Mental Health Awareness Week: We are the champions of our condition

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As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to an end, with this year’s theme focussing on ‘Surviving or Thriving’, Daniel J. McLaughlin examines the language of mental health, and his own experiences with bipolar disorder.

I will probably spend more time searching for an image to accompany this piece than the actual time it takes to write it.

A picture supposedly represents a thousands words, and a thousand words barely scratches the surface on this subject. The cliche is to use a photograph of a silhouetted man with his head in his hands. In my professional life, as a journalist for Perspecs News (#3sides #shamelessplug), I have resorted to using this image to capture the complex and sensitive topic of mental health. I have never felt entirely happy by relenting and choosing the image, but a fast approaching deadline is a scary enough incentive.

Time to Change advises journalists and publications to use alternative images to depict mental health. The mental health organisation, whose aim is to end mental health discrimination, argues that images used in stories can be “just as damaging as the words or the headlines”. As part of their ‘Get the Picture’ campaign, they offer a few of their own stock photographs. However, I find they are not particularly successful, either. Some involve a model staring enigmatically out of a window, as though they were appearing in a 1990s television series.

Courtesy of Time to Change

Mental health cannot be portrayed in a single picture. If they were offered an infinite canvas, artists with flair and creativity to rival Van Gogh would struggle. Mental health is like a Michael Bay movie: there are too many, and no-one really asked for them in the first place.

Depression is a smorgasbord of bipolar, severe, seasonal affective, post-natal, et al. Bipolar has more spinoffs than CSI: I, II, cyclothymia.

It has been described as many things: Winston Churchill called his depression the “black dog”, while Stephen Fry likens it to the weather.

Perhaps a word cannot encompass the spectrum of mental illness; maybe a punctuation mark is more suitable? Yes, you have just seen it there: the question mark. Or even, my favourite punctuation mark, after discovering its name on QI, the interrobang (?!).

I spend a lot of time thinking about mental health. I am quite open about my condition, and I have put pen to paper (and digit to keyboard) on a number of occasions.

READ: I am depressed…

After finding out that my low moods were not the result of attending a Catholic school or supporting Blackburn Rovers, I was diagnosed with depression – and given happy pills to exorcise the demons. A little while later, when the pills were ineffective, I found that depression came in many flavours; and at the age of 18, my flavour was given a name: bipolar disorder, or manic depression (bipolar being the Starburst to manic’s Opal Fruits). I was later told that my manic depression was cyclothymia, which the Americans call (of course they would) ‘diet bipolar’.

When my condition comes up in conversation – you needn’t worry, my small talk does not consist of “Good evening, my name is Dan and I am a certified nutter” – with lexis aplenty in my arsenal, I struggle to choose the appropriate verb. I do not, even thought it can be particularly unpleasant, feel that I “suffer” from bipolar; nor do I remark that I “have” bipolar, as though it is a possession or an accessory. Instead, I have opted for “I am bipolar/I am a manic depressive”. In the same way I am undoubtedly white (possibly pale blue), right-handed, a Hobbit, and – sobs – have a receding hairline, my manic depression is very much a matter of fact.

By owning my condition, I am admitting to its chronic nature. It is not a fashionable illness for one to “man up” to, contrary to the unwise words (none more so than usual) of Piers Morgan. It is as chronic as diabetes and asthma; and you would not tell someone with low blood sugar to get over it, or a choking asthmatic that “everyone gets out of breath, at times”.

The next point may make you shift uncomfortably in your seat (presuming you are sat down), and will no doubt cause a concerned phone call from a worrying mother: bipolar disorder, and other depressions, can be a terminal illness.

Suicidal thoughts, and tragically actions, are a symptom of the condition. It is a bigger killer than cancer and heart disease for men; it is a silent epidemic that takes so many lives, but its lethality is not respected.

I treat my manic depression the same way the late, great and sorely missed Christopher Hitchens (what on Earth would he think of President Trump?) calmly and maturely observed about his cancer: in all likelihood, it will not be the tumour that will kill him; he died of complications from cancer, rather than the cancer itself.

