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Stephen Fry’s The Life Of The Manic Depressive; Rising Suns, Setting Moons, And The Pole Star

From time to time, I watch Stephen Fry’s series on manic depression from start to finish, and never cease to find something new in each experience I listen to: In the most recent case of my watchathon, I was struck by the deep insight of many, many of the comments. I surely have it, and have had it from the year dot; people were forever telling me I was “moody”, and suggesting I was "bipolar", even though I could never see it in myself. In my case, there is a hereditary bonkers gene in our family - or maybe several. This runs through my father’s side of the family, and has been present through several generations. I have bipolar (which, I feared recently, was turning into schizophrenia); my sole male cousin had actual schizophrenia, and was medicated with lithium for years; my aunt recently died of vascular dementia; there was a great-uncle with Learning Difficulties; and a set of twins, further back, who were placed in an asylum. There are members of this side of the family who have literally thought in a “different” way. I am wondering whether this is due to hereditary meningiomas. It has been proved that I have a right frontal lobe meningioma. I’ve no idea whether other relatives have been scanned, but anything impacting the right frontal lobe is going to have an effect on managing emotions and impulse control (even though the doctors try to tell you otherwise - don’t tell me lies, please, medics, I don’t care if it’s “just the size of a marble" - you cannot tell me that even something as small as the size of a marble is not going to impact the brain in some way!). In my case, there is also a hormonal factor, inherited from my mother’s side. Since the wretched hormones started making themselves known 37 years ago, I have been fairly combustible, and there have been almost monthly explosions, although to be fair this was usually at situations which would have triggered anyone off. I remember being baited by a crowd of about 10 girls at school once. I picked up a chair and hurled it into the middle of them, and then just ran. They weren't able to catch me. I think my father at least recognizes the symptoms of mental illness and ultimately, was in some ways more sympathetic. The German side of the family weren’t sympathetic at all to my bipolar - even though 2 of them are medics, I don't think they have a clue what it is - as Germans never admit to anything, especially their own faults, and must be stone-faced and brutal at all times. They were, however, curious as to where I got my creativity from, as they were sure it wasn't from them. Although to be honest, my mother’s behaviour was clearly bipolar; I think part of the reason she came over to England, was that she could indulge in her bipolar behaviour behind closed doors, with my father being sufficiently in love with her beauty, and allowing her a colossal amount of freedom and independence, whilst providing for her as though she were a queen. Another factor that was mentioned in some of the comments in the Stephen Fry videos was the effects of childhood trauma issues - bipolar people are particularly sensitive people, and if you’re already predisposed towards it, adverse events such as a death in the family, or abuse, are going to manifest in this way. Some children see the hypocrisy of society for what it is, and rebel, and are truth-tellers. They don’t see why they should have to be “joiners”, if they don’t need to be. They march to the beat of their own drummer, which is all very embarrassing for parents and teachers and the rest of society, who expect them to be "good citizens", whatever that means. With some of these children, a great deal is often expected of them, and projected onto them. Parents and schools are “disappointed” with the child if it doesn’t do what is "expected" of it, or it doesn’t turn out the way they wanted it to be; in short, they are improperly attuned to it. From a very early age, the child, though it may be actually doing nothing wrong, and may be a perfectly nice child, is labelled “naughty” without it being explained exactly why this might be. Then again, the child is told they have to be “nice” to people at all times (whatever that may be). This is especially confusing if the child, with genuine good will, gives a loved one a birthday present on which they have spent considerable time and effort, only for that item to be literally hurled out of the window 2 minutes later. Observing these people’s behaviour, and especially if there is minimal support, the child can’t help wondering why there is any point in being “nice” to people - recognizing the cognitive dissonance. Criticized for doing things “differently” at every turn, with so-called “normatives” losing the plot over the supposed breaking of every little stupid “rule”- (bipolars were never meant to follow “rules” - didn’t you know?) the bipolar’s internalized anger at the rest of the world eventually makes them angrier, and angrier, and angrier, and as bitter as their tormentors, and they ultimately end up screaming at all these stupid people from the rooftops, because their anger is so intense. Those who would be punitive with them should know it’s not the way to get the best out of them, especially where there are bigger fish around to chase, but who would be too big in social or physical terms, to take down. So, it