When you live with a head like mine, you find moments or days of clarity are a rare and treasured thing. In the last week I have felt the most “Normal” as I have in a long time. But then I was due a break after the toughest six months I’ve experienced.

From October until mid February I had been battling with depression – deeper and darker than I’d ever gone through before. Permanently exhausted, empty of optimism and lost to what felt like a parallel world – distanced from my own life. You are aware of your solitude, of your separation from those around you in emotional terms but you don’t have the tools or wherewithal to do anything about it.

You know you are a horrible person to be around. Your lack of patience and decency embarrass you. You want the ground to open up and remove you from the life you are living. I’m lucky that I’ve never stood on the edge of the darkest point of humanity; the idea of dying is not in my mind – sure, you wish you weren’t alive, but there’s a marked difference.

Now looking back on what was a difficult time for me and all those around me, it now seems so far removed from where I am now. I feel stronger, happier and more contented than I have done in a long time. I wonder if that is a result of the prolonged struggle – feeling relief and release from the black dog that refused to let me go for almost half a year.

Right now I feel good about life and with a change to the medication I am determined not to fall back into old habits. Easier said than done because you can’t legislate for the arrival of the down periods. You think that you have a grasp on it, but speaking to my other half it appears that my awareness is always delayed – I only realise I’m in the dark once I arrive there and not necessarily while I am on the journey towards it.

There is always the concern that I am heading for the other extreme and the mania is around the corner. As the late Carrie Fisher called it “Liquid Confidence” that pumps through your veins making you feel invincible, risk averse and dangerous. I don’t think that’s where I am at the moment but you can never be sure.  Those moments where your mouth is disconnected from your filters and brain – away on an adventure of its own.

I do miss those moments. Being on two medications, both of which are ones that push down the mania and limit it, makes it a rarer occurrence. There are always moments where the tongue is quicker than the mind, but I’d like to think I was better at stopping myself these days. The thing I miss is that complete freedom of thought, my mind was able to go off on tangents and have fun and I’m lacking that spark in my life. Perhaps I’m just growing up – can’t be Peter Pan forever.

Robin Williams once said “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” And while I know that I have more than my share of madness, it’s the spark that is absent and I’ve got to force myself to find it more. Surely the spark is not just part of the mental illness – it must exist independently and within me as a person. Maybe it’s time I threw caution to the wind occasionally and embraced the lighter side.

This clarity is great at the moment while I am feeling well, but whether I can find and utilise the spark when the darkness next arrives remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: I cannot survive life without pleasure or fun. It’s time to put enjoyment and light front and centre more often, and remember that no matter how bad things get there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.




Moving on? Not really



It looks like we made it…but we didn’t. Every time you emerge from the other side of a depressive episode it might appear to the outside world that you are back on your feet and things are good again, but it’s not as simple as that. Damage has been done: to yourself, those around you and even people you wouldn’t think of.

My last depressive state was the worst I’ve experienced and I’m only now really out the other side of it. Three months of uncertainty, loneliness, anger, loss, confusion, sadness, emptiness and regrets slowly ebbed away to leave me where I am now: more uncertainty. I don’t know if I’ve leveled off and am in a “normal” state or if I am heading toward the manic room.

What hurts the most – to quote another song – is the impact those three months had. I hurt people around me as they worried about my situation, feared the worst could happen and were directly affected by my actions and moods. You cause their mental health to suffer as you battle with your own. This then turns the spotlight back on you and the guilt flares up.

But it needs to be addressed. As someone who lives with Bipolar there needs to be a clear message sent out to say that you can call us out on our moods and behaviour. If you live with someone who is struggling don’t bottle up your own feelings because there is no sense at all in everyone suffering. You must speak to your loved ones – even if you worry it could make things worse.

If you are open and honest and approach the subject early you will find that we are more receptive than you thought. If someone you love is going through a tough time but is on medication or getting help then you should be free to open up to them about the impact they are having on others. It will maybe shock them just how bad things have become, but in the long-term everyone involved will be better off for it.

Writing it down makes it seem easy, and in reality I know that people will be hesitant to be as forward as I am suggesting. If you are seriously concerned about the person’s well-being you have to act and not leave it festering. You could write it down or speak to the person with a couple of other people to support both of you. Not talking about it is not the answer.

I know I rattle off a few hundred words a time on here about it but it’s a selfish thing really; I’m trying to deal with my own illness rather than worry about others. And it’s okay to say you’re “not okay”, that you are struggling with life – but you have to make sure those around you are kept in the loop and know you are attending appointments, taking medications. Avoiding the issue doesn’t help anyone involved.

