The hardest post I will ever write

by Lee Hopkins on January 11, 2010 · 23 comments

in ethics,housekeeping

the double helix splits and colours me with strong shades of night and day - and nothing in-between. Image from http://bipolar.hs.columbia.edu/ This may be the hardest post I will ever to have write. In a way, I am ‘coming out’.

No, I am not gay (although my best man at my wedding was; and so was his partner – what are the odds?!).

I have Bipolar Disorder II.

There, I said it. Publicly [phew!].

No, I don’t want pity, nor do I want to be excluded from events because someone with little or no knowledge of mental disease is worried I’ll do something dangerously psychotic (I’m not psychotic, I can assure you).

Here’s what Beyond Blue say about Bipolar Disorder:

Bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression, involves both periods of feeling low (depressed) and high (mania).

Most people experience a range of moods depending on what’s happening in their lives. When good things happen, like getting a new job, going on a holiday or falling in love, it’s natural to feel happy. On the other hand, when there are difficulties like losing a job or a loved one, having money or family problems, it can make a person feel down.

However, people with bipolar disorder experience extreme moods that can change regularly and may not relate to what is happening in their lives, although their mood swings may be triggered by certain events. For more information see What puts a person at Risk?

[Sydney’s Black Dog Institute is another excellent resource, as is this page]

What happens with me is that I can be delightful and witty and engaging one day, sunk in despair the next, maxing out the credit cards on day three, back into despair on day four, and on and on. At this stage of my just-started treatment there is little of the ‘middle ground’ that the vast majority of the population would call a ‘normal’ day.

I cycle fast through the ups and downs because I have been undiagnosed and therefore untreated for so many decades and my brain now ‘rapid cycles’, which means I could be in a ‘blue funk’ one day and buying flowers for all the women in Adelaide the next.

In my twisted world view, my emotional palette has hues far richer and more subtly nuanced than the average person could ever possibly believe; the ‘highs’ are intoxicating in their beauty and joy – everything glows with beauty, enthusiasm and positivity, my thoughts race at twice (if not more) the speed of the common man; in my ‘manic’ phase I truly believe I am more creative, more bottom-spankingly brilliant than just about anyone else around me.

If only I could permanently live in that ‘hypo’ state, but alas I can’t. The ‘mini-highs’ mutate into mania – where thoughts run too fast to capture, where irritation starts to become outright anger, where sleep is what ‘mere mortals’ do.

After which, of course, comes the inevitable ‘crash’. As in science, what goes up must come down; the higher the flight, the deeper and longer the trudge through the valley floor.

My depths are soul-wrenching and almost beyond bearance. In fact, sufferers of bipolar disorder have a vastly higher rate of suicide than the ‘common man’. You’re not going to convince me that Albinoni’s famous ‘Adagio’ wasn’t written when the man was sobbing his heart out – you can hear the strings weeping! Similarly with Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Opus 11 – whilst it *is* a tad more optimistic than Albinoni’s heart-tearer, you can ‘feel’ the grief. Well, I can, anyway.

 

image
Image courtesy K&J Investigations

All is not lost

But all is not lost. It is only early days of my diagnosis (finally; I’ve suffered from BP since I was a child, but it’s only recently been diagnosed) so my team and I are still working out the right medications and dosages for me.

The list of creative people who have made an impact on the world whilst still suffering from this dreadful, incurable disease is long, including: Adam Ant, Russell Brand, Michael Costa (Australian politician), Ray Davies (the Kinks), Patty Duke, Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry, Paul Gascoigne (English footballer), Mel Gibson, Macy Gray, Graham Greene, Linda Hamilton (Terminator movies), Kay Redfield Jamison, Andrew Johns (Aussie rugby player), Kerry Katona, (English television presenter), Vivien Leigh, Jenifer Lewis (US actress), Kristy McNichol (actress), Edvard Munch, Florence Nightingale (yes, *that* Florence Nightingale), Sinéad O’Connor, Ozzy Osbourne, Jane Pauley, Edgar Allan Poe, Charley Pride, Axl Rose, Michael Slater (Australian cricketer), Sting, Margaret Trudeau, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt Vonnegut, Brian Wilson

Well, you get the idea. The disease, whilst something that will be with me forever, is not the end of the world. It is manageable and treatable, and I am fortunate to have a great team around me helping me do just that: manage it.