is that we bipolar truth-tellers (and we are the biggest truth-tellers - I’ve been called “too honest” and hauled over the coals many times, for calling a spade a spade) get a lot of flak. Average People don’t like to hear the truth - it makes them feel small. ************************************************************************** A little bit about my background, which I’ve wanted ot write about for some considerable time: I grew up on the Somerset coast, in a place called Clevedon, where it was easier to be a legend in your own lunchtime, than in somewhere like Bristol. Clevedon had its Lions Club, its Rotary Club, its Golf Club, and its Conservative Club. The disadvantage was, that everybody knew everybody; and every other woman over 50 in the 80s, was a manager (or wannabe manager), wore a skirt suit, and was called Margaret or Hilda. My father, who was an engineer, bought a huge great big pile of a house - one of these mansions built by the sugar barons in the 19th century, and he, my mother and I rattled around this massive house like three peas in a supersized pod. The original owner couldn’t sell the place in 1976 for the asking price of 75k, so my Dad talked them down to 50k. He had his offices on the top floor. In these halcyon days, it was one of the last of the great posh places, as though from pre-war days. The last of the originally 5 gardeners retired during our time there; he'd been there since boyhood. We had a cherry-red carpeted hall, a Dutch blue-and white-tiled entrance porch, with a massive Gothic door; a huge drive, with several sports cars in it; a tennis court over the other side of the adjacent road, with a rose-covered bridge stretching across the road; landscaped/ semi-wild gardens with ornamental old trees including a Californian cedar; a swimming-pool and sauna the size of a postage stamp (I used to climb up on the hot tarred roof in the sunshine, and sunbathe); a gazebo; a forest of bamboo canes; a paddock for geese and horses; an old Victorian kitchen-garden, with a tumbledown greenhouse with muscat grapes hanging off the inside of the roof; and lots, and lots, of animals - cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, geese, and yes, horses. My childhood ended abruptly when the house was turned into an Old People’s Home, when I was 10; we had to move up into the attic, me having to turn over my own pretty red-and-white room to one of the “inmates” - and also, shall we say, *entering womanhood* at the same time. Things were never the same again, and a sort of downward spiral began from then on; although I think it actually began much earlier, perhaps close to my birth. The house had overcompensated for the things which were all very wrong within our interfamilial relationships. Some people have probably always had bipolar, and are naturally “different”; others develop it due to a “trigger”. To be honest, I think this comes from our rich internal lives. We see life in glorious Technicolour. As I watch Stephen Fry shop till he drops, after unsuccessfully being chased around by his CBT counsellor (the man, like many of us with bipolar including myself, is stubbornly resistant to any sort of treatment including medication, and like myself, clearly incurable), I cannot understate the way in which this type of environment is overstimulating to the bipolar brain, which is one reason why I hate the Baz Luhrmann film “Moulin Rouge” so much. It’s sensation, after sensation, after sensation. It doesn’t bother “normal” people; most of them haven’t even half woken-up, so need to be roused out of their slumbers. They positively enjoy it. For the bipolar brain, however, this is what it’s like all the time, and any jangly baubles or loud music can set mania off. I didn’t use to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, but from my teens, whenever I started crying, I couldn’t seem to stop. This went on for years, and was very troubling. There was a deep sadness inside me, and hollow anguish because of my family relations, and feeling that emptiness is something of a cross to have to bear. In my 20s, I was prescribed a month’s worth of Prozac. It controlled the monthly explosions, but I felt absolutely nothing. I hated it, and told my doctor I hated it. They advised me to finish the course, and discontinue. My cousin was on lithium, and he ended up throwing himself in front of a train and losing his right arm. He died relatively early - a couple of years ago. He was about 8 years older than I am, and I am now 48. ************************************************************************** For the umpteenth time (my forties have been like some sort of recurring nightmare) I was made homeless again this month, and was actually homeless on my birthday. Now, I’m going to make a comment here. I am the first to admit that I have had a problem with alcohol, for various reasons - dulling ongoing pain, both physical and emotional, being one of them; but those who would be all too ready to point the finger at me, seem to be oblivious to their own habits of consumption, or past consumption, of alcohol and/ or illegal drugs. It's okay if it fits their bill; but anything else is just so wrong, dahling! Personally, I blame the hot mess that is London and the Home Counties (in which I lived for a total number of probably 19 years) for creating all the din that drives bipolars to self-medicate. I’m not at all surprised that Stephen Fry, living as stressful a life as he does, and