If, heaven forbid, my life is claimed, I will not die from manic depression, but complications from it. That may be suicide; that may be addiction; or it may be from old age; or getting hit by a bus. I am rather hoping that life gets to me before bipolar disorder does.

A final note on suicide (no pun intended, even with my gallows humour): when I and many others plummet to the depths of these dark thoughts, we are not obsessing over whether or not we want to die. Sometimes, we simply do not want to live. In the depths, I look forward to sleep and when I awaken, I greet the morning with a resigned, “Oh, you again.”

By offering a frank account of the ups, downs, and inbetweens of bipolar disorder, I understand that I run the risk of looking as miserable as Morrissey. As a journalist, my news head dictates and we do tend to have Spidey senses for the macabre. The dark experiences are more interesting than the stable Dan, eating Pringles and watching Netflix. As much as I am a narcissist, I do not think for one minute that you will be enthralled by my adventures to the local shop, or by my enjoyment of Paul Jones, Clare Teal and Jools Holland on BBC Radio 2.

And when I am manic, well, I am far too busy thinking that I am the next step of human evolution, kissing all the wrong girls, and singing to myself (and other unfortunate souls) on a motorway bridge.

I agree with the former England cricketer, Andrew Flintoff, that we should not refer to mental health as a “stigma”. While he chose “struggle” to describe it, and as I have previously voiced my opposition to those type of words, there needs to be a word that reflects the sheer bravery and determination of my fellow nutters.

I have been heartened by many of my friends coming out of the mental health closet and openly discussing their illness. It takes a helluva lot of balls to be honest, especially in front of family and friends. Thank you, and KBO (keep buggering on).

We are not strugglers, we are not sufferers – we are champions. No need to burst out into song, I’ve got that covered when Mr Manic calls.

A commonly used statistic often quoted in awareness weeks such as this is: one in four people have a mental health problem. While I appreciate it is there to tell people they are not alone, I feel it takes away the dogginess and individuality of the fighters. We challenge the mundanities of everyday life – the rent, the mortgage, the 9-to-5 – as well as duelling with something that is not at all mundane: our conditions. One in four, of course, fight, but every unique person is special and significant.

Our dearly departed hero, in both the Star Wars movies and the mental health fight, Carrie Fisher wrote in her 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking:

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder.

“In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside).

“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

I have just come up with an image for this article: a bruised and battered soldier ready to take on yet another charging army. The soldier has a wry smile. Trying to find a copyright free image of this will be a bit of a bugger, and I possess no artistic talent.

Mental health is a gladiator battle, and whatever we face in the arena – we are the champions.

 

Irene Fielding eulogy: The Rock of the Family

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Mum. Mam. Nan. Irene. Renee. Mrs Fielding. Miss Daisy.

Blimey, she went by quite a few names! When you mention Irene Fielding, her name becomes a synonym of kindness, warmth and generosity. She touched the hearts of many, brightening innumerable lives; and the world will sorely miss her. But what she leaves behind – her legacy, her family – will continue to shine the torch in her memory.

Irene Fielding was born at the Royal Blackburn Infirmary on the 31st March 1931 – the thirty first of the third, thirty one. You had no excuse to forget her birthday! The oldest of her siblings, June, whom we sadly lost last year, and Jim, from the very start of her life, she displayed that caring nature; looking after Jim when he had polio as a child. That nurturing side of Nan never stopped, and even at the beginning, her love of family – the importance of family – was evident.

In later life, she cared for her mum and dad, my Great Grandad and Grandma Byrne whom I sadly never met. Nan would regale me of tales about her father who used to go mad at people wearing hats indoors or wearing no shoes – Nan herself carrying on this etiquette in the household.

She was the mother of Ann and Graham, showing indeterminable strength and bravery when dealing with what no mother should ever face: the loss of a child. She leaves behind her daughters Yvonne and Pauline, both of them a reflection of the best of Nan whom she was rightfully proud. I see in you what I saw in her: extraordinary kindness, brimming with love even in the most difficult of times.

