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The Deceptive Nature of Bipolar: A First Hand Account

Let’s face it, we’re all busy. We’ve been busy since the age of 4 years old right? All those formative years and then we’re introduced to so many different individuals in a room, a big building, a school. If you’re lucky enough like myself, you would have been introduced to the opposite sex and gone to a mixed-sex school. I say lucky because I’ve personally had that experience followed by being moved to two different boy’s schools because of the way I was, how I interacted with people, or more importantly- how they ‘interacted’ with me. But what has that got to do with depression and manic-depression, now so delicately termed ‘Bipolar’?

About three years ago something very disturbing happened to me. It wasn’t that I’d had my wallet stolen or had a fight in a pub, no. It was that I genuinely wanted to get on a train and walk up to the driver’s compartment (which I did) and coerce him out of it and take that train for myself and drive it to wherever I could. Ironically, my ambition was not the greatest of potential plans. It was no Italian Job shall I say. I merely wanted to take and drive the train from Basingstoke to Reading. Why? Because at that point in time and on a number of other occasions; I knew and believed that I could. I mean anything is possible right?

To tell the truth, this isn’t the most disturbing part of the ‘story’. Granted, it does have a comedic element to it and now I can sit back and think: ‘Bloody hell, what was I thinking?’ and have a little smile even as I write this piece. No, the main problem was that I had, and still have, everything I want from life. In fact, back then I had even more really. I was, and still am, greatly privileged to be working with some of the greatest musicians and artists who I consider my closest friends. But even now, I still must confuse them and not intentionally by any means.

So what was, or what is, the problem? I’m a very shy and insecure person. Always have been, always will. However, for some strange reason which I, up until recently, have never realised until I started writing- I have some incredible unfathomable confidence that seems to drive me. This can only be a good thing though surely? Since the early days of school I was only ever popular for singing Elvis covers in the playground in Year 5. This in itself only happened because, unbeknownst to me (I just wanted to look like Captain Kirk) I had a 50’s style quiff. The boys would take the piss and said I was Elvis. I was a very naive and insecure child but somehow with no conviction at all; turned this piss-take on its head by listening to this Elvis chap (who I’d never heard before) and quite liked his stuff. So I ended their taunts and being ‘goaded’ as Elvis and started singing his songs in the playground. Not Suspicious Minds I hasten to add, as our time in the playground wasn’t that long. The girls loved it, and the boys were taken aback. Essentially, what ensued was girls chasing me in the playground trying to kiss me and the boys looking back thinking ‘where did we go wrong?’ and then ‘friendships’ ensued.

Girls talk. For all those years I seemed to bond with girls far much more than boys. There’s nothing wrong with that as we’d talk about all manner of things and I know what the reason is. Guys, not all by any means, are just terrible at talking to one-another. They bottle stuff up. So when they do release all that bottled up stuff, it comes out in the most horrid and destructive way. I’ve seen, as I’m sure we all have; terrible fall-outs. Why are women more forgiving? Because generally speaking, they are much more understanding. Why? Because they talk. All. The. Time. I will be using an example of ‘girls’ in relation to the lack of understanding by people regarding Bipolar and suicide later. It’s nothing to be ashamed of at all, and I’d just encourage everyone like CALM does; to do the same.

So what has this got to do with Bipolar? In fact, what is Bipolar? Moreover, what has that got to do with Elvis and being overly confident, overly chatty whilst simultaneously being deep down very shy and insecure? Marya Hornbacher in her book Madness: A Bipolar Life explains Bipolar as: ‘Individuals who experience manic episodes also commonly experience depressive episodes, or symptoms, or a mixed state in which features of both mania and depression are present at the same time. These events are usually separated by periods of "normal" mood; but, in some individuals, depression and mania may rapidly alternate, which is known as rapid cycling’. And that is precisely what happened to me.

Although I’d been academically efficient and I’m not saying it was easy, for starters I was, and still am, appalling at maths! My problem occurred when I was transferred to an all-boys school. Relationships just did not happen; I couldn’t communicate or identify with anyone other than one individual. I was one of ‘The Brothers’ in Joseph with Matt Smith (Doctor Who). But who was I? I just didn’t know. I rolled with the punches and was bullied so much I had to be taken out of school. But during this period I felt completely overtaken by confidence, ended up studying law at university, then gained a masters and I had created a ‘band’. I had all the attention anyone would want, be it from a footballer, a painter or journalist. But something was wrong. My behaviour became erratic.