For the person with the mental health issue, here are three bits of advice:

  1. Speak about your situation with someone you trust
  2. Allow them to speak openly and honestly with how your behaviour is impacting on their life
  3. Accept that you can’t get through the problem on your own

If you are the person supporting someone with mental illnesses:

  1. Understand that they do not always know what they are doing to others – it’s often unintentional. Telling them will hurt them, but that’s okay.
  2. Listen, but don’t be afraid to challenge them if you don’t agree; they’re not babies you can be honest with them
  3. Remember it’s an illness and it cannot be stopped just through will power – they will need help and you should support them with that.

Again it seems simple to put it in three points for each side, but know that this is a starting point from which life will get better. Do nothing and the problem will only get worse and then you are going to be in a situation where it might be too late to tackle things.

To the sufferers, remember it’s highly unlikely that it is your fault that you are living with mental illness. You need to face up to it and deal with it before it takes total control of you. Health professionals and your friends and family will be much more receptive than you think they will be – they won’t judge you and you’ll find it will be a relief for many around you that you are able to explain your behaviour.

With so many people living with mental health issues these days you are less alone than you know. Us nutters are all around and you should own up to being part of the club – you’ll find that we are a welcoming group that is happy to help anyone who points out their membership card.


Lies, Damn Lies and Alternative Facts



It would be easy to do a character assassination on this man – who will only be referred to as 45, his position in the succession of Presidents. What that hides is the more important job of actually looking at his actions and why as non- Americans we have a job to do.

45’s actions so far have been to appease his core supporters – to show those who voted for him that he was serious about the things he said. The truth is far scarier in that he doesn’t actually know what he is doing, does not have the support of his party and is already in danger of ignoring the principles that created the USA in the constitution.

While his Executive orders can always be overturned in the Senate, House of Representatives and a half decent court of law the are still having impacts on the people of America and those who visit and work there. So what has he actually done and how can we help stop them from this side of the Atlantic?

Border Security is the big one: Building that wall, tightening all borders, increasing officials, banning travel from seven mainly Muslim countries and stopping refugees from entering the country. This is the move that has finally sparked people to life and to take to the streets and online to form petitions of protest. The UK petition on the Government website to remove the State Visit privileges broke through the million mark on Monday morning and only looks like continuing to climb. In the US the people are taking to the streets in protest and surrounding airports and ports to try to help the causes of those trying to return or enter the country.

What difference can we make? We can campaign to try to do more to help refugees around the world – lead by example and take in more ourselves. Utterly condemn the position of the US and work with the UN and other organisations to help these people being forced from their home lands with shelter, food and safety.

This alongside the action to remove women’s health care support when an organisation deals with abortion shows the pure callousness of 45 and his administration. He proclaims he is trying to put America First (an anti-Semitic slogan of the 1930s) but he is damaging America’s standing in the world and actually setting them up for a bigger fall and placing a larger target on themselves.

The claim to be championing the working and forgotten in America is undermined by his actions on weakening Obamacare and the U-Turn on the two pipelines. He is damaging the health of the nation in so many ways through these two actions and they will both in turn damage the economy. Add to that the freezing of hiring for Federal jobs and you wonder if he really understands anything about the job. (A rhetorical point if there ever was one!)

My concern as a citizen of the UK is that we are not doing enough to speak up and out about these actions. We could be come a strong leader and rally voices from across Europe and the wider world in challenging these moves. But we won’t because Theresa May’s thirst for Brexit is stopping her from showing strength and leadership. She is scared to go toe to toe with 45 because we might not get a trade deal. Here’s an idea – forget the referendum and Brexit. Go to the country and explain that despite the narrow victory for leaving the change of situation in the US means that we would be in a poor position were we to leave just now.

Also she had a platform to criticise 45 whilst in front of the world’s press last week – and I’m not thinking of “Love Actually” when I write this. If she truly is a strong female, daughter vicar then a graceful speech about respect for women, their bodies and their rights was needed. Respect for faith and religion from peaceful people should have been represented. The need to open our arms to those we are bombing out of house and home is essential and our duty as citizens of the world to ensure the planet is safe for generations to come. Instead we had a simpering, apologetic, pandering, sycophantic congratuwank of a man who deserves nothing but derision.

May is not the only one that could be doing this. Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of backbone on this issue is embarrassing. He has a platform that could, alongside the SNP and Lib Dems, pull in Tory MPs to enforce that we look again at the Brexit issue once things settle down. We have a choice here – 45 or Europe. That’s not a choice, it’s simple. Our biggest market is on our doorstep and to leave that and make deals with countries like the US, Turkey, China – all of which are not aligned to us in terms of vales – would be financial suicide. As would potentially opening our NHS and other civil services to international privatization.