She supported her family through sheer hard work and determination. Working until the very last day of retirement, she had jobs in the mills, Kenyons, Gerrards, Forboys, the local chippy, Blackburn Market, and she worked as an auxillary nurse at Southlands.

She spoilt her family rotten, perhaps none more so than her grandsons, Colin, Graham, Ciaran and myself. Whether it was cooking tea when we got home from school – she almost had this Sixth Sense where as soon as you walked in, the tea was miraculously ready on the tray, regardless of what time you set foot through the door – or stocking up the sweet tin.

I once turned round to Nan, and bear in mind she did have great-grandchildren much younger than me, and said, “Nan, I’m 22 – and you still stock up the sweet tin for me!” And in her typical quick-witted and honest fashion, she replied, “‘Ee, well it’s better than drugs, love.” There was never any malice in her humour, just sharp Lancastrian fun.

She also kept biscuits for any visitors, with Oreos for my father Pat – or should I say his mate Ron? I think I can say it now, Dad. Ron was an abbreviation of ‘Later On’. As we got older, the

pop turned into shandy, and the shandy turned into beer. Her fridge, and her sweet and biscuit tin were never empty for her guests – and what an exemplary host she was!

Her door was always open for a friendly chat over a cup of tea. And boy, what wonderful brew she used to make! Although my Dad was a wee bit disappointed on his first visit when he was offered a ‘drink’. As a squaddie, a drink was something a bit harder than a brew! And the toast, for some reason her toast was the best in the land, and we haven’t the faintest idea how.

In times of trouble, Nan could always be called upon. She took Colin under her wing, when he was aged 12-years-old, and lived with her for five years. Me, Ciaran and Colin were chatting about this the other day: every afternoon, without fail, Countdown would be on the TV. That programme taught the grandchildren our letters and numbers; Nan would be quicker with the conundrum, but we would work out the numbers. Colin wouldn’t go out with his mates until he watched Countdown with his mates. “Sorry, lads! It’ll have be after teatime!” Mainly because you couldn’t miss Nan having a go at Richard Whiteley, shouting at the screen ‘get on with it!’.

She used to enjoy watching her TV and films. Under the stairs at Lonsdale Street was crammed with video tapes of Tom and Jerry, Pingu, Laurel and Hardy, the Carry Ons, Tommy Cooper, and Norman Wisdom – many of which had been taped off the tele by either Auntie Pauline or Uncle G. She used to crack up at Norman Wisdom in films like On The Beat and Trouble in Store. The hours we used to spend laughing at Margaret Rutherford as the elderly shoplifter, or during ‘Don’t Laugh At Me ‘Cos I’m A Fool’ with the lady at the café so immersed in the action, she fills her coffee cup with so many sugar cubes, it would sink the Titanic!

Now, we couldn’t talk about Nan without mentioning her beloved Blackpool. Either trotting off on the train by herself, or taking the family, she adored Blackpool. Throughout the year, she would save up all of her shrapnel, her coppers, for the amusements at Mr B’s, weighing down her handbag on the journey there; her favourite being the OXO machine, which I could never master. She used to visit the Tower, playing a Strictly Come Dancing judge in the ballroom, criticising the show-offs and taking great amusement from when they messed up and had a strop; perhaps harking back to the days spent in the dance halls in Blackburn.

She would love watching the world go by, sitting on the seafront or closer to home at the Bubble Factory, Oswaldtwistle Mills. We used to feed the ducks with bread purchased from Mo’s corner shop on Lonsdale Street. The poor, malnourished creatures would be lucky to get a slice as my dear brother Ciaran would pinch them for himself; thus earning the nickname Quack from Nan.

Whether it was playing bingo both at bingo halls or at Merlin Court or perusing the carboot sales; visiting Scotland where she loved hearing the pipers or down to London; or even further afield to Germany and Majorca – Nan got to see the world, and the world got to see her, and the world was better for it.

