Life is beautiful

Life is unpredictable. Just when you think you’re on top of things, chaos bears its ugly head, and pounces all over you.

Lately I’ve made some life changing decisions. Decisions I feel are the first right ones in quite a while. I resigned, I moved out of my townhouse and in with my gorgeous aunt and uncle.

It’s funny how you imagine your life when you are a teenager. For me, it was taking over the world, academically at least. I defined myself by this ambition. I thought it would bring praise and respect from those around me.

But somewhere along the line I realised I wasn’t happy. That all the success, the papers, the book I wrote, meant nothing compared to being a happy, healthy person.

So I started to self-destruct. I drank, I missed work, I put myself in dangerous situations, and caused my loved ones a lot of worry. For the first time ever I was charged with drink driving.

The thing with bipolar is that it is like the weather. You can’t control it with your mind, or your willpower. Just like you can’t think away a storm, or imagine a sunny day – and it will magically appear.

It has been a long journey for me to accept I have this condition. To not be able to think it away, that I can control my moods just like that. It is frustrating, because I’ve always felt I controlled every aspect of my life.

Now, I am happy. Truly happy with myself and the world. I relinquished control of my world, and now I go with the flow. I understand there is no right or proper way to do things in life.

I understand now that the most important things in my life are not success or my career, or social standing, but the people in my world. My family and friends whom I love dearly. My beautiful daughter – who needs a mum, not a professor.

These things may seem obvious to many, but for me I always gained praise and encouragement for academic success. I really never stopped to consider my own happiness.

But now I have – and life is truly beautiful.

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Never give up

This is a song from the movie Lion, performed by Sia. It’s lyrics are as applicable to us with bipolar as much as any human struggle…

I’ve battled demons that won’t let me sleep
Called to the sea but she abandoned me
But I won’t never give up, no, never give up, no, no
No, I won’t never give up, no, never give up, no, no
And I won’t let you get me down
I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground
Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh
I won’t let you get me down
I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground
Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
Oh yeah, I’m haunted by the distant past
Called to the skies but she was she overcast
But I won’t never give up, no, never give up, no, no
No, I won’t never give up, no, never give up, no, no
And I won’t let you get me down
I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground
Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh
I won’t let you get me down
I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground
Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
Never give up, never give up
Never give up, never give up
No, no, oh
And I won’t let you get me down
I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground
Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh
I won’t let you get me down
I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground
Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh
I’ll find my way, find my way home, oh, oh, oh

With thanks to Sia Furler of (c) Greg Kurstin records

 

The Polar Bear’s Friends

My friends are the most amazing women in the world. They are all smart, attractive and so wonderfully real.

My closest friend Belinda is so caring. She’s like home to me. She takes care of me, she is so intelligent and interesting. I could spend all my time talking with her about everything. She has her own challenges but she is so brave and courageous, and she inspires me every day. She would do anything for me and I would do anything for her, without a thought.

Claire is quite possibly the sweetest person I know. Always thinking of others, always caring. She brings sunshine to those who meet her. Claire never forgets a birthday, and always turns up with the most thoughtful gifts imaginable.

Sue is the coolest cat you will ever meet. She is so fun loving, she matches me every step of the way. Most of all she is sweet, and makes all those around her feel special. That is a rare gift. I have spent the best times of my life with her.

My friend Tiff is so lovely. She takes everyone as they come and is never judgemental. She has the greatest laugh in the world, when she laughs it is a joy as it’s so real. She’s a survivor, she says it how it is, and she hasn’t let the real world dampen her enthusiasm.

I could go on forever about how great these women are, but suffice to say I’m so lucky to have these wonderful women in my life.

As it goes on I’ve learn to cherish these real friendships, which aren’t built on subterfuge but on real life, real issues, real challenges for us modern women. We are not perfect, we fail, but, most importantly, we stand up again.

That is what is so wonderful and inspiring about the friends I am so lucky to have.