Does it hurt my consultancy work or any job prospects?

Are you kidding me? I’m 51 years of age – job prospects were something one had in one’s 30s! No one hires 50-somethings these days. So the consulting life is probably going to be mine unless someone does something unheard of and hire a 50-something for more than just greeting people as they enter the supermarket.

But the medication and the therapy and the maintenance team I have built up around me means that the ‘average’ person (who didn’t know my past, nor my present condition) would have no clue as to the disease playing ‘hidey’ with what some have laughingly called my ‘brain’.

So why ‘come out’, Lee?

I wanted to be ‘out and proud’, as it were. Having only recently been diagnosed with Bipolar, I wanted to let the world and my friends know that I suffer from a disease, but that I am *not* the disease.

In other words, “Lee Hopkins suffers from Bipolar Disorder, not Lee Hopkins is Bipolar”. Just like diabetes, Bipolar Disorder is manageable, treatable but also incurable. Like a diabetic I have to watch what stimulants I intake (endless coffees, late nights and bucket loads of alcohol are three that will have to go), but in return I get to live a life with far less of the crushing burden of depression, far fewer times when I can turn around and see the ‘black dog’ faithfully padding along just behind me.

Far fewer times, too, when my thoughts race like a shotgun cartridge of pellets let loose in a paint tin on a paint tin shaker at the hardware shop.

So all I ask is that you understand if I leave your party early, just as it’s getting interesting. Or that you understand when takes me a couple of days to respond to your email or voicemail that it’s not a deliberate snub – just my disease telling me to ‘slow down and smell the roses’.

Or that you understand that my wearing by ear buds whilst working at your premises is also not a snub, or me trying to be ‘hip’; it’s just me listening to something soothing to stop the thoughts racing, or else it’s just me listening to something positive to stop a slide down the snake before it gets going.

To help myself, I’ve also started a depression and bipolar blog: DepressionAndBipolar.info – stop by and say ‘hello’ if you like.

So there you have it: “Lee Hopkins has Bipolar Disorder.” Just sayin’…


  • servantofchaos

    Good on you for sharing, Lee. Hope your new treatment regime helps iron out the peaks and troughs!

  • http://lindajohannesson.com/ Linda Johannesson

    Lee,
    You are a brave, engaging and talented man and I hope you know how much you are appreciated (regardless of where you are within your emotional spectrum). This post has taught us something. But then again, that's what you do best!
    Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.ben.hamilton.id.au/ Ben Hamilton

    Bravo! Publicly admitting to such is daunting however I can tell you from experience that a problem known is a problem halved.

    Looking forward to continuing to read/watch your quality posts.

  • tarale

    Well done for sharing. As I've mentioned, I suffer from Major Depression, so I can understand a little of what you mean: the black dog parts anyway.

    I hope your treatment is going well. :) I think I'm supposed to avoid all of those things (caffeine, late nights, alcohol) as well, but it's hard to give them all up entirely. :( How are you finding cutting down/giving up?

    Good luck with it all :) If you need someone to chat to you know where to find me.

  • http://www.chrisfoster.tv chrisfoster

    All the best Lee, I'm living in the CBD if you ever want to hook up over a cuppa

  • http://www.seggr.com/ Luke

    Lee…thanks for this post. I wish you the best with your treatment.

    On a very serious note though…I am not sure that the list of 'creatives' you quote as having bi-polar is accurate or useful. Effectively, this is the problem; so many people dismiss many of the problems associated with such conditions as bi-polar because of people like those in this list. Suspiciously, many of these people have claimed to have BP when it suits them best…and hence the skeptic in me says “yeah mate, nice try to get our sympathies – betcha channel 9 loved it too”

    The thing is, no-one has the courage to come out and call their bluff – but I do believe it does make it harder for real sufferers (like you) to be taken seriously!