being a public figure, suffers as he does, and washes his sleeping pills and antidepressants down with vodka. For me, 13 years of London, and its relentless hectic pace, exposed me, someone who never used to drink, to a culture of drinking (though thankfully never drugs - I didn't get invited to those sorts of parties, if I did indeed get invited to any parties at all - and various boyfriends, who clearly didn’t have my best interests at heart - who, even though I said I didn’t want another drink, would top up my glass with a smug smile, and great expectations. At around 37, I used to down the odd tot of whisky, to calm my nerves during performances. One boyfriend then introduced me to wine, and one to gin and tonic, and that really was the beginning of the end. The process of addiction, as I’m sure most of us are aware, is the rewarding of the brain through *whatever substance*, and, especially if you’re not achieving as you would like in other areas of your life, and are surrounded by people who party *a lot* at places of work, especially if they are always talking about it, it can be very difficult to hit the “off” button. Unfortunately, drink brings out the part of me which is like Mr. Zed from Police Academy. To be honest, I rather enjoyed the excuse it gave me to shout at people. I used to lose my temper at people even during all those years when I wasn’t drinking, but drink really gave me the opportunity to let rip and say what I thought. It also destroyed several relationships, in the process. I was told to get help, but help, for someone who was addicted, was very hard to find. I was referred to a local recovery service, who did absolutely nothing of value. Having done some research of my own in the meantime, I spent 8 months chasing them to try to get them to give me a drug which I had a hunch would work for me, called naltrexone. You can’t get it everywhere, and especially not in inner cities, because guess what? (shhhh) - it’s a rich man’s drug, not a poor man’s drug. Seriously. There have been studies in the US which show that even small amounts of this drug can lift your spirits, and make you feel even vaguely normal. And there are almost no side-effects, except that you can just feel a little bit pepped. But generally, you feel positive. It definetely made me feel less depressed, and I found I was less likely to drink. It didn’t reduce my drinking to nothing, but I certainly wasn’t drinking as much. But - it took another episode of being made homeless, and yet another nervous and relationship breakdown, for this damn recovery service to do something constructive about it. Anyway, all was well for a few months, and then they changed my key worker, and then everything just went to s-t again. This guy must have been an incredibly passive-aggressive guy who thought he had a God complex, in terms of wanting to control patients’ outcomes. He clearly didn’t jive with me, because all of a sudden, there seemed to be no communication between the recovery service and the pharmacy. Half the time, when I turned up at the pharmacy, the prescription wasn’t there, or only half of it was there, or I was told that it had been cancelled. I was getting conflicting messages on a constant basis, and also the keyworker never called for counselling when he said he was going to call. He also sent a text message to my phone saying “this client is a joke”. I phoned him straight back in a fury. He lied and said “the message was meant for someone else”. So, anyway, this pulling of teeth slowly went on for months, and I got angrier and angrier. In the end, I requested that my medication be sent to a different pharmacy. Within 2 weeks, the same things started happening again. I told the recovery service where to stick it. By the way, they’re called Turning Point and located in Hackney, and they are rubbish. They haven't got a bloody clue. Don’t touch them with a barge-pole, they are a waste of time - do things your own way. Don’t live in Hackney, loves; it’s life, but not as we should know it, or want to know it. If you just happen to be there, move out. Following my recent end of tenancy of a place at Hackney Wick, (possibly one of the most colourful, and unfortunately druggy places you’ve ever seen - Hackney is notorious for drugs) I had nowhere else to go, and ended up so discombobulated that I lost my purse. To be honest, I had been in a depressed phase for months, partly for hormonal/ menopausal reasons, and had hardly been able to move from my bed, except to go for the occasional walk. I had had a mostly manic phase for the majority of the past year, with sleep that dwindled down to nothing. Try going for weeks, months without sleep. I guarantee you, you WILL go mad. Eventually, I had entered depressed phases that seemed to grow longer and longer. Now, since Covid, no hotel will take a booking without contactless payment or at least a guarantee by card. That’s the perks of the contactless society, m’darlings. So, being the nutter that I am, I decided to “go natural” and sleep rough (BTW, not advised in wintry places, in South Africa, the Rocky Mountains, or places with large carnivores). For myself, I have always been fascinated by mammoth treks, and men who do what other men couldn’t do. One of my favourite documentaries of all time is “Hannibal:” The True Story” (2005) starring the big, muscular and emboldening Benjamin Maccabee as its chief character: They say that “history” is written by the “victors”. (for