Although she held many jobs in her life, her vocation was her family. As a sister, a mother, an auntie, as something Les Dawson never had – a fantastic mother-in-law to Pat, Graham, Jim and Angela, and as a Nan, she was the rock of the family. There was nothing that made her happier than when we got together as a family. We were fortunate to spend one last Christmas Day with her, her favourite time of year, and I will never forget the beam of joy on her face, watching us opening our presents. She relished our card nights, our meals out, our get togethers, where she didn’t say a lot – and as she told Auntie Pauline, she loved listening and watching us, taking it all in.

She had a fantastic memory, so you had to be careful what you said! Woe betide anyone uttering a swear word! She didn’t need to say a lot, her looks and mannerisms did all the talking: that stare, the infamous wagging finger. And I tell you something, you never did it again!

We all have our stories of Nan, our own precious memories we shall treasure forever. And those special times make her immortal. It will be an honour to hear all of stories later on at the Britannia pub, after the service, friends and family together as she always loved.

Irene Fielding had a certain dignity and elegance, without losing her warmth and friendliness. A composed lady, whilst still being down to earth. She was selfless, caring and embodied what it means to be a truly remarkable human being. What we do now, we do in memory of Irene Fielding. We don’t let that light go out, we don’t let the world go darker in her absence; we continue to shine the torch in her memory, and in her name.

She was the rock of the family, and we shall miss her so, so much. Love you, Nan.

Grief: trying to muzzle the great, black dog

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When I write a blog post, the process usually involves putting pen to paper first, and then using the time to type as a second chance to edit. A bit old-fashioned, a bit cumbersome, but it tends to iron out the mistakes, and helps me avoid repetition.

On this occasion, I have decided against using this method. What you see now is exactly what was jotted down in Playfoots Cafe in Monton on Sunday afternoon. Writing this was cathartic for now, and I feel like I will do myself – and you, the dear reader – a disservice by tampering with the stream of consciousness. There will be errors and repetition. It will not be the most eloquent piece of writing you have ever read – but I can promise you this: it will be honest. The words in front of you will be what was running through my mind, at high speed, at the time.

I try to separate the personal from the professional, and I worry that I am perhaps being too open. In the same way I have always been open about my experiences with bipolar disorder, I should apply that to grief. This is my experience that I had to chronicle; mainly for self-indulgent reasons.

“How are you?”

A seemingly innocuous question. It is the ultimate fallback of small talk. When one has nothing interesting to say, or are perhaps too shy to say it, they reduce themselves to the welfare of others. It is not a loaded question, we do not expect a life story – like the sex life of the average Brit, we expect the response to be short and sweet.

If three syllables seems somewhat overt, you can opt for the simple “Alright?”. Amusingly, this phrase drew the ire of a cast member during Kevin Spacey’s Richard III world tour – in the documentary about the Anglo-American production – who deemed it almost aggressive. “What do you mean if I am alright? Is there something not to be alright about?!”

Not the only enquiry to cause confusion among our international guests. During my time as a student, I befriended many visitors to Great Britain (and Greatest Lancashire). The kind-hearted offer of “want owt from shop?” was met with creased foreheads and startled looks; lacking from linguistic textbooks or tutorage of professors with Mid-Atlantic and received pronunciation accents.

Our colonial cousins’ confusion is only matched with our perplexity towards their niceties. Upon entering a store in the US, I have been accosted with “Hello, sir! How are you? Have a nice day!” I found from my experiences across the water that you must never, ever respond to this vacuous crap and ask how they are in return. Resembling a rabbit in headlights, they do not know the appropriate; it was a statement, not a question.

The Englishman is a selfish, inward race, only caring about their own needs. The American, whom I have grown to adore irrespective of their electoral choices, is outward facing, far too willing to please. The Englishman is very rarely willing to call anyone “sir”, because it highlights their inferiority. The American, thankfully, is not as tedious or petty in maintaining a complex class system, and therefore offer the vocative address in abundance.

I am digressing, of course.

This is because I am not willing to answer the original question.

