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?
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 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’…