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One year ago, I published a piece about bipolar disorder. It had been something I had wanted to do for a long time, and the act of doing so marked a significant point in my life. The piece itself has been useful on a number of fronts. People who know me have either found it or been referred to it, and it has given them something of an insight into my head. Some people I thought I knew well have opened up a little more as a direct result of reading it. It has also introduced me to some new people. But more significantly was the effect it had on me. Up until that point I had been enormously guarded on the subject but, almost instantly, I became much more relaxed both with others and myself.
I’d liken the experience to something like bungee-jumping: while you’re standing at the top crapping yourself with fear, but after the event you’re left both with a sense of achievement and wondering what all the fuss was about.
At first, I thought I’d written something deeply personal but, looking back, in places it really isn’t at all. Over three years’ worth of drafting and redrafting have watered it down so much that it’s about as impersonal as it’s possible to be while writing about oneself. I can now see the bits in the text where I looked over the edge of the bridge at the canyon below, crapped myself, and stepped back again to focus on the horizon and discuss broader, more general and much less personal issues surrounding the illness. I view this now, of course, with a wry smile.
I think at the time I thought this would mark the point between nobody knowing and everybody knowing, but this too was wrong. Sure, more people know now than did then, but it was much more like moving from a point where I cared intensely about who knew (or maybe just that almost nobody did) to a point where I really didn’t care either way. Let me tell you, that’s a good thing.
I don’t wear bipolarity on my sleeve. I’ve no need to. I rarely bring it up without good reason, but I also don’t dodge the subject like I used to. If I need time off to visit the medical professionals, I’ll happily tell my boss I’m off to the brain specialist (albeit with more than a mild Python reference) rather than coming up with some improbable ankle-related complaint, or whatever. If someone has engaged me in conversation on mental health (more common than you might expect), I may mention it but am happy either way.
People’s reactions still interest me. Manic depression still carries a stigma. Nowhere near enough to make me want to march up and down Whitehall with a placard, but it’s interesting none the less; especially now that I have something else against which I can compare it. For not long after I had finally relaxed about being bipolar, my brain was back in front of the specialists being examined for something else. Something supposedly more common, without stigma, and to which people react entirely differently. Something which, in practical terms, would turn out to be much more inconvenient.
More on that… in a bit.