I could reply with the typically Lancastrian “not too bad, ta”; our pessimism not allowing us to admit to anything being good – if it is, we can only use the phrase “alreight”.

But I am not a liar. From the age of 18, I decided never to lie; which has, no doubt, ended relationships and friendships prematurely.

In truth, I am not okay. I am not okay, whatsoever.

My dear Nan, the living embodiment of selflessness, loyalty and love, has died. My inspiration, my best friend, my joie de vivre has been taken away from me, aged 85. I am heartbroken, devastated, angry, aggressive, depressed and forlorn – and undoubtedly, selfish.

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Grief is a selfish process. I will never see her again. am in so much pain. Though I equip lexis, pretentiously, in my arsenal, I cannot arm myself with any to describe this suffocating and debilitating experience that – that pronoun again – have to endure. Not once have I considered Nan will not see her family, Nan will not spend another day on Earth – or more importantly, Nan is now free of pain.

In times of deep sadness, in the absolute worst of times, I have found that it shows people at their best. Shrouded in darkness, I am grateful that I have not been totally eclipsed in blackness. There have been flickers of light from the immeasurable kindness of family, friends and even strangers. When wars are declared, and people flee from the terror, there are always those running in its direction willing to offer aid and generosity.

I have to confess, I do not usually know how to react when people send their ‘thoughts and prayers’. When a crises hits, a much too regular occurrence, Twitter feeds are filled with pointless hashtags #PrayForX. This wills on inaction, an armchair thought instead of an on-the-feet response. If positive thinking worked, I would have a six-pack, be a millionaire, and be married to Jenna-Louise Coleman. This armchair positive thinking is what fuels the so-called happiness industry, which can be dangerous with its false promises of the universe looking after you. If you do not reap the rewards you lust for, you do not have enough faith. Sickening.

I deplore those who slavishly bleat “but everything happens for a reason”. What a lazy line of thinking, taking absolutely no responsibility for your actions. If everything is predetermined, I would hate to meet this omnipotent petulant child. The working class have religion whilst the middle class have spirituality. The impoverished and less affluent need to believe in a higher power that looks over them because they are truly alone; the self-important, and I daresay delusional, middle class need to believe they are the centre of the universe and everything revolves around their humdrum, dull and insignificant little lives. And don’t get me started with karma (again, slothful redistribution of blame) or those patronising, smug Facebook memes with their so-called inspirational messages; although the person who posts them has achieved bugger all and wastes away to insignificance.

Courtesy of DJBenz on Imgur (http://imgur.com/gallery/MlQR4)

Courtesy of DJBenz on Imgur (http://imgur.com/gallery/MlQR4)

I am being rude. I am lashing out. I am not sorry.

There is no guide how to grieve properly, no etiquette to respect the dead. We are not willing to address our own mortality, therefore we do not plan the necessary decorum.

A person has “passed away”, we have “lost” our Nan (in the supermarket?!), she is “on the other side”. Our sugar-coating becomes a bizarre variation of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch: he is an ex-parrot, he has ceased to be.

Death is a violent act. Not necessarily the cause of the demise, but to the mourners. We are suddenly bereft of a mother, an auntie, grandmother and great-grandmother. She has been suddenly removed from our lives without consultation. Our constant, our rock, has vanished.

I wanted to ring my Nan the other day, as I often did throughout the week. The conversation was always the same, but it was always comforting. Not even being able to say hello broke my heart in two, as I tried to contain my anguish whilst travelling on the bus. I was not successful.

And so, we rely on our memories. I remember Nan on Christmas Day, beaming with joy at the family opening their gifts. And then, she was gone.

She was not well over Christmas, a fact made clear when I returned home for the holidays. One of the most beautiful pieces of television ever created – and one of the rare things to make me cry (alongside the film Pride) – Royle Family’s Queen of Sheba was broadcast on BBC. This episode mirrored everything we were going through, and reduced me to a hopeless mess. On Christmas Eve, the family watched Nativity 2 on DVD. Admittedly not one of the finest films ever made, but as the twins were born and the sparring brothers (also twins) reunited, my mother and I sobbed uncontrollably (both of us twins, but sadly my brother Anthony not making it past birth), exhausted at what we were facing.

