The Ups and Downs of Bi-Polar Disorder



Different people experience it in different ways – some have weeks or months of up or down, others like me fluctuate much quicker between the two and you can find yourself waking up to a different person you climbed into bed with.

Everyone has mood swings and days when they feel hyper for no reason or down in the dumps but can’t work out why – that’s my life everyday. I’m lucky because so far the disorder is only moderate and I haven’t really had a huge drop or leap into the extremes of the illness but that doesn’t stop it having an effect on me in day-to-day life. My mouth has always got me in trouble from saying something my brain thought was funny, witty, quirky or silly at the time and then as I realise what I’ve said – or days later someone calls you on it – you realise you are not in full control of yourself. This is the hyper phase and I’ve been told by my consultant that it’s normal for my condition – but not in “polite society” and it leads to you feeling guilty for things you have said, from the stupid remark yesterday to something you said a decade or more ago.

The hyper phase is enjoyable – I always saw it as the “norm” not knowing that everyone else didn’t have this dual personality. Down I understood because there was depression in the family and it made sense; it was an illness that couldn’t be helped – medical or chemical – but I didn’t realise until much later that the “norm” was often hyperactivity and not everyone experienced life this way. Actually it was only really when I was on medication for the depression that I realised how wrong I was about my neutral state of mind. It is fun, creative and naughty – you feel a bit like you’ve been let loose, but the truth is you still have to live in that environment and it’s tough sometimes to face it the next day or week when you know you overstepped the mark. Is it okay to hold up your hands and say “Sorry, I’m Bi-polar. Do forgive me.” or do you ignore it and hope people assume that’s just who you are?

Today’s been a down day – not a grumpy one just reflective (too much so). You start to wallow in it because it feels comfortably melancholy. You know it’s destructive to your mood but you feel drawn to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head. There’s a lot of sitting and eating and silence – how I love the moments of complete quiet that allow me to empty my head of my own negative voice. You have to feed the depressed mind with things to do to allow your day to have some kind of productive use otherwise it anchors itself to the first piece of misery passing and pulls you down.

I’m lucky in many ways that I knew to look up info about the illness and went to my doctor asking if this was what I was living with – not self diagnosing but more a request for help. I had taken myself to the doctors to sort out the depression but the bi-polar aspect seemed like I was pushing my luck; I couldn’t just ask for a new diagnosis seven months after the first was confirmed could I – what was I the mental hypochondriac? But I wasn’t miles away and the support I’ve had from both GPs and specialists shows that the NHS really does work if you are confident enough to use it for mental illness.

How I’ll feel tomorrow is unknown, likely a bit down and quiet as seems to be the predominant state this week. But who knows? The unpredictability could leave me saying something stupid or withdrawing from the world. No emoticons to sum up that feeling.


Israel and Palestine



I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve been reading and thinking about this post. And I still don’t know what to write.

You look at the deaths, the images and videos that are on our screens each night as more bodies pile up – around a thousand for this particular round of fighting and you wonder why? Why are we all just sitting back watching this happening – not just in Israel & Palestine but across the middle east with mass exodus of refugees crossing borders, ISIS attacks and advances, Sunni and Shia stand offs. I can’t get my head around it and I think we’ve gotten to the point where no-one can anymore and that’s why it’s not changing. We can look to history and the state of Palestine being divided and shared with the Jews – a mistake in itself by the UN, the ongoing funding of Israel by the US to the tune of 3 million or even the suicidal approach of Hammas telling its citizens to stay put when they know there will be casualties.

Did you know the average age of a Palestinian is 17. Seventeen is the average age of an entire nationality. Children are now veterans at the age of six having seen three such flare ups in as many years as they have existed.

The fact we are doing nothing is not to condone actions by either side but almost a shared confusion and shock at the barbaric scenes and actions on both sides. While it’s easy to point fingers or hold one side’s stats up as an example of who is the victim and who is the bad guy, they are all losing. There is no advance or improvement or change. Only death. I honestly believe we’ve gone beyond deciding who is right or wrong in this never-ending conflict. Even the two state solution seems like an impossibility now as there is no one person who can stand and unify the sides – ironically the closest and bravest world figure to set foot into the situation is the Pope who visited both sides recently and spoke on equal terms with them.

Signing petitions about this is about the best any one of us is able to do and we know that that isn’t an answer. The UN won’t deliver  statement or a resolution because they can’t agree – or work out – what is the best plan of action. So we sit and watch the images from Palestine, the Israeli soldiers funerals, dismembered children in Syria, the body count rising in Iraq and we are empty. Not emotional fatigue but empty of answers, hope or solutions. Think how the politicians feel, they have that feeling with the eyes of the world on them waiting for a decisive move to stop it all from reaching Armageddon.