We cannot let 45 dictate the future of this country, let alone damage his own. To leave Europe now means we’re desperate for a deal, which as “Art of the Deal” ghostwriter makes clear is the best time to get what you want – 45 has the upper hand.

We have to stand up to him and we have to support others who do the same in a peaceful manner. Picking up weapons, threatening behaviour and physical violence is not the best way forward right now as that is sinking to 45’s level. Instead we need to support the media in reporting facts; good investigative journalism is key to bringing him and his administration down to earth. We must also stand up with those of different creeds and colours and show they deserve respect and equality across society. We need to be articulate, intelligent and factual.

We also need to use humour and language because he cannot match us here either. His skin is at its thinnest when it comes to his image. Tease his ego, ridicule his medieval stances on sex, race, religion and gay rights, hold up a mirror to the monstrosity and reveal him for what he truly is – ignorant.

You won’t beat him in a physical fight, but in a war of words, a battle of wits and a united international voice he can be stopped. But this has to happen now before things get worse. At the moment there is cowardice and appeasement from some in the international community – don’t let the UK be one of those who is afraid to speak up because of a trade deal.


Still Here



Can you see me? No down here…just where you left me. No change, still stuck here looking up at the sky from this strange place I find myself.

Since we last spoke I’ve just been pushing through and that’s all you can do – the other option is to let it smother you and leave you paralysed with fear of living and moving on. I know it will pass but this has been a long stretch this time, maybe on and off a good two and a half months.

You don’t want to be defined by the diagnosis but how do you get round it? Unlike some conditions which you live with Bipolar and it’s two opposing worlds are your life and all your experiences. Your mood and outlook are tainted, shaped and moulded by the chemical balance in your head that day and trying to “shake it off”, as Ms Swift would advise, is harder than it appears.

This time of year has a lot to answer for anyway as the darkness still hasn’t lifted outside so trying to find the light internally is highly unlikely to be achieved. That’s another consideration in terms of medication because I may well be dropped further due to this interminable lack of light outside the windows – to make a change could be the wrong thing to do.

I’m back to the numb stage again – not really interested or feeling much just now. The only upside is that I’m able to push through the piles of marking at the moment as that part of me is working fine. That can be a tough one as there is only enough energy to teach and anything else becomes impossible. It seems so ridiculous to even write that – that I’m finding it impossible to function as a normal (whatever that is) human being, but it’s true.

Not able to just live – instead you exist, get by, struggle through or any other euphemism you care to use. Getting through the week to leave work on the Friday safe in the knowledge you haven’t imploded in front of a class is an achievement in itself. There’s the odd leakage of brain when your mouth opens and your stomach rumbles, bypassing the brain and leaves you open-mouthed at your own words. Happened today. No damage done but still the fact you can’t be on the same page as yourself is a strange feeling.

The self-hatred is one of the worst elements. Everyone around you starts to dislike you but not as much as yourself. I always joke with the pupils that I don’t have favourite classes or individuals and that I hate everyone equally. Not true, at times I despise myself a lot more. To have an average day for once would be bliss – no internal dramas, no monologue that would make a Ken Loach film look like Billy Wilder, no competition between my brain and my mouth to see who could fuck up more in a day.

I guess it must be possible – others live with this condition and appear to be coping. Or is that how I look to them? Do I seem like I have it “together” or is it obvious I’m struggling? You find putting up the facade up becomes more difficult some days especially when you have to really focus on a task or job. It slips as your multitasking fails you and you snap or say something you really shouldn’t. It can even be a tone of voice – I’m aware that my face and tone both seem to be set to grumpy, but I’m not always. The way I say something can appear to hurt as much as the words.

The next couple of months are going to force me to crank up the energy with various projects on the go – and that will be great because that will give me a focus, something to stop me from navel gazing for a while – but it’s the aftermath of these that worries me. I know there is always a hangover, a comedown and I need to make sure I have something else to take up my time and not let it drop again. Easier said than done, but you’ve got to try.

Time to start climbing out of the hole? Been doing that for the last ten weeks. Just hope that this time I’m going to get a foothold and make progress.


The Case of the Missing Personality



The hardest thing about taking medications which change your chemical make up is that your personality changes. I’ve gone from a spontaneous, outgoing, ‘life and soul’ figure to a quiet, introverted and impassive human being. Now obviously as you age you do “settle down” but the person I was ten to twelve years ago would not recognise the person I have become. Even worse the person I am now would probably hate the old me. So is there a point where I could meet the two in the middle or is this just my life now?

