I often feel the rush of energy when I write which is associated with mania. I often feel when I write that its like as though I am taking dictation, from where or how it comes I do not know. Certainly I know that living publicly rather than keeping my mental illness a secret has made an enormously positive impact on my life. I think there should be more of it, no question.