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Throughout this festive period, I have been an exposed nerve, with even a faint breeze of wind causing sorrow and pain.

I got to say goodbye to Nan, and as she closed her eyes for the last time, she was surrounded by her family. As she let go, my body reacted in shock. In a complete incomprehension on how to deal with the enormity of grief, I simply stopped functioning. If my father was not behind me, I would have crumpled to the floor. Every eon of me wanted to scream. Inside, I was on fire, Outside, I was cold. Something guttural needed to shriek in despair, but when reaching my vocal chords, it whimpered through a cracked voice. I could not function, I did not want to function.

Grief is not just one emotion, it is a multitude, all attacking you for different positions. My head pounds, my very insides twist and twist and twist. I am at my most primal. I have been reduced to a wounded animal.

And like most wounded animals, I lash out. I am not an angry person: grumpy, yes; passionate, indeed. The red mist, however, I do not tend to experience. This alien emotion has crept up on me.

I am, undoubtedly, a coward. When given a choice of fight or flight, I have already booked an all-inclusive package holiday to Majorca. I will drink a lovely Sangria at the Blue Bar, Palma Nova situated just on the beach front. As the news hit, much to my shame I explored the possibilities of escapes to Europe; the key word being “escapes”.

Instead, I am feeling terribly tense and hyped up. I have not slept properly. One night, after giving up, I went downstairs to the kitchen table to write my Nan’s eulogy for her funeral. This was 1.30am. I did not return to bed until three hours later.

I am a lover, not a fighter. Okay, a lover is being too generous. But right now, if Conor McGregor offered a chance for a spur, I don’t think I would turn him down. Much like my schooldays, I would be beaten to a pulp; unlikely my schooldays, I would most likely attempt to fight back.

Grief is selfish, and grief is irrational.

This antagonistic behaviour is further exasperated by my current aesthetics. I did not leave the house for a week after my Nan’s death. I was unshaven, with unruly hair, and appalling baggy clothes. To those who know me, I am a man who prides himself on his appearance; and for a week, I let myself go. After she lost her husband Albert, Queen Victoria wore black. Although interpreted as a sign of respect, I understand her logic: it is the equivalent of telling people to fuck off. Even with my pitiful attempt at facial hair, it meant, at least, I was separated from humanity even with just a few millimetres.

And then, I remember.

Every time I visited my Nan, even after one day of not shaving, she would inspect my face checking for stubble and say, “Ew, tufty”. My brother Ciaran with a full beard would never get this treatment – in fact, she rather liked his beard – but if I was not clean-shaven, there would always be a comment.

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I have learnt a great deal about presentation from my Nan. She might not leave the house, but she would always look impeccable. You might never know what guests to expect – one year, my Nan was visited by the carnival queen desperate for the loo during the parade. She dressed for the occasion each and every day.

So, I have left the house. Gillette rejoices at their prodigal son and my barber is happy for the custom. The unmistakable pain is still ever so present, haunting me like the great, black dog of depression.

But I will not be hounded without a fight. Returning to a routine thanks to a simple, silly memory, I have found a muzzle.

It’s still here, this unfathomable bottomless grief and by gosh it hurts, but I need to train the great, black dog. Small steps. Let’s start with “give us a paw”.

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I am depressed…

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Mental Health Awareness Week begins today, with this year’s theme being “relationships”. Dan McLaughlin joins the open and frank discussion about mental health with his account of facing depression.

I am depressed.

Not by the recent news announced by universities minister Jo Johnson whereby academic institutions will now be able to raise tuition fees from the already staggeringly high and class dividing £9,000-a-year – ridding this lost generation of “thinkers” and replacing them with soulless “customers”.

Nor am I depressed because of the childish penis-measuring contest they call the EU Referendum where one side compares the European Union to Nazi Germany and the other tries to scaremonger the apathetic, to whom they are responsible for creating in the first place.