There is no humour to be found in the death of innocents, no cartoon of Benjamin Netanjahu in the broadsheets that can do anything but make us look away, no light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe we should stand back and let it all play out – any time we have intervened in that region we have made it worse. Anyone who argues otherwise is selective in their memories and history lessons. Perhaps the fact we’ve never properly stepped in to this properly is the reason it gets worse?

But I can’t look away. I see the dozen children’s bodies lying on a street bloodied and broken. The tears of parents as the walk behind their infants being carried to their graves. The maimed and scared cowering from the next missile attack.

The only emotion I am left with is relief. Relief it’s not me and my family, my children facing the oncoming storm. And when that is the only emotion left you know that fear is winning the battle; hopelessness and the inability to comprehend come a close second.

I don’t know if we can live in that world for much longer.


A Fresh Start



Well it’s been a long time coming but today I handed in my notice to work. I’m leaving the world of education after ten years in schools and the college and I couldn’t be happier.

It’s taken a lot of thinking and discussion but ultimately I was miserable and it was causing me to be ill and there’s no point in putting myself through that when there is an exit available to me. Some would probably ask if I’d ever been happy being a teacher and the truth is yes I was – but only really when I was with the kids during my time in secondary schools. I have taught some brilliant, funny, sparky, interesting, clever and thoughtful pupils over the years and it’s not because of them I have left the profession – but the adults that surround it instead.

I left the secondary sector for two reasons: the adults and Curriculum for Excellence. The adults were not just within the school but parents who felt blaming teachers (not me most of the time I would hasten to add) for every short coming their darling offspring had. There is so much I could say and rant about – even name names but that doesn’t get us anywhere and only serves to give these people the satisfaction of knowing they got to me.

I would make a couple of general points though. Some would say that me walking away from the kids I said I enjoyed teaching is almost contradictory, and that I should have stayed to help them but it gets to a point where you genuinely feel that what you can offer it not what they need anymore. Curriculum for Excellence has so much in it that makes me feel that way, and I wholeheartedly applaud those who have stuck with it despite how terrible it is. Another thing is the current upward trend of those getting additional help in exams from the SQA. I fully support additional learning needs and know several people who work as teachers and as auxiliaries in this area and the work they do with the time and budget is impressive, but too often parents are using the lax approach of the SQA to their child’s advantage. A child who genuinely struggles with Autism, Aspergers, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalcula and other learning difficulties should be fully supported – but now kids whose minds wander, write slowly, need to chat and get time out breaks during exams is frankly taking the piss out of the system and of the other kids.

When I was at school there was a thing called being thick and despite what politically correct people will tell you it is still very much alive. The throwing around of labels by canny parents is making a mockery of the system and diluting the support for those who really need it. I seriously want to know what is wrong with not being able to do something – we can’t all be great at everything, life’s not like that, so why do we persist in making schools follow the “everyone wins” mantra. Which leads me on to parent power. Parents should have an interest in their child’s education – but that shouldn’t involve a hotline to the senior staff and teachers being accused of x, y and z in the word of a student against the word of a professional. Yes there needs to be suitable checks in place but the scrutiny of teachers now is driving them out of the profession and off with stress and depression. We need to hold our teachers up as role models and stop beating them down with small mistakes.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen lots of my former pupils graduating and although you were only a small part of their education there is a real sense of pride in seeing them achieve – and by the same token I’ve met with former pupils who went straight to work and are doing well for themselves now. You’re not there to be liked (and I know I was hated by more than liked me) but you hope that you helped them in some way – not always in academic terms but that you were open, honest and able to discuss things with them and help them to see the world in a slightly different way. I know I was shaped by my experiences with some of my teachers – some of whom I still keep in touch with on Facebook, just as my former pupils do.

The move to college was to try to develop my skills to get out of education in the long-term – all it achieved was to make me ill as the academic sausage factory became too claustrophobic to deal with on a day-to-day basis. While the team I worked with were fantastic, there were so many issues beyond that office that it dragged me down and left me reaching for new pills and more consultations. I knew very quickly that it wasn’t for me but the step backwards to secondary didn’t appeal. I knew I had to move on and now I’m well enough to do that with a clear head and high hopes.

I am proud of most of what I achieved in education, I think overall I did the right thing by the pupils. And while there will always be those who would rather a picture of my face on a dartboard than sitting at the bar for a chat I don’t think I hated any of them – none that spring to mind anyway. While I need to get away from it just now I would never rule out going back one day, but for now I’ve done my time at the chalk-face. Goodbye education – it’s been…interesting

Onward and upward


Referendum – The gig’s up


Referendum - the final gig


No, don’t worry it’s not another political post – instead it’s the end of the road for the function band of the name Referendum. Nineteen years and lots of great memories, laughs and hard work, but in the end an experience that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Around two years ago due to illness, changing personnel and long-term commitment worries, it was decided that rather than try to patch the band up and limp on we’d close the diary – last night was the final date to be played and it was a great night up at Mar Lodge. When I first started I didn’t sing and only played ceilidh tunes. The calling of the dances and singing cover versions was new to me at the age of seventeen was a step and scary learning curve but we all survived to tell the tale.