    Finally, I see you may have just realised this in the last few days…but it seems to me that consulting is not a profession that would be good for your condition? As you have discovered, sole trading, and business ownership is not an past time for the feint hearted..so I commend you on looking for some 'certainty' in your life as you move ahead.

    Some tough comments here I know, but heck, I hope it all helps and adds up to a better conversation!

  • ronnaporter

    Well done, Lee, first of all for seeking treatment rather than continuing to pretend its not a possibility (as I do!) I hope that 'coming out' also helps you to deal with the lows better, while making the most of all the great things that make you the Lee Hopkins we all know (if even from a distance) and love.

  • murfomurf

    Hey Lee- it's OK- when I first met you at the Bloggers Meetup at Bocelli I thought- 'aha this charmingly talkative fellow is a bit hypomanic'! I thought you were long ago diagnosed and treated- didn't realise you were still underground. Perhaps you're the last one to know, as the old story goes. There are heaps of local Facebook, Twitter and other networking peeps who have a mental health issue- some of us blog about it as a way of getting it out. As for the job thing- at least you have established consultancies- I'm just (far) over 50 with nothing much at all- quite depressing for me (on top of lifelong major depression). I reckon things will just continue on as usual for you, but you'll feel better about it all- which is great! No one these days tends to abandon colleagues because of a label- although they're more likely to do it when the label is a suburb in Adelaide, let's face it!

  • http://www.acidlabs.org/ Stephen Collins

    Well done, Lee. Sharing these things is beyond challenging.

    That you're now diagnosed and getting treatment is Step 1 of a long journey and you have my support, as ever. You know where to find me.

  • SueHorner

    Lee, you are indeed delightful, witty and engaging! Get your meds right and you will be able to stay that way, perhaps on a more even scale. That seems to be the tricky part – the disease fools you into thinking you're doing okay and don't need medication, and then another crash occurs. Knowing what you're dealing with is half the battle. All the best to you.

  • donnapapacosta

    Oh, Lee. It sounds like your life journey will be more enjoyable on an even keel. I wish you all the best, my creative, talented and lovable friend.

  • http://twitter.com/nlopes Nuno Machado Lopes

    Hi Lee,

    Though we have never met, I have heard you endless times on FIR and never thought you were all there – yet that's what makes it great.

    I know so many people that leave the party early, take weeks to reply to emails, wear ear buds at work (I believe some actually sleep with their bluetooth headset either because they forget or still think its cool) and don't suffer from anything clinically proven.

    Though Im lucky in the sense that Im not entirely sure as to the benefiit of coming out, I respect it and somehow think it reasonably sane coming from you.

    You will obviously cope with this as your apetite for challenges seems never ending.

    Look forward to reading more insanely great stuff!
    Cheers
    Nuno from suuny Portugal

  • http://blog.wonderwebby.com/ Jasmin Tragas

    Hi Lee. I can imagine that would have been very difficult to write and share. But I'm glad you have – thankyou for sharing. I hope that it also helps others who might be in a similar situation.

    I hope this year will be positively refreshing as a result of the diagnosis and treatment.

  • http://doingwords.com alan jones

    Good on you for opening up about it Lee, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by learning to accommodate it publicly. It's already part of your public persona, it's just that now it has a name.

    I've experienced bipolar symptoms sometimes in the past though not yet for more than one cycle.

    I'm going to start reading your new blog to learn more. If there's anything I can find to contribute, I'll let you know.

  • Samantha

    Oh Lee, your followers won't be just following – they'll be at your side. I hope your courageous post and your latest blog bring you a whole heap of new fans who love you as much as we do. Go gently. x

  • http://twitter.com/thornley Joseph Thornley

    Lee, it takes a lot of courage to make yourself vulnerable by being open. Good on you, mate. My respect for you has grown tremendously.

  • http://www.LeeHopkins.net/ Lee Hopkins

    Thank you, everyone, for your support and kind words. You probably have only an inkling of an idea how much they mean to me!