Or even reflecting on yet another mediocre season for Blackburn Rovers with a departing manager and incompetent owners who are beleaguering my childhood club. We were the Leicester City of the 1990s. We are now the Lib Dems of the 2010s.

I am depressed, because…well, your guess is as good as mine.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (the artist formerly known as manic depression). Bipolarity means that I experience an extreme in moods: manic highs where I think that I am the next step in human evolution, and crippling lows where I wish natural selection will do its job and add me to the list containing dinosaurs, dodos and Katie Hopkins’ common decency.

Since last Wednesday, I have been experiencing the southside of bipolar.

Lethargy, contempt, sheer dislike of human beings (with myself claiming top prize).

Like Marley in A Christmas Carol, I feel like I am burdened with weights and chains – lowering me to a pitiful and cowering stupor. I am in a disgraceful yet loyal compliance to a mood much like the Judeo-Christian Old Testament god: punishing, petty, resentful, sulking like a pubescent teenage boy.  

From Wednesday until this mood lifts, I will not look in a mirror.

I fear that it will reflect a Dorian Gray-esque magnification of my hideous traits.

I am overweight. I have horrible teeth. I am 5′ 6”. The bastardisation of East Lancashire and the occasional Derry has created a mudblood accent, where the creeping stutter and lisp will return as the sequel nobody ordered; a bit like Transformers 2.

A black and white vignette of an old memory plays out from an old, dusty cinema projector in my limbic system.

I am in a classroom at my old high school, aged 14. Two girls, whose names and faces fail me or they have simply been deleted for something much more useful in my storage, gossip and cackle about boys they fancy – as though they are selecting poor souls from a menu, whom they will devour like their spirit animal: the black widow spider.

They scour the classroom, ticking off this checklist of crushes.

“Athletic sports guys with perfect hair and an inferiority complex?”

“Yeah, he’s cute.”

“Boy destined for renowned institutions, such as Strangeways?”

“He’s fit.”

“The Class C**t?”

“Phwoar.”

“What about Danny Mac?”

The tape is trapped in the cogs, playing their hysterical hyena laughs on loop.

And today, they are right to laugh.

As a man who usually takes great pride in his appearance, this begins to decline with the mood. The suits are replaced with baggy t-shirts, the shoes with trainers.

I have even grown a beard.

This lax attitude to aesthetics is not some vain attempt to join the lumberjack clone race they call hipsters; although I do already own a pair of stupid spectacles.

It is simply because I do not care.

The beard is almost a defence mechanism: with more inches on my face, that means people will be more inches further apart.

As Stephen Fry gravely remarked in the documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: it’s not that I want to die, it’s just that I don’t necessarily want to live.

But I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that Stephen Fry saved my life, and continues to save it today.

No, he did not heroically save me from drowning or some other form of misadventure.

He made me aware of my illness.

There are many ways I can attempt to combat bipolar disorder.

I could temporarily release endorphins to make me happy through exercise, sex and chocolate (or if I am feeling particularly adventurous, all three at once).

Or I could swallow happy pills prescribed from a general practitioner. I have, admittedly, tried this between the years of 2012 and 2013 and whilst I do not refute it helps others cope, I have developed my own method:

Educate, not medicate.

As one of those charming atheist creatures, I value nothing more than my rationality. What I find utterly frustrating about my decline in mood is that it is so irrational.

Why should I be unhappy? I have a caring family whom support me in whatever endeavour I partake. I am in a job I love, surrounded by people I respect and whose company I enjoy. I have my own place in a city I have grown fond of. I have a Netflix subscription. You selfish, selfish man.

There’s certainly no grievance from my early years: my childhood memories are of that of sunny days, Pear Drops and Blackpool.

I have absolutely no reason to be sad.

But neither does an asthmatic to have breathing problems; or a diabetic to require insulin; or for someone to have a severe reaction against a very specific type of nut.

Depression is illogical, but it’s not selfish – it just is.

