Book vs life

One of the readers of “Bipolar For Beginners” has been chatting with me online the other day, then she mentioned she was having a glass of whisky as we spoke.

My automatic reaction was “don’t do it!”. Alcohol stops correct processing of medication by the brain, and in conjunction with Depakote/Depakine it wrecks your liver real bad. Unfortunately, alcohol is also something people enjoy. In fact, even while I was on Depakote, my doctor told me it would be fine for me to have one beer per day. It’s just that at the time I weighed over 100 kg, and so one beer was hardly going to make a noticeable effect, so once I finished my pint all I wanted was another one.

Another piece of advice which is easy to dispense but not so much to follow: “Avoid stress”. We can do certain things to limit the amount of stress. We can look for a less stressful job, avoid watching or reading things that we find triggered. But let’s say your brother contracts a deadly illness. How exactly are you going to avoid stressing over it? Or – an example from real life – your parents constantly smoke weed, and you live with them. Your friends smoke too. How easy is it going to be for you to avoid using yourself?

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“Bipolar For Beginners” is out now!

What a crazy time it was. The book, even though it’s short, took me eight months to write. I started by writing down a list of sections that I thought need to be covered; then I followed up by writing them one by one. I showed the book to people with bipolar, asking their feedback, which was overwhelmingly positive, which made me feel much better about my idea: a non-professional writing a book about mental illness? Surely that can only end badly! But it didn’t, so far at least.

The way I describe the illness is the way I needed someone to describe it to me when I got diagnosed. I am trying to avoid medical jargon as much as possible – you’ll get enough of that from your doctor. What my goal is: to explain things that are difficult to explain – in a way understandable to someone who hasn’t studied medicine and doesn’t necessarily understand the difference between an anti-psychotic and mood stabiliser. I wanted to write a book that I would like to be handed to me on the day of my diagnosis. It is short on purpose; there are enough thick tomes about bipolar, written by actual doctors, describing in great detail hormonal interactions inside our head and how each particular medication affects them. You’ll notice that often within the book I send you to your doctor – there are questions nobody else can answer. There is no magical pill that will work for everyone. You and your medical team need to work together on achieving what’s best for you.

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Why I wrote a book

I got diagnosed on my 35th birthday.

It wasn’t the present I expected. Truth be told, I watched the Stephen Fry documentary a few days earlier and said to my boyfriend “hey, that’s interesting, but it looks like I might not be depressed but actually bipolar”. You’d think I wouldn’t be too shocked with the diagnosis after that. But I was, extremely. I cried on my way home. This wasn’t meant to happen to me. I already had depression, surely that would be enough? And this period when I felt like I owned the Earth, when I walked the streets in my heavy army boots like they belonged to me, the time I spoke with gods and they responded, when I started a business fully convinced I’d make piles of money… this was all fake? All an illusion created by a bipolar brain? It was an awful lot to take, and especially on my birthday.

I don’t really celebrate birthdays, but I invited a friend over and bought a bottle of whiskey. I dried out more than half of it, while he was getting increasingly worried. I cried, I laughed, I cried more. This friend saved my life the morning after, when I woke up with mother of all hangovers and father of all depressions, determined to kill myself. I didn’t see a way out at that point. I thought: this was it, my life is done. The only sensible option seemed to slash my wrists and bleed myself to death. First, though, I called the psychiatric hospital that was meant to take me on board in a week, where they told me in a dry tone I am blackmailing them by talking about suicide and I should go call my GP. Then I called my GP who insisted I call the hospital again. Then I ran out of strength and started harming myself. And then my friend called and checked on me, and since I refused to tell what was going on, he came by and took me to a psychiatrist in person.

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