“When I think back, the day I was able to laugh at myself, was the first day I realised I was heading towards my recovery.”
I’ve been to hell and back, survived with most of my marbles in tact, and later became a published author. Yeah I know, it’s a sweeping statement, but it just happens to be true. It wasn’t an overnight fix, but the crucial point is, this isn’t about me as such, it concerns the path that led me out of the grips of a severe mental illness and my eventual recovery.
After my fourth breakdown and diagnosis with Type II Bi-Polar Disorder (whatever that means), I met an occupational therapist, and like my time in the mental health barrel, this meeting turned out to be life altering. I was walking around like a fun-bag in a trance, still suffering from the side-effects of the hospital’s meds when I first met Hilary. And after a chat she asked me to write down three things I felt I could do and told me to return with the list a week later. It wasn’t easy – in my state stitching mince together sounded like a great idea at the time – but I sat on the idea over a weekend and managed to get a list together.
I can’t recall my first two choices, but I do remember quietly saying to Hilary I was thinking about writing a book about my experiences. I waited for an outburst of laughter but it didn’t arrive. I was even more stunned when she said “Let’s get you published first.”
“The path I’ve been on turned into a road and that has led me to a motorway.”
The first stop was the library and a free beginners’ computer course. And even though every cell in my brain was shouting, “Abort, abort, you’re gonna make a prat of yourself,” I still went for it. If I hadn’t, I’d still be going around in the same small circle that I had been before I met her.
Hilary referred me to a day unit where a user-run editorial team was based, and on my first nerve-wracking day there I asked the tutor what she thought about my plan to write a book. Again I waited for a bout of hysterics, followed by a ‘there there’ pat on the head. Instead Julia said, “That’s a great idea, did you bring any of your work in with you?” Well slap me with a four pound trout! That’s the first time I’d heard my ‘scribblings’ described as work. That was May 1999 – I haven’t put the pen down since, or been readmitted to the local ‘Fun Factory’ since 2002.
From the age of five I quickly developed a sharp sense of humour. I had always used it to mask my insecurities at school. Eventually this affected my confidence and I left education believing I was thick as a brick. As it turned out this wasn’t the case, I just had a creative streak that was a mile wide.
“You can do an awful lot of stigma destruction with good humour.”
Julia encouraged me to take a college course, and in 2001 I passed my GCSE English exams, with B and C grades, aged 43. Some months later my work was recommended to a publisher, and in 2007 my first book ‘Bi Polar Expedition’ was published. Now, you don’t have to write a book to feel the beneficial process of writing your thoughts down on paper – joining a local writing group will give you the same results. This path isn’t for everyone, it’s just one of a few I know that works.
The path I’ve been on turned into a road and that has led me to a motorway. I’m a freelance mental health journalist and comedy writer now and I’ve joined the ranks of the stigma-busters. And the most vital point I’ve realised is that you can do an awful lot of stigma destruction with good humour. My personal weapon of choice is sarcasm, which over the decades I’ve honed to a PhD level. It breaks down social barriers faster than any mental health book written by ‘a suit’ with a comfy lifestyle.
My disorder still causes me problems, but when I think back, the day I was able to laugh at myself, was the first day I realised I was heading towards my recovery. And the beauty about my whole dark saga is, without my disorder none of the above would’ve happened…
Right, who’s up for hitting Sainsbury’s to frighten the shoppers and lick the windows?
Title: Bi Polar Expedition
Author: Neil Walton
Wholesalers: Bertrams & Amazon
Publisher: Chipmunka Publishing