The Polar Bear’s Life Jacket

I’m sometimes in awe of my moods.

They take who I am and toss it this way and that, as choppy as the stormy ocean, and although I try I cannot control the weather.  In the depths of either a high or a low, I do not feel myself. I do not feel I can control my mood. Simple practices like exercise, sleep, diet, meditation. I know they are worthwhile, but whilst gripped in the midst of either mania or depression they seem so very ineffectual. Like clichés.

What I want to do, what I only seem to be able to do, during these times is either self-destructive things (mania) or to curl up on a ball on my couch – or bed, it doesn’t matter – as long as I can just do nothing (depression).

The only way I can describe it, so you can understand dear reader, is for you to take your best day ever and your worst then multiply by about one hundred.

When I feel like this, my life jacket is my family and friends. When they reach out, when they emphasise, when they research my condition, when they are just there, when I can talk to them, through the highs and the lows, it makes the world of difference. I can’t emphasise this enough.

I write this not for you to feel sorry for me, because I don’t want that, but because my secret wish is that every bipolar person, mentally ill person, or in fact anyone, had someone there for them. Because sometimes it’s impossible to do it alone.

These people remind you of what is important in life, and nothing is more so than family. Seeing your own kids grown up, your family’s futures, and your friends. These are what’s most important in life.

They are your GPS, when you are lost in a boat in an ocean of your own powerful emotions. They bring you back to shore.

I’m forever grateful for them, and they make me sure I will be okay.

A prayer to my little girl

Dear Abby jade, my darling girl,

May you be happy, first of all
May you grow up never needing anymore than you have
May you learn, grow, discover
May you always be curious and interested

May you have a good life
May you help others when you can
May you be a good person
With flaws but with morality

May you have a family of your own some day
Whether they be your own, or friends
May you have adventures
And laugh a lot

May you have great memories
And may you be there with me
Sharing all this
Till the end of days

Love, Mum

Oma

Vibrant, passionate, loyal, fun-loving, vivacious, eloquent, highly intelligent. These are just a handful of words I would use to describe my aunt. I can think of many more.

My aunt has always been classy, and done the best things. When I was young, a clumsy pre-teen and then teenager, she was always there suggesting a trip up to Melbourne, where we could shop, go to a bookshop, see a movie, or go to the footy. My brother and I loved it, and we were often allowed to bring friends up too, which impressed them no end, and almost certainly gave us a huge amount of street cred back in sleepy old Portland.

Younger still, I remember with a sense of joy and nostalgia her playing Santa – complete with appropriate attire and a Santa hat. She loved giving out the presents to us eager waiting kids, and it was always a ‘big’ event.

Down in Merino, in the middle of bushland, beautiful, shabby and dilapidated, sat her and my uncle’s holiday house. It had an outdoor dunny that scared the hell out of me; it was inhabited by spiders! I have so many fond memories of playing cards inside, cricket outside, and staying up late there.

My aunt can often be found with a cup of tea (no milk), with a nearly completed crossword in her hand. There are few words she doesn’t know the meaning of, and she has the largest vocabulary of anyone I know. And that is saying quite a bit; being, as I am, in the field of academia, regularly conversing with professors, paediatricians and other researchers.

Most importantly, my aunt has a warm, caring heart. She exudes positivity and love in a way few people do. When my father died, and my mother became incompetent and vague shortly thereafter, she helped my brother and I in so many ways. We always felt loved, and important. We were extremely lucky, and I really don’t know where we’d be without her.

She adopted my daughter as if she was her own granddaughter. She is now known as Oma, and I am blessed that my daughter gets to be close, learn, and form a great relationship with her Oma. Not many little girls are as lucky as this. Watching them being so close brings me such joy and happiness.

Everyone who knows my aunt loves her. She is a fun sister, a devoted wife, a fantastic aunt, a beautiful great aunt, and a loyal friend. A wonderful Oma.

To me she is family, and there is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t do for her, and this little family we have created; Oma, Opa, Abby and myself.

