I got through O levels in a mood of gloom and anxiety. I survived the rest of my convent school through fantasies of suicide, stealing altar wine, regularly cutting my wrists and generally self-harming. Once I threatened to jump out of the third-floor window but was reprimanded for being stupid. From sixteen I spent every opportunity drinking to make myself feel better – this first medication really helped and since diagnosis was another seventeen years away I became reliant on its effect.
I went to agricultural college which was a two-year riot, and I was able to do exactly what I wanted. I excelled academically and socially but it all took its toll. During the first year, looking back, I became non-functioning with only drink to help. I went to a college GP who put me on Ativan, not telling me this was a psychiatric drug that could knock out horses! I popped these and fell asleep in lectures and was more depressed. Again I just survived on boozing and being very ignorant that I had a diagnosable illness.
I went around the world when I was twenty-one. It was a year of boozing, wildness, near scrapes, almost being run over, streaking at night – once I was driving naked with a friend in Darwin, Australia, and we stopped and ran around, but he jumped in the car and left me for a laugh, running around the town stark naked.
A year later I came back to England and got a job as an Assistant House Mistress at a girls’ boarding school. During my first night, I was raped at knifepoint. The man had broken into the boarding house whilst I was watching TV in my room, slammed through the door and pinned me down.
From that violent rape at twenty-two I battled with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar. Overnight I went into alcohol and prescription drug abuse. I felt that I had something to hang my mood on and was given Temazepam to sleep and the odd bit of Diazepam. Somehow the thought of suicide was my ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card, and ironically, this fantasy kept me going!
Life was not all down, just a huge struggle. I would always be the one to be dared – a red rag to a bull. I used to love being dared but now I hate it as I know I will end up doing it.
I even excelled at jobs, always being asked to stay longer or accept a long-term contract.
In my early twenties I did settle in a job for three years and for a joke I entered Secretary of the Year and found myself sitting next to my boss at a presentation dinner at the Ritz.
Without a doubt the bipolar has given me a boost to being successful. I can cope with my lows and am able to function without too many clients noticing. Occasionally, I am suffering such anxiety and depression that I rearrange meetings. However, with bipolar I have always been a brilliant employee as I am able to work two or three times faster than an average person. When I have a low episode I end up working at a steady pace which is more in line with a ‘normal’ person.
A cycle of up and down, alcohol abuse and getting into trouble led to a mini impulsive decision to walk out of my life at the age of thirty. I impulsively spent the proceeds of the sale of my studio flat by buying antiques abroad to ship back to the UK – one of my disastrous business ventures. I disappeared for a year in the Pacific and worked in New Zealand. By this time I was two years away from admitting myself into the Priory.
I was unable to pace myself and during depressed episodes my body would almost shut down and I would be in bed for a few days which I called ‘charging my batteries’. Then I would become very excitable and flash my tits even at the arrivals section of Auckland airport!
A year later, I came back to England extremely depressed and was only capable of doing temping jobs and lodging with a friend. I then worked for a lady who is now my business guru and between us we came up with the idea of Personal Time Saver (www.personaltimesaver.co.uk).
I started the business during mixed episodes of depression and hypo-manic states, still undiagnosed. Needless to say, my life fell apart at thirty-two and I admitted myself into the Priory.
Bipolar Type II was not diagnosed for another year as I was treated first for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. Since bipolar can be difficult to fully diagnose I struggled along and it wasn’t until I streaked across the Priory lawn at night that it was diagnosed!
Since being diagnosed and stopping drinking, the treated bipolar has stabilized quite well. My particular condition when the bipolar is manageable and running quite well comprises three to four stable weeks, then two weeks of hypomania, then four to five days of depression, and then back to three to four stable weeks.
I have established a business which I have devised to fit in with the behavioural and mental health aspects which are so unsuitable for a nine to five job.
The frequent hypomania is a fantastic asset to any business as I can work into the night and work extremely fast, achieving what a normal person may achieve in two or more days. Being my own boss allows me to work as much as I like and also to take time off whenever I like.
If I need a rest I will take a siesta or power nap. I have tailor-made my business to my bipolar.
Starting from a mere laptop and pushbike, I have managed to establish a successful business which led to a BBC TV documentary about my business. I was also awarded the Start Ups Women in Business Award which was an outstanding achievement and an honour.
Would I want it any other way? When the depression hits, of course I wish I didn’t have it. But when I am excelling and receiving enormous positive feedback from clients and doing wild and fun activities, I really wouldn’t swap my life with anyone else’s. My motto is, ‘Just do it, in an impulsive bipolar way!’
As for the future? I fear that my bipolar might develop into Bipolar I and that my hypomania might get out of hand, causing me to become noticeably insane and, ultimately, sectioned.
On the positive side, I see my condition as a gift which helps me to get so much out of life and be a go-getter. Perhaps the pros cancel out the cons. I can’t imagine being normal and I think I would only want to be normal for a week – otherwise life would be very dull.
I hope that one day I will find a kind, supportive, fun chap who I can share my life with – as for having children, that is another matter. ‘Thy will not mine’ is all I can say and trust.
Excerpt from ‘The A-Z Guide to Good Mental Health: You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Have Manic Depression’
Jeremy Thomas, 2008