(And an excellent argument against the intelligent design theory)

Instead of hopelessly shouting in the wind, I try to check the weather report beforehand. Being aware of bipolar disorder, being aware of the symptoms wins you half the battle. If I know what’s coming, at least I am prepared to tackle it.

To carry on the weather analogy, I cannot prevent the rain from coming – but I can wear a coat or bring an umbrella.

And like the rain, as Mr Fry observes, I know that this depression will, at some point, stop.

Mental Health Awareness Week runs between Monday, May 16 and Sunday, May 22. You can find more information about the campaign here.

 

Photo credit: PDPics.com via Wikimedia Commons

It’s Time to Talk about Manic Depression

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It is rather easy to book an appointment with your GP. You just ring them up, and ask the receptionist to book you in between the old lady with her ‘ailment of the day’ and the kid addicted to Calpol. It is rather easy to attend this appointment with the doctor. You simply hail a cab, drive, walk or catch the bus. Entering the consulting room requires little energy and physical complications.

But sitting down and admitting to this relative stranger that you are “feeling a bit sad”. Well, that proves to be a bit difficult.

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder. In layman’s terms, it is Diet Manic Depression. A sugar free version of the ups and downs, if you will. But what did this mean? Have I finally been classed as insane? Are they going to give me one of those jackets that make me hug myself?

Naturally, I did my research. This involved watching the delightful Stephen Fry front a documentary called The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive and spending most of my days on some sort of Wikipedia treasure hunt. I found out that I was certainly not alone on my journey.

Bipolar (lock screen)

There were other ‘sufferers’ out there. Although, I hasten to add that I dislike using the term ‘sufferer’. I believe that without cyclothymia, I simply would not be Dan McLaughlin; I would not have my creativity, my passion, and my imagination. To deem this as suffering is inaccurate. Yes, I experience the crippling lows resulting in my human hating moods. During these times, I think I am an utter cunt (I never use that horrible word unless I am having a down day) but I understand that I am intelligent, and without cyclothymia, I would be the shell of Dan.

I could use this blog to chronicle the ups and down and in-betweens of bipolar, but not today. Today, I am coming out as a manic-depressive: I am a certified nutter, and bloody proud of it! Since it is a day to recognise the condition, I ought to tell you how I was diagnosed.

After four years of not quite knowing what was wrong of me, I was pushed by an ex-girlfriend to whom I am eternally indebted for giving me a kick up the arse. She had noticed the extravagant moods where I was at 200mph whilst the world was at 30mph. She cottoned on to the deepest depression, where I would hide away from anyone human. After an episode where I punched my best friend in the face, to which he responded with a hug (seriously, the best antidote to violence), I had to face it: I was not well.

To diagnose the common cold, one looks for the symptoms, which could include a fever and earache. Or for bronchitis, the lack of voice pretty much gives it away. But the bipolar symptoms are pretty crafty buggers. Sitting opposite the doctor, it is somewhat embarrassing to admit you feel a bit sad or you have ups and downs to an extreme.

Tragedy and Comedy

To tackle bipolar, you have to understand it. It is almost an intellectual battle with your psyche. The first step to this understanding is diagnosis; this raises awareness.

Admittedly, this is not my most sophisticated piece of writing but I hope it is reassuring. To my fellow brave bipolarites, you are not alone. It is bloody difficult, I ain’t gonna lie. But we are clever buggers, and we can persevere and give the Vs to the low moods. If you feel you are in immediate danger or providing danger, get help as soon as possible. There is nothing cowardly admitting to one’s illnesses. Yes, there is a stigma but there always will be. People don’t read enough, and they never will.

Just remember: when it rains, it pours. But the rain will go away. The rain never stays, and you know there is sunshine at the end of this. You can hinder the rain by umbrellas, and it will cease. You just have to wait.

With love,

DJM.

Bipolar Dyptych 1 365

Photo Credits:

‘Bipolar’ courtesy of Brett Jordan via Flickr.

‘Tragedy and Comedy’ courtesy of Tim Green via Flickr.

‘Photo of man looking sad and happy’ courtesy of Capra Royale via Wikimedia Commons.