An Ode to my Uncle Pete

My uncle Peter is one of the most unique characters you could ever hope to meet. At times he feels more to me like a caricature rather than just merely a character. I mean this in the most endearing, delightful way imaginable.

Undeniably cool, classy and a little bit posh. One of my fondest memories from my childhood is sleepovers at my aunt and uncles place in Melbourne. Their house was beautiful, and extravagant. Portraits of great art, far away countries, liquor companies, and naked women adorned the walls. They had an abundance of intricate glassware, dinnerware, and a variety of other gorgeous things. My uncle had every technological item possible. They did wonderful things – like travel constantly, tell wonderful stories, and they always seemed to life live at the most tremendous pace. They were so much cooler than just about every other adult I’d ever met.

I would have to say that Peter was, and still is, a collector of beautiful things. Everything from trinkets found in hard rubbish, to expensive material possessions, to people.

My aunt Alida is one such beautiful procurement. Not that she would be happy with being called a procurement! When my uncle met my aunt, he knew this was the woman he wanted. He was quite a playboy at the time – and so he went around to each and every girl he was at that time dating, gave them a bunch of flowers and explained that he thought they were great, but that he ‘had met a girl’.

That type of chivalry just doesn’t seem to exist these days.

When my uncle found something beautiful he did not stop until he found a way to get it. And then he spent the rest of his days loving it. There are few individuals I know today who can love as fiercely as my uncle. There is no one who is loved by my uncle, who does not know it.

As well as being intensely loving, my uncle has always been witty and charming. Always the first with a drink in his hand, always the last to bed, and always entertaining his guests in any way he could. Even as a young child, I remember nights of roulette which lasted well beyond a reasonable bedtime. I remember the way he polished, and polished, and re-polished that gorgeous roulette wheel, until it shined, brighter than the sun. My aunt and uncle taught me that one could always have fun, and be young at heart, no matter what age. They still remind me of that every day.

My uncle’s favourite saying at the moment is: ‘This is the good life’. This occurs quite regularly in restaurants, cafes and even when just out shopping, or for coffee. For someone who is losing his memories to a cruel disease, these words comfort me. He is happy. He has been loved, he has people who love him deeply, and he has more experiences than nine lifetimes combined.

He has had a good life, a fantastic life, and he is continuing to live a great one. I am incredibly lucky to know him.

 

Riding the Waves

Having bipolar is like being a tiny boat in a huge, tumultuous storm.

One moment you are being lifted, joyfully, tempestuously up the crest of a wave, faster and faster, until you reach the top. From here the world seems intensely vivid; colours are brighter, and you can see far, far towards the horizon, and even beyond it. The world around you is beautiful, the ocean endless, the surface rippled in undulating waves, like long luxurious silk.

You are on top of the world, and you teeter there, never for a second believing you won’t be anywhere else. Your thoughts race and you entertain numerous luminescent ideas and thoughts at the same time. You experience everything. You are invincible. Nothing exists but this moment – perched upon this giant, magnificent wave. You are happy here, happier than you have ever been before!

You take a breath, and

then you plummet

With incredible, terrifying speed you drop down into the ocean. You plunge below the surface and fall further and further below the murky depth. Terror grips your throat, your lungs expand and contract furiously. Anxiety flaps like a distressed bird in your chest. You cannot breathe.

As you fall, you look up, but all you can see is blackness. A tiny glimmer of light far, far, far above is all the evidence of the brightness of the day, the magnificence of the storm, and the exuberance you felt on the top of that wave. You can no longer remember how it felt. To be so high, in the midst of the storm.

You sink further and further, until you hit the bottom. And then you just lay there. You haven’t the energy to swim back up. You barely have the energy to hold your breath either, and as time passes down on this murky seafloor, you start to wonder if it would not be better to just let go? What is above the water – and the extreme feelings of happiness you felt – were surely just an illusion.

