Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.
It is reported that 80% of the cause of Bipolar disorder can be attributed to genetics. Bipolar is very often inherited.
I am new to learning about this disease, and the absence of any family history of Bipolar disorder was one of the reasons I was originally so resistant to the idea that I had it. None of my family (immediate or otherwise) had been diagnosed as Bipolar. This fact was one in the “must not have it” collumn.
My dad was a fortress of a man. From a young age he had been encouraged/forced into a life of self reliance, violence and brute confidence. Some of my uncles were born with a visible birth defect, making them perfect targets for the school bullies. Despite my dad being the youngest of them, his mother apparently sat him down one day and told him –
“No one bullies your brothers.”
My dad took on the mandate that he would see to anyone attacking his family in any way. Before long, no one could tell him what to do, including his mother. He was sent off to a boys home for young offenders after some trouble. Once there he quickly made his way through the food chain, his exploits eventually leading to him having a huge punch-up with the games teacher in the gym. My dad knew he wasn’t made of glass…
My mam and dad were independant traders since I could remember. He went to collect money and did most of the negotiating/bartering. My mam tirelessly kept the books and bagged up the goods for loading into the van when dad came home.
This wasn’t a man with a mental illness. He was tough, independant and fiercely loyal to his family. He didn’t periodically run off to persue a career in the Moscow ballet. He didn’t let the world phase him or behave particularly sadly for no reason. He ran his own business with his wife and, by local standards, was incredibly financially successful and always ahead of the curve trying new things. Before he died he had become convinced of the power of the blossoming internet, and in a matter of days had learned to use databasing software and had begun the process of taking the business online.
Upon my diagnosis I spoke candidly to my mam and explained my situation. I told her that I was on medication (a huge taboo where I live) and that I was happy to know what was different about my brain. I wasn’t just an idiot, I have a life threatening illness that needs to be managed, partly with effective drugs.
Since this conversation, small snippets of information about my dad have been revealed to me. He:
Cheated on my mam before I was born multiple times.
Spent any money he could get his hands on.
Would often ‘leap before looking’ in business dealings.
Had a short temper.
Periodically would take to his bed and weep for a few days at a time. When asked what was wrong his response apparently was always the same:
“I’ll be alright. I just need to get my head around it.”
My dad had Manic Depression. I’m certain of it. My mam agrees knowing now what she never could back then about this illness.
My dad once drunkenly went out in the car with one of my uncles. He crashed the car squarely into a tree, breaking three of my uncles ribs. He dragged my uncle from the wreck, told him to not go to the hospital incase the police checked and then ran home. At 4am, my mam woke up, covered in blood and with shards of glass in the bed, to a knock at the door. Leaving my dad still snoring she went downstairs. Opening the door revealed two policemen, asking if we owned a white Datsun. My dad had appeared behind my mam and said “Yeah, why?”- still drunk. The police were very sad to inform them it had been stolen. My dad’s response:
“Bastards! You can’t have anything these days!”
One night, whilst drunk, he reportedly mowed three or four rabbits down in a field with the car, bringing them home in what looked like a blood covered murderwagon and telling my mam: “Skin them, we’ll ‘ave em tomorrow!”.
He was liked by almost all who met him. A loveable rogue is the most apt description of the day. Very confident, charming and funny. No one knew or saw the side my mam did though. No one saw him take to his bed, crippled with depression. No one knew that he could blow all of his money if he didn’t have help to keep it. Very few people saw that he periodically would dig into a new hobby instantly and with all the gusto a man could have. We still have a half-built model aeroplane that he abandoned long before his death.
This may have seemed a somewhat longwinded story to come to an obvious conclusion. My real point, however, needed all of these details to really paint the whole picture.
In working class, northern England, you aren’t mentally ill. Simple, and I don’t for one second believe that area is alone. Even in light of all of the above, my dad wasn’t mentally ill to anyone who knew him. Diagnosis hasn’t been forthcoming in that part of the world, even now. Had he been diagnosed I don’t imagine he would have accepted it anyway.
I know very little of my grandmother from my dad’s side other than she was a LOVELY woman who got on well with everyone and that she had a TERRIBLE gambling problem. These details are also enough smoke for me to believe there was fire.
If, reading this, you are wondering if what you have fits as Bipolar – Just think for a moment about whether you are known as having a short temper, being the life and soul of the party when you’re ‘on form’, being an impulsive spender, hell… being impulsive anything. My dad once had 20+ jobs in one year. The reason for this was always taken that he couldn’t be told what to do by any boss he’d had. He was known for reckless behaviour when he thought something was exciting or funny.
At my first doctor’s appointment I had assumed that I had Major Depressive Disorder (Clinical Depression). When my doctor had me do a test for Bipolar I actually said: “I can’t be Bipolar. I don’t get manic.”. After I supplied my definition of ‘manic’ to the doctor he simply replied :
“Yes. You CAN be Bipolar!”
In the U.K, with the drink culture being how it is especially – You can get away with incredibly extreme behaviour in the name of having a good time. Being ‘kerrrrrazy’ is practically a socially enforced rite of passage for teenagers now. Add to this a phobia of antidepressants, and a crushing stigmatisation of mental illness and of men who accept character flaws or readily show their emotions; you have the perfect situation for mental illness to remain undiagnosed.
Mine is the first generation (I believe) where things like ADHD, Bipolar, Clinical Depression, PTSD e.t.c stand a chance of being shoved out into the open. There is still a huge stigma attached to seeking a diagnosis for mental illness because of the protestant work ethic hangover. Anyone seen to have time off of work for being ‘a bit moody’ would be labelled a shirker, a slacker, lazy.
Be under no illusions if you’re reading this and suspect yourself of this condition – It is a LIFE THREATENING illness. Ignore it at your peril. The signs are probably all there – Don’t assume there is a ring of truth when someone says:
“Everyone gets like that now and then.”
They don’t. Get onto the self-test and take this seriously while it is still a choice.
I’m rooting for you.