the purposes of this article, let's translate the so-called "victors" as " normal people"). But, who are the real “victors”? Perhaps, those who don't seek to be "normal" at all, but reach the parts which others can't? True, the Phoenician empire was crushed and blown to dust, and destroyed; but the Barcids were the stuff of legend, for what they dared to do; the type of people who decide to go "one louder" than is humanly possible. What would you rather have, or be - your very average Roman foot-soldier (called Caius Cornelius Maximus or Flaminius Longus, or - I don’t know - whatever the - it was!), or - Hannibal? (There have been times when I really thought I was Hannibal. Seriously. Bipolars live in this sort of world. It's an alternative reality, if you like.) I also identified with Kirk Douglas. My father was a dead ringer for Kirk Douglas in The Vikings (Einar) when he was younger, and curiously enough, about the same size and build. Einar’s a rogue, but you’ve gotta love him. There is a part of me that identifies with strong men, and admires them, and wants to match their achievements. Anyone who knows anything about J. S. Bach will know something of the walk he made from Arnstadt to Luebeck (250 miles) on foot, in order to meet the organist Buxtehude, and which is wonderfully captured in the engaging amateur film “The Genius of Bach” (by the talented Daniel Maciejewski and pals - see here and here ), illustrating the young Bach walking through forests, having been given leave for 4 weeks and cheekily returning after 4 months, to be told he’d lost his job! Is it surprising that such a walk through nature inspired “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring?” She who shall not be named (yes, that dead relative of mine), used to say that she couldn’t stand Bach, and especially not that tune. Well, I don’t know about you, but I think that’s the sign of an intellectual dullard, a restricted mind. One that doesn’t like to go beyond their own square little postage stamp of a garden; “a landowner, rather than a brain owner”, as Beethoven would have said - who is yet incredibly envious of what the “brain owner” will do and say. They wish they were them. They wish they’d led the life they’d led, tough though it may have been. They wish they’d dared to live the life they’d led, and said and done the things they had, complain though they might openly about them. From what little we know of Bach, he was also no pushover; if other men needed to grow a pair, Bach came with them already made! Unfortunately, the days of great, romantic Germans like Bach and Beethoven are gone. There haven’t been a lot of really interesting ones for quite some time. There was one time, a couple of years ago, when I was again made homeless, and decided I was going to run away to Germany and repeat Bach’s walk. After all, that’s what people did in those days, wasn’t it? They walked - or if they were lucky, they could afford a horse and/ or carriage. No bikes. This time round - in the end, I slept rough, for 4 nights in a row. I’d already done it a couple of times, in an oak forest, and up on a gorse moor. This time, I slept under a thicket in a coniferous forest, where no-one could see me or find me. It was bloody freezing at night - I shivered and shook all through the night, and I hadn’t eaten for 4-5 days, and was surviving on whisky. When I tried to get up, I could barely stand, so collapsed to the ground again, where I knew I would be safe. I was completely mentally and physically exhausted from the past years, and actually hallucinating; intelligent and creative voices flowed in a stream of consciousness through my ears, in a perfectly sane and eloquent fashion. And frequently, even now, colours and patterns move, in the same manner, through my mind’s eye when I shut my eyes when trying to go to sleep. If you check out my book “The New Barghello” here, you’ll see exactly what I mean. The voices of the birds were different to what I’d heard before in the oak forests; the owls would call to each other in a variety of tones each night (they have a diverse language) clearly saying to each other “let’s go hunting”, or, “I’ve got something here”. Then, during the dawn chorus, there was a very annoying bird which sat right above the thicket under which I was lying, and kept repeating over and over, “Weird Girl! Weird Girl! Weird Girl!” (Oh, b-g-r off, I thought!) I made my way to a coastal place the day before my birthday. I sat on a multi-crescented beach which stretched for miles, washing my poor blistered feet in seawater (in my delirium, I had daftly put on boots without socks, walking for miles) and squishing them into the soft, yellow, warm sand; gazing, on what seemed to be an eternally sunny day, at twirling rows of offshore windfarms, and the happy people who walked along the beach. The sand, during the day, was very warm; but, as in the desert, became cold and damp during the night, and again, my teeth chattered. I waited, and waited, watching the moon work its way slowly round the sky at what seemed like a snail’s pace. I pulled my trilby over my eyes, my scarf over my face, huddled my cape around me, and shivered; nestled in a safe space amongst the dunes. I could tell when it was high tide; as the waves pounded the shore, I could feel the ground vibrate beneath me (quite an intense feeling, that). On the morning of my 48th birthday, I was damp, freezing and homeless. And yet, I felt a glorious feeling