You lay there, trapped within your own desolate thoughts. You don’t want the top of the wave anymore – you can’t remember how good it felt. But you don’t want to be down here on the ocean floor either. You want to be safely floating on the surface. In between the intense, euphoric highs and the desperate, miserable lows.

You let go of the breath you’ve been holding.

You surrender.

But – do not fear..

You do not surrender to the darkness.

Instead you surrender to the surface, to a place where you will be pulled gently this way and that by the quietening storm. Where you will float peacefully and let go, and wait for the next storm. When it will appear, you do not know.

The Many Sides to the Polar Bear

It’s hard to love someone with bipolar. Not just for romantic partners but for family and friends. Never knowing which version of the person you will see, and how they will react. This is a small, very random piece I wrote to attempt to portray this.

 

The first thing he noticed about her was her hair. Voluminous, untamed curls tumbling over her shoulders and down her back. Next was her eyes, huge blue eyes that sparkled. She seemed dynamic to him – restless perhaps? As if her presence here at this moment was transient. He hurried to greet her and sit down, nervous that perhaps if he looked away she would be gone.

She spoke excitedly, jumping from one topic to another. In an endearing way. She twisted the same unruly curl constantly while they talked, a habit he would become familiar with. She was very interested in him, in his life, his world, his thoughts. Her excitement was contagious. He could feel himself being drawn in by her charm and charisma.

She was smart, and beautiful. Definitely out of the ordinary. He liked the way she saw things in a unique way – with an open mind and with honesty and compassion. She shared his passion for life – for dreams and for achieving goals.

Two hours later they were planning trips together, dreaming about taking over the world, starting a business together. Intoxicated with each other and with their ideas rather than with the wine they were sipping.

Two months later he watched as she smiled, her huge eyes sparkling, and said yes. The ring fitted perfectly. It was crazy and impulsive but his heart felt full.

Things progressed like the undulating waves of a rollercoaster. Up and down, chaotic, fast and faster still. Her restlessness had deepened, seemingly to beyond the confines of her being. She began to stay up late, pacing, cleaning, writing, making lists. She never slept and ate infrequently. She never seemed tired but became increasingly anxious and irritable.

He tried to calm her with words of love and affection. She could not be reached.

At other times, the spark left her eyes. Where did it go, he wondered? She moved lethargically and seemed devoid of motivation. She seemed lost, and desperate, like a small child. She did not seem at all like the girl from a week ago. He tried desperately to bring her back. His fear for her sat like a heavy dark rock in his chest. He felt helpless, like a small boat in a chaotic ocean.

One day, he began to forget which version of her he had fallen in love with. Was it the wild, impulsive, enigmatic her? Or the melancholy, sensitive version? He did not know; all he knew was that she seemed to change on a daily basis. He felt exhausted by it. It felt like she was drowning, and pulling him down with her.

The next day he met a girl on the train.

She was plain in comparison to his love, but still pretty. When they talked they spoke of small things. Comforting, normal things. She had a dog, a nice sturdy staffy. They talked about dogs, and walks, and such things. He realised he liked her sweet face, her straight brown hair, her simple clothing, her easy demeanour. She did not change topics wildly or say inappropriate things. When she smiled he knew she liked him.

On the way home he wondered.

 

The thing to remember is that it is all them. And they need you to love them for all of it.

The Not So Secret Life of the Bipolar Bear

Stephen Fry’s sequel to his Emmy-award winning documentary Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive is as sad as it is beautiful. It’s a poignant, delicate look at how the lives of the individuals featured in the original documentary have changed since they were first introduced to us, ten years ago.

For those who don’t know Fry’s original work, I would highly recommend taking a look. Struggling with his recent diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder, after a dramatic suicide attempt involving his car, a garage, his duvet, and a theatrical escape from London, he returns with a fierce desire – to understand more about the disorder, its sufferers, and the hope for treatment. His ultimate desire is to raise awareness – and try to alleviate the stigma – of this misunderstood disorder.