You do wonder how much is choice and how much is the medication. Have I deliberately (or even subconsciously) retracted into myself to avoid the manic spikes in my personality? I am still capable of saying the wrong thing and being in the state the late Carrie Fisher called “Liquid Confidence”. The manic does mean that my mouth works before my head has time to catch up and it’s exhilarating and joyous and risky and makes you feel like a kid again. It’s still in there but over the last decade it has been pushed down by the tablets and by me in order to try to function properly at work.

I really miss the manic me – it definitely helped with the creative side of me and also made me a much more interesting person. I know that there is a lot of research on whether Bipolar or Manic Depression has links to creativity and other benefits, and the results are inconclusive, but I know from my own experience the spark is essential. That dose of mania, the madness that comes with it made me a better teacher, better musician, better person. Yes I could say or do the wrong things and not even realise until it was too late but a big part of me would rather be high than low. And I know from speaking to those around me they feel the same way. Being told by those closest to you that they don’t recognise you is heartbreaking. Honest, but heartbreaking.

SO how do you deal with it? We are looking at how the medications work in combination just now and where we can take the foot off the downward thrust and instead allow me to climb up from the depression dip I’ve not been able to shake for the last couple of months. But there is a strong argument that I should be being more proactive and setting myself targets to get up and do things rather than just sit and wallow in the misery I am used to.

Easier said than done because you use all your energy to get through work and by the end of the day your tank is empty – come the weekend sleep is available and you can enjoy a dozen hours in bed. Sounds like a fair way to work, but it doesn’t take into consideration the fact I’m married with three kids. If I were single and without ties then I could live like that but I’ve a wonderful family that deserves better and I should be fighting to make sure they get the best of me too.

I don’t want to look back and think of the missed opportunities with the family. I don’t want to regret the way I acted around them. I don’t want to push them away. The sadness that I have is that I know all of this, yet during the periods I struggle with the depressive side of the Bipolar I just can’t grasp on to those chances. I need something to help me.

My amazing wife is looking after three kids as well as me and she is now living with a man she doesn’t recognise compared to who I was a decade earlier. We both miss JD.

So what’s the compromise that could help here? Well we can lower the dose of Quetiapine to only act as a sedative and stop using it at a higher dose to even out my moods when I’m already on another tablet doing the same thing. Perhaps looking at returning to therapy – speaking to someone. The first batch I had of four sessions just didn’t seem to work, but giving up on it instead of trying someone else was maybe too hasty.

Or perhaps I just need to force myself to start living again rather than just existing. Easier said than done, but if I don’t try then I will end up trapped in this cycle of sadness. Next year is my fortieth birthday and I’m probably past the halfway point of my time on this spinning rock so the question is perhaps not “Where have I disappeared to?” maybe it should be “Who do I want to be?”.


Removing the Human Suit



Crossing the threshold you can finally remove the costume that you wear on a daily basis. Not uniform, work clothes or anything physical but instead the persona that exists when you leave the house in the morning.

There are times that the disguise slips and you find yourself exposed – outbursts when frustration just can’t be contained anymore or being caught staring into middle space halfway through a sentence as your brain grasps at words to fill the void. It’s no secret to those around me outside the house that Bipolar is just part of me, but there is a societal expectation to just “get on with things” despite it.

There is a genuine relief when you get home because you can let it drop to a certain degree. There are points where the kids come to tell you something and for a moment you have to remember that they are not the reason you feel terrible – then you have to use up the remaining energy to chat to them and see what they want to chat about.

And Energy is the key. When you are struggling with the black dog’s visit, energy and ability to function is limited so you have to control when you are “on” and when you have to recharge. As a teacher one of the most difficult aspects is you really have to be on all the time as with up to thirty in a class there will always be someone needing your attention or help. Even without the depression the job is a difficult one – the simile of spinning plates was invented for leading in a classroom and at the moment I try to find as much energy that I can but I’m aware of a crashing noise all round me.

The veritable vicious circle is ever-present as you use all your energy to function and then you have nothing left, causing more negative thoughts to flood in as you see yourself as a failure. You don’t see the illness, only the symptoms and anger rises at not being able to tackle things the way you would when well. I have been living with this old brain all my life, but I am only starting to understand how it works. Well, I say that but as my head doesn’t follow a fixed pattern I am often surprised too.

At work I have varying speeds like an old record player. Currently I am at 33rpm – lethargic and not quite up to speed, but when I’m better it turns right up to 78rpm to play catch up with paperwork, marking etc. Normal – if there is such a thing – is 45rpm but there are often points where the record skips or jumps. No matter what speed I am living at you are always aware that a flick of a switch can completely change where you are in life.