I had a girlfriend whilst writing songs and getting exposure left, right and centre. She left me for a Fred Durst look-a-like. I had a strong 2 year relationship and she was perfect- we were perfect. We never argued. But something wasn’t right because I didn’t grieve (for want of a better expression) as I should have. I should have fallen apart, but I didn’t. I kept driving forward, met another musician who I fell madly in love with and then after a while during both of our incredible journeys she left me. Why? With hindsight, I was becoming erratic.

Music, exposure, everything was great. But I knew inside something wasn’t right. I want to draw you back to Marya Hornbacher’s quote, I was on the outside completely manically happy and having fun and ‘in love’ and positive- but inside I wanted to die. I once went to see my girlfriend having taken a week off work to have a holiday with her. I found a whole packet of Diazepam in my bag (prescribed a few years back because of what was thought of as being ‘depression’) and took the whole lot. No reason, none at all. There is no rational reason I can explain other than I wanted to get out of how I felt despite feeling incredibly happy. I cared too much for her and the music and what I was doing. It all made sense. But it doesn’t does it? My best friend reported me missing and I lost a week or more worth of memory. Not recommended.

After she left I was on top of the world, not because she left, no. That’s just how it felt, it hurts now and has done ever since; we’re all human after-all. I was fortunate enough to be invited by a dear friend and idol to perform at my first ever festival at Tignesfest in the Alps. It was an incredible experience and more was to come. I ended up playing 11 festivals in 18 months and I achieved everything I wanted like Reading and Leeds and more with some incredible people. But I have, unintentionally annoyed, irritated, confused and put my friends in awkward situations because of my erratic nature. Not intentionally by any means. The experience of performing in front of thousands of people and ‘living the dream’ made me and the closest to me, work out some-how, that I was not well at all.

The aftermath was a rollercoaster-ride spanning 2 years. Knowing something was wrong, I sought treatment. But I was not that responsive to questions because I was so on the verge of suicide yet at the same time trying to make my ‘band’ as big and as well known as possible. I had BBC interviews nearly every other week, played many festivals. I needed to be strong. And I was. I won’t lie, the ‘highs’ of bipolar are invaluably incredible and so SO good. It’s better than any drug. It can last for months, even years. But when it stops and you hit the ‘rapid-cycle’, it’s a complete and utter nightmare and nothing can stop it. I was a wreck on more than 7 occasions. Despite me seeking treatment in the first instance, I was unfortunately, because of my ‘strange attitude’, put on the wrong medication. I was lucky enough to sing on the main-stage of Glade, on my birthday, but drastically felt like I was in another world. I felt like I’d let down everyone, but couldn’t even work out if I was happy or sad. I did, however polite my friends were, let down everyone.

I was taken off these because I was on anti-depressants- NOT what people with Bipolar should ever go on as it brings you up and down at the same time! So everyone I cared about (new girlfriend, new friend) all left. They were scared. Other than the people that believed in me which I am so grateful for. But it still ate away inside. You don’t want to feel like a burden, yet at the same time you want to achieve what you set out to do. Some people who I felt close to, used my erratic mental state as an excuse to relieve themselves from their responsibilities. This goes for work in the office, and for what were deemed, at the time, ‘close friends’. This made things much worse in a time when I was trying to further my art and further my health. Foolishly, I always put my art first.

I remember going to a heavy-metal gig with my photographer and you can imagine all the lights and pyrotechnics and me loving it. What you probably can’t imagine is me then randomly collapsing in floods of uncontrollable tears then manic laughing followed by more tears. Not a good look! But it can be treated. Nothing anyone says to you helps unless they happen to hit your heart when you’re in a certain state, like Russian-Roulette, literally.

When I was referred to a psychiatrist for the 2nd time, because I was really manic and happy; ironically that made their job much easier. I wrote a song about this because a dear friend actually spotted I was not in a good state and gave me the ‘big talk’. I wanted to jump out of the window after, but I couldn’t get the windows open. I’m glad I didn’t. With Bipolar nothing really seems to work, no matter what you say unless you gage the reaction and swoop in when you can. However, talking is still the key because without that you will never know what you are doing, and sometimes you’ll never know whether what you are doing/saying is what is generally accepted in life.

It’s taken 3 years to finally get the proper treatment. It doesn’t turn you in to a zombie and I feel just as chirpy and as creative as before. I don’t have those manic high and low episodes that have lost me so many friends and lovers, simply because they’ve been ‘freaked out’. It’s been used as an excuse to screw me and even worse, others close to me over; it really doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not easy ‘spotting’ someone with Bipolar, or ‘understanding’ it, I mean even I didn’t. But it is possible to just at a very basic level, look out for each other. No matter how busy you are, whether you’re a man, boy, girl or woman; open-mindedness and communication is key. You could, no, you can, save a life.

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Photography by Paul Marsh