The individuals he interviews in his documentary are likeable, intelligent, and relatable. What is so moving about these individuals is how incredibly honest and brave they are. Their stories are often harrowing and intense, their worries and fears unrelenting. This is their life – their daily struggles in coming to terms with their condition, and what it means for them.

One of the individuals, Cordelia in particular struck a chord with me. Perhaps it is because she is writer, like me. Perhaps it is because she is my age. Or perhaps it is because I could quite easily imagine her as a friend of mine.

She is a beautiful girl, fiercely intelligent, and highly ambitious. Fiesty and confident, the world is her oyster. Her friends are all smart, gregarious and fun. She does brilliantly at school, attends a prestigious university and gains her masters. She is a budding writer whose works have been highly praised in the past, and she is excited about her future.

Then it all falls apart. For no apparent reason, she starts to have episodes which are uncharacteristic, impulsive, irrational, and ultimately dangerous. She begins to go out until very late, with friends – or without. She begins to drink too much, put herself in dangerous situations, becomes promiscuous, and takes risks. She exhibits an inflated sense of self, of self-confidence and inhibition. She believes she is invincible. She begins to her worry those around her with her wild antics.

For those of us with bipolar we can immediately recognise this as mania. For Cordelia, as with most of us, respectively looking back reveals periods of mild hypomanic/manic symptoms – impulsive nights out, crazy social behaviours, seemingly boundless energy at certain times. All considered acceptable in the sphere of youth and university.

The trigger for this plight into mania is vague. Certainly there was stress attached to her masters studies, and an uncertainty about her future. Typical Type-A anxiety relating to her life. She was also highly sensitive and insightful – always questioning and worrying.

After the mania came the inevitable crash. She became lethargic, listless, hopeless, and depressed. She wouldn’t see friends, and could not get out of bed. She began writing in her diary incessantly about this ‘fear’ and how it consumed her. It was always with her.

One of Cordelia’s greatest loves was her writing. When depressed she found she could not write; her ultimate fear. Attached to her writing was her sense of self – and therefore when she could not write, her world become grey and hopeless. As she sank deeper into the disorder she began to doubt all of her abilities, and even her worth as human being. If she could not write, if she could not achieve – who was she?

Cordelia’s story moved me because she had such potential, and she felt like the disorder took it from her. She felt her future slipping away with each day.

Many of us with bipolar feel this way. Many of us were extremely highly functioning before our condition kicked in, and could take on the world with ease, and excel at everything we wanted. We often were social and had wonderful networks of family and friends.

For many of us now, it is an absolute struggle just to get by. It is hard to articulate how unbelievably difficult it can sometimes be just to get of bed, have a shower, get ready, and go about our day. At other times we are manic for long periods (which may seem fun but it is not – believe me!). We become highly energetic, unable to sit still, or relax, or calm our racing thoughts.

I was deeply saddened to see that Cordelia’s story has not adopted a fairytale ending, as I was secretly hoping. In addition to her mental plight she now faces a physical one – she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. C’est la vie

Nevertheless I remain hopeful. Life is an adventure. We play the best with the cards we’re dealt. In the past ten years since the original documentary was aired leaps and bounds have been made in achieving Fry’s original mission. People are beginning to gain an understanding of bipolar, and the stigma – like that of previous mental illnesses such as depression – has lifted significantly. This leads to compassion and acceptance – which helps the sufferer enormously. Treatments are becoming increasingly more effective and more is known about the most successful management strategies for dealing with the condition.

In addition, being bipolar forces an individual to look at their life, their happiness and their choices. What they are grateful for, who they are grateful for, and what they really want in life.

These are all valuable lessons.

 

 zzzsx

Part 2: The Not So Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: 10 Years On by Stephen Fry is available at:

https://vimeo.com/155524243

 

And the original:

The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive by Stephen Fry is available at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj8hqXd7N_A

*links and featured image courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)