    I totally agree with you, Luke, that those 'lists of celebrities' with [name your disease] turns what is in reality a crippling disablement into something desirable, as though it was the disease itself that was the cause of the sufferer's success.

    As a failed singer-songwriter who went to England to become the 'next Sting' [who is also bipolar, as it turns out], I can attest by personal example that 'talent' will find a way to wriggle out from behind the clenched fist, whereas those with little or no talent will never be successful even if they have all the 'sexy' diseases under the sun.

    As Stephen Fry once remarked about Hollywood, it seems like the whole world wants a disease that is killing off its real sufferers at a horrific rate.

    And to answer your question about solo/soho consulting, Luke, you are right — what I *need* is the regimen of a semi-structured yet still autonomous company job; the reality is that at 51 years of age I'm not hanging by a rope waiting for someone to offer me one, so the consulting life is probably going to remain. But if there's a vacancy going, Joe, I'll consider relocating :-)

  • http://twitter.com/edwardharran Edward Harran

    Awesome Lee.
    I admire your courage and openness. It reminds me to do the same – to be all that I am. Full stop. Fuck em.

  • http://www.miningthestore.com/ Mike Buckley

    Lee, you're in my thoughts and prayers. Some day “society” may come to accept mental illness as exactly what it is, an illness. By “coming out” you have done a great service to others who suffer the same disorder. Your accomplishments show that a person with bipolar disease can be a productive member of society.

    In fact, your awareness of the disease will make you superior to the so-called “normal” people.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.LeeHopkins.net/ Lee Hopkins

    Thank you to all who tweeted support about my self-disclosure. I have left a lifetime trail of destruction in my wake; truly I am so sorry.

    My ex-fiance from England, Lynne Millward-Purvis, mother of Ollie, the only person who I have ever loved more than life itself, has a lovely saying on her Facebook page:

    “often we only discover what we wanted to say once we have said it, and who we are once we have seen what we have done”

    As I reflect on the lifetime trail of destruction, of the enraged and baffled former friends, of employers left scratching their heads wondering “what caused THAT?”, of lovers who were swept up by my romance and then unceremoniously dumped a week later, I am angry for the lost opportunities, angry that this disease and my 'self-medication with alcohol' [the worst thing I could have done, it turns out] has taken away most of the things that most people of my age take for granted: financial security of sorts, a loving family, a steady career progression, and so forth.

    I have none of these things anymore, because bipolar disorder has sabotaged my behaviours and upset the apple carts too many times to be counted (and indeed remembered).

    Because I cannot remember you all and cannot contact everyone individually who I have ever hurt or caused bewilderment in, I do it via this post. I am truly sorry and for many of you I understand that you cannot forgive me.

    I shall now disappear for a bit and regroup. I may be gone awhile, I may be gone a day and come back because I miss you all — who knows.

    But thank you, everyone, for such unbelievable kindness and hopefully I can thank you in person one day.

  • SarahStewart

    Hi Lee, thank you very much for this post. I wish you all the best and hope now that you are getting treatment that you feel better. You are in the company of Stephen Fry has has made the most informative doco about BP. It opened my eyes to how debilitating this illness can be.

    I will be interested to see how you view the world, and others view you now you have written this post. Do you feel that mental disease is one of society's last taboos?

    Sending you all my best wishes, Sarah

  • http://www.justanotherprblog.com/ Karalee

    Lee, your bravery in 'coming out' and telling your story with the struggle of mental ill health, is to say the least, remarkable. The words you have written have gone a long way in helping me relate to the struggle of my brother, who despite not yet being diagnosed, is quite similar to your description of the joys and tragedies of the highs and lows.

    I sincerely wish you all of the positive vibes to continue to be brave, successful and open, in your journey.

    - karalee

  • Steven Lewis

    Good on you, Lee. I lived with someone with a condition that shares some of the symptoms you described ,so I have an excellent idea of the impact what you described can have on you and the people around you.

    Because people don't talk about it, it can be very lonely for all concerned so well done for sharing. By doing so you'll be lightening the load of others. Best of luck with the treatment.

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