It was way back in December of 1995 at a hotel in Cullen I first met Billy (on the left in the above picture) at the first Referendum gig. It seemed fitting that he was back for the last gig yesterday along with Andy our guitarist and bass player who alongside myself was one of the longest serving members of the band. We finished with super-sub Sandy on Drums who first played with us back in the late nineties. It’s hard to think we all played off and on for all those years alongside many other great players: Colin, Scott, Duncan, Steve, Ian, Kerry, Nick, Craig and so on were all part of the gang at one point or another. Chatting last night about the ages of all our kids – most of whom weren’t born when we all started playing together. We’ve all been through so much but the great thing about music is that the time passing isn’t important, the tunes make the years fall away.

Highlights include having played for Billy Connolly and his friends and family several times at his former house on Donside, including the Millennium gig; a wedding at Methlick Hall that saw a full floor for the full evening and an atmosphere that was unique to that night – goosepimple stuff; playing at several friends and family weddings – it was always great to look out and see familiar faces enjoy themselves; Jake singing the Black Eyed Peas with us at my Sister’s wedding was a proud moment; having a great reputation with all the hotels too made life easier getting work. There were so many highlights, but as with so many things it was the things that no-one saw that brought the most joy – sitting around before gigs and at the break we would be in fits of laughter joking about anything and everyone; things that wouldn’t seem funny out of context but with those guys you were sore from laughing.

Musically I’ve had the pleasure of playing with really top-notch musicians. I can’t start mentioning favourites but the longest continuous line up of Andy, Billy, Colin and myself was probably the height of the band in terms of musicianship – although Scott would come in a close second. Billy has an amazing talent picking up tunes by ear and running with them, especially the Ceilidh music which was never better than when he was playing with us. Through playing with him and the other two my own playing developed a style and tone that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

It’s sad that we have had to call it a day, but I’m looking forward to the same fun and gigs with The Limit ( over the next few years. To all those who were part of the last nineteen years I want to say a heartfelt thank you for the support, gigs and friendship, perhaps we’ll get a tune again – Sinatra had several comebacks…


It’s the end of the world as we know it…



Usually over the summer break I avoid the news as I find it depressing and brings the “holiday mood” right down – but after the events of the last couple of days you find yourself reading up and tuning in more as the horrors unravel in front of us. From the horrific plane crash to the Israeli tanks rolling into Palestine, you do wonder if we are on the edge of a 24 script. Unfortunately Jack Bauer is fictional, the deaths and terrorism is fact.

The MH17 Malaysian Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpa appears to have been shot down by a ground to air missile by the “pro-Russian” separatists in Ukraine. While this is a best guess by most commentators it does mean that this is an international issue because we know that those so-called independent groups trying to bring the eastern part of Ukraine back into Mother Russia are in fact Russian soldiers. If you think that this is rumour or hyperbole then you just need to take a look at the badges, insignias and weapons they have used thus far in the Ukrainian uprising – they are Russian soldiers and therefore must have some kind of connection to the Kremlin. If it turns out that a missile did shoot it down it would be hard for Russia to have much support around the table of the UN – even from their usual comrades China.

This might seem a bit clinical and impassive way of looking at a huge human tragedy, but those 298 who perished on that flight may only be the starting point if proof were found of Russian involvement and while my heart goes out to the families of those who died – a large percentage of them children according to today’s news – we might be grieving for even more innocents in the coming weeks as revenge and retribution is taken.

Israel vs Palestine – round infinity. You almost lose the ability to understand what is happening there because it’s an ongoing roll of death on both sides with international voices for both sides being drowned out by missiles, bombs and tanks. The two state solution is everyone’s preferred option but neither of the two fighting sides appears willing to concede first or to start the negotiation over the holy capital they both lay claim to.

Looking at it from the outside it seems simple, but if it were we would not be seeing the death and destruction on our screens each night. The Palestinians putting their fate in Hamas’s hands and the Israeli leadership refusing to interact with them – Stalemate. And it always will be as long as America funds Israel and appears to e taking sides. I’d hoped Obama could have been the person to step in and get the ball rolling on meaningful discussions – I’m sure he hoped he would too – but it just won’t happen until both sides put their guns aside, vote for moderates on either side of the “wall” and sit down to sort it all out.

Then again when you have Tony Blair as your peace envoy you’d be as well having Barrymore as your swimming coach or Rolf as your baby sitter.