So day-to-day life feels like I’m wearing a human suit to disguise myself from the world. Hiding the reality of the inner fight from the world. Why? Because you feel that even though you know you can’t help it, others don’t want to be bothered by it. They don’t need their lives interrupted by someone who is broken – they have their own problems and lives to lead without carrying you as well.

There is a genuine sense of being a burden to those around you. While things usually even themselves out, the damage is done when you are at your worst and trying to make up for it is not as straight forward when people have been hurt or they have been left to pick up the slack you have left behind.

We all wear masks and disguises to make us into different people in different situations. But my one is wearing thin and you can see through threadbare parts and I am running out of places to hide.


The Pursuit of Happiness



I don’t know if it’s the medication, the condition or the fact that I’m getting old but I don’t remember being a very happy person. I’ve always been cynical and sarcastic and angry, but happy? I struggle to think of moments of pure happiness. Apparently I used to be a happier person, but I get the feeling if I met that person now I’d take an instant dislike to them.

How did I get to the point where I managed to be a funsponge; draining every ounce of pleasure I, or anyone around me, can take from anything. I sit in judgement like a real life Cowell or Revel Horwood looking for the errors, misery, mistakes and problems in life.

But then I thought about it a bit longer and I’m realising that my memory is not great full stop. Looking back I struggle to see very much in terms of memories that I’ve held on to – there are snapshots of moments but they are all on pause, waiting for the click to resume and I can’t make them work. While there are some things that stand out in my mind – all clear from cancer, wedding, birth of children – there doesn’t seem to be very much saved up in the memory banks.

I’m no psychologist – as I’m sure is abundantly clear – but I wonder if the lack of ability to recall happy memories means I struggle to recreate or renew the emotion again today. You fight the darkness within through sheer willpower and of course medication, but the obvious cure to misery would be happiness and yet it’s beyond my reach. I see others enjoying themselves and start to feel more unhappy because I can only switch it on in small doses. You become a player in the story of your life.

Scene: INT 8.30am – Walking through school corridor

John walks along towards his class and passes colleagues and pupils on his way as he makes eye contact and smiles. These are hollow gestures but he knows if he doesn’t he will be called out as a cyborg. 

And that’s just it – I switch on the showbiz smile and get through things rather than enjoy them. And it’s with everything – not just work, but social situations and bumping into friends and going out – there’s an empty space where pleasure should live and it’s missing. It can also work with other emotions where you know the situation dictates a certain response and you comply to fit in.

What I really want to do a lot of the time is just walk away and be on my own. There’s no pretence, no forcing conversations or societal niceties, and that’s a horrible thing to want or to be but that’s who I am at the moment. How the fuck did I get to the point where the very things that make us human – emotions, empathy and pleasure – are missing in action? When did they check out? And has it always been this way and I’ve just noticed recently?

In truth you only want the simple things in life: to be with those you love, be able to provide for them and to have your health. The worst thing about the Bipolar life is that you don’t actually get these things guaranteed. You push away the ones you love – often unintentionally and through the behaviour associated with the condition. To provide means work, which entails routine (which can actually help and forces you to get out of bed) and effort. This can be so difficult when you are fighting an internal battle with yourself to stop yourself walking out the door shouting obscenities. Work can be the hardest thing to deal with as the expectations are there upon you and some days you just can’t do it. Finally, health – well no need to an explanation on that front.

It is these three simple things that we all crave yet my own brain is impacting on them all. This along with the apparent loss of any history to your personal experiences makes you feel like you are alone in the world; lost, confused and trying to fight your way back to whoever you once were and could be again. The problem is that I doubt I’ll ever be off the tablets and Bipolar is something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. The sad fact is that this illness is worse than the cancer I had twelve years ago now – at least it was easy to cut out and monitor leaving me free of it. Mental Health conditions such as mine are life sentences – they won’t necessarily kill you, but they’ll reduce your life expectancy and trap you in a cerebral prison that makes Colditz look like a kindergym.

I don’t know how I can get back my memories or find the ability to be happy again. I know that music is one form of escape and performing does help, but it’s short-term and I’d like something that allowed me to even have a glimpse of “happy” me again – if such a thing existed. Sadly I think that this is my lot; my course is plotted and if the last decade is anything to go by things will only deteriorate further. Maybe I just have to ensure that others find their happiness if I can’t find my own. I could try to do it vicariously through those around me but even that’s tough when you live with a negative mindset.