of having found myself. I wouldn’t recommend the experience to everyone, but lying on a deserted beach, with the sight of an open horizon, and a rising, brilliant orange sun directly opposite a setting, brilliant yellow pennymoon - with both bodies apparently the same size - and the Pole Star hanging directly above my head, like a jewel - was a sight I shall never forget. I am a colossal combination of conundrums. On the one hand I am a flamboyant artist; on the other hand, quite conservative - almost Christian Baptist, I would say. Some say that Jesus was a manic-depressive; I wouldn’t doubt it. I almost certainly think John the Baptist was. If you are talking about an explanation for their insight and zealotry, you need look no further; for this sort of zealotry, bipolars have in spades. I walked to the station in bare, dusty feet, and set off on the train back to London. I had no idea where I was going to sleep that night, but decided I’d spend as much of the night as I could in a bar near my previous abode, recharging my phone, until I got thrown out, and then walk around for the rest of the night, to keep myself warm. I didn’t fancy spending another night on chilly ground. As I was doing so, my friend (let’s call him Naz) rang up. Naz is a very dear friend, with whom I have never been involved romantically (to his credit, not mine). Funnily enough, and I don’t know why, but in odd moments, I think of him and myself, as Amy Winehouse, and her good friend Tyler James. In my 20s and 30s, I would get so fed up with the attention of men who only seemed to see me as a vehicle for making babies, or to mess around with. I didn’t feel appreciated for myself. Naz always made it very clear that he loved and cared for me, but that we would just be friends. I appreciated that honesty. Anyway, finding out that I was still homeless, and hadn’t showered for 10 days due to depression, he rang off, then rang me back, and said in his authoritative Capricorn voice: “Right, I’ve spoken to Mum. You can stay here for tonight. But there are going to be some rules. No alcohol. Because this is my mum’s house, she’s doing you a big favour, and you’re damn well going to show some respect!” So, I hobbled my way there in my by now very painful boots, and stepped inside Naz’s mum’s lounge. “Can I say something?” asked Naz. “I smell?” I asked. “You stink!” said Naz. “Take your dirty stinky clothes off, and put them in this black bin-bag. Go and have a shower NOW! I’ll get you some pajamas of mine to wear.” Out of the shower, I gave him a friendly hug. “Do I smell better?” “Yes, you do now,” he said, with a smile. I slept probably longer than I had slept in months, on the comfortable sofa-bed in Naz’s mother’s lounge. In the morning, since I had few clean clothes to wear, Naz’s mother kindly gave me one of Naz’s shirts to wear that didn’t fit him. Now, this woman is a beautiful woman. To me, it seems that (from photographic and real-life evidence) she has always had the face of a lotus-flower. She has a gentleness emanating from her, which I can’t remember ever experiencing radiating from anybody else. And she hasn’t exactly had the easiest life, either. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she’s a Pisces. She really does care for people. Naz is a Capricorn, and a bit more scratchy, but a good soul. “Look after yourself,” she said meaningfully, as I prepared to go. “Yes,” said Naz. “The most important thing is YOU. Forget about the past. Forget about what your mother or your exes or whoever did what to you. The most important thing is YOU. Today is a new day. OK?” And they saw me on my way. ************************************************************************ I have to say that sleeping in the open, and shivering uncontrollably, is a good toughening-up experience, and enough to make one appreciate a nice, warm, soft bed. At this point in time, I have had this for a few days now; whilst I haven’t always slept due to my eternally whirling mind (and tea/ coffee consumption), my back is 100% better. I eat well, and take a warm bath every day. I actually feel more like a human bean for a change, rather than a bruised, blistered, scratched and wrecked zombie. And, I haven’t drunk - although, I still get the shakes, on occasion. Lots of water is the answer; I don’t think I really realized how dehydrated I’d become due to recent heavy alcohol use. The new key worker from the recovery centre rang me up today, to ask how I was. I explained that I was still homeless, but in a safe space, and had stopped drinking and was staying sober. After our call, she rang me back, a little alarmed. “Would you like to come in for a medical checkup? We just wanted to check that everything’s OK.” “NO!!!!!!!” I said. “I’m fed up with doctors, and hospitals, and policemen, and crap court cases over nothing, and people who call themselves educators and are nothing of the sort, and all the rubbish I’ve experienced over the last few years. I just want to get on with my life now!” “But, I’m very concerned for your health.” "Yeah, yeah. (Sarcastically. Heard it all before.) That’s your job.” “So you want to be discharged?” “YES!!!!!” So, that’s what we agreed. *************************************************************************

A true story of:: hashtag#manicdepression hashtag#stephenfry hashtag#lotusflower hashtag#homelessness hashtag#roughsleeping hashtag#bipolar hashtag#alcoholism

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