Flippant yes, but you fail to see where the end will come in either battle. The one thing we can guarantee is that more blood will be spilled – the majority of it from innocent civilians. When will humans learns from history? How can we still have such a thirst for power and destruction after both regions have a history of it? It will take very special and selfless people to bring either conflict to an end. I don’t see those people anywhere yet. That worries me.


Weigh to go!



With two of the sets of tablets that I’m on being ones that can add weight on as a side effect I’ve found I’ve really put the pounds on in the last few months – not just a few either! Clothes are the first giveaway; when the trousers that fitted last time you wore them are now being held together by a wish and a prayer you know it’s time to do something.

I’ve always been a larger fellow and I know that I’ll never be a medium or large fit – I’ll always shop in the XLs – but at the moment it’s uncomfortable and that’s the main issue I have. I don’t want to go out and buy a heap of new clothes because I’ve gotten bigger because it’s like telling yourself you accept that’s how big you are and you’re not going to lose it. Mind games against yourself are always fun. I know my diet’s not the best but it’s probably the lack of exercise that really does it for me.

So I joined a gym – for the fourth time in twelve years. I hate gyms and the preening gym bunnies that pose in front of the mirrors but needs must and at least I will be doing something rather than nothing which has got to help. I suppose I find them intimidating; I’ve never been good at sports and was always chosen last in PE team games. I know it’s not my forte but there is an etiquette to these warehouses of pain and I just don’t fit in. I don’t have the right gear for a start – shorts & trainers are fine but I’m not wearing anything that clings on top because I look ridiculous, so it’s a t-shirt that doesn’t belong in a gym with cartoon characters or silly phrases. I might as well have TWAT written across it.

Then there’s the fact I’m getting older and parts of me creak and crack more than they ever did before – probably not helped by the extra weight I’m carrying. My dodgy ankle always plays up and recently my right hip has joined in. I’m not a runner so I just go for a brisk walk on the running machine and use the bike or cross trainer too. Half an hour to forty-five minutes then a sit in the steam room and jacuzzi which I love – apart from the people in it. Because I can go during the day you’re often left with a bunch of retired men (who all know each other and chat about the same things every day) or offshore workers home for their break. Everyone’s chatting and I just want peace and quiet to relax not listen to three overweight septuagenarians drool over a young female in for a swim.

So the gym and watching the diet will hopefully help bring me back down the scales again. Once I’m back to work I’ll be in a pattern of going on my home, because at the moment being the holidays I’ve got the kids or we’re doing things as a family. Excuses, excuses!



Where’s your head at?



I think I’m having a wee high at the moment because I’ve lots going on in my head – but it’s not making me feel down. Then again perhaps this is “Normal” – the problem is I’ve never actually known where on the loopy scale I am as there is no self assessment for the loopiness or otherwise we go through.

I always knew that I suffered from dips and downs, even from early childhood it was something I realised about myself because I would retract from others and isolate myself from people. It’s probably where my brash in your face persona was born because there are times when you can’t avoid being around people even though you don’t want to be. The bolshy character was comfy because not only did it keep people at arm’s length and away from how you really felt, but it also made me the “joker” of the group; something that alienated many people from getting to know me because I was such a twat at times (still am if I’m honest).

So I understood this feeling of depression but I’d always assumed that when I didn’t feel like that, I was enjoying the same state as everyone else. I wasn’t. I was either balanced or moving up into a manic phase which is hugely enjoyable and freeing and creative and sparky. Having spoken with people only with depression – even medical professionals – they say they’re a bit jealous because they only have the lows and not the “fun” of the highs. And you do get a thrill from it – for me it’s the ability for my mind to work really quickly and blast out creative ideas, words, jokes and one liners. I’m in the midst of that phase right now and despite what people think it does have its downsides too – lack of sleep being a big one.

Because you feel super charged your brain doesn’t stop until it is completely tired. You know most nights you can go to bed and within ten minutes or so you’ll fall asleep – in a manic state I might only sleep for four or five hours for several consecutive nights which leads to tiredness and the start of the dip again. Nasty vicious cycle that I’m now trying to sort out with new medication. Using sedatives on top of the antidepressants and mood stabilizers it curbs the top end and helps me to sleep for longer. I’m now getting between 6 and 8 hours in a hyper phase which is a huge improvement. You forget that mental illness is almost like a recipe or a chemistry experiment; it’s only with the right combination and attention do you get near the predicted and needed outcome.

That’s why people find the dismissal of those with depression, bi-polar (manic-depressive disorder), anxiety so frustrating because trust me if we could manage the “norm” ourselves we would live there the majority of the time. But we don’t have that control, we need the meds to help us find a level where we can live reasonably normally. This is why individuals must go to see a GP about any worries they have about their mental health, and for those around them to be supportive and encourage them to seek help.

So it’s to bed I rattle with a combination of tablets in me, but safe in the knowledge that with the support of friends, family, my GP and my specialist, I can get on with things as I should be. How about you?