Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cracking up or Breaking down?

Whilst writing about Jeanette Winterson's  break down in my  recent post What doesn't kill you I remembered a post I did six years ago after watching Stephen Fry talk about his own problems with manic depression or bipolar disease, as it is now known.  It seems just as relevant today so I'm posting it again.

Stephen opened his programme ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depresssive’by telling us that after three performances of Simon Gray’s ‘Cell Mates’ he had left the West End Theatre and walked out of the play.  I knew about this but what I didn’t know was that he took a duvet from his flat to seal the door of his garage and sat in his car for two hours staring at the ignition key.  It wasn’t a cry for help, he said; he wanted to kill himself.

He fled to Europe and after a week returned to hospital where – aged thirty seven he was diagnosed as being bipolar.  He went for a long break to America asking was he mad and how did he get the disease.  He said there are four million people in the UK who suffer from this and many of them may commit suicide.  He wanted to know what triggered it, was he getting better or worse and was it the correct diagnosis.  He decided to talk to others.  He was told in L.A. ‘You don’t need to be gay or Jewish to get on here- just bipolar.’

For years he has kept quiet about his illness but now wants to speak out. He met his friend Robbie Williams in L.A.  Robbie had been told he was not manic depressive – just ‘dead upset.’  He said his drug of choice was fantasy to escape depression and boost his self esteem.  He lost ‘the cog’ to socialise but could perform brilliantly before thousands of people.  He used the classic method of alcohol and drugs.  Then he was prescribed anti-depressants and they worked.  Stephen said that he was manic in real life.

Stephen next visited Carrie Fisher who, he said lived on the edge of sanity – not mad enough to be hospitalised but not sane enough to live a normal life.  She described her ‘highs’ where she is manically enthusiastic about everything and everybody and spins out of control imagining she is getting messages from deep space.  She was asked ‘Does your doctor know you behave like this?’  And then she would cry for four hours at a time.  She was diagnosed and is on medication but half the sufferers are not diagnosed.

It is not easy to diagnose and Stephen found that a brain scan doesn’t show any difference to a normal brain.  He went to Cardiff University where they are trying to find a bipolar gene and had his DNA taken.  There isn’t a single bipolar gene and there is no clear cut test.  The psychiatrist asked Stephen many questions and built a medical history.

Stephen was nearly expelled from prep school and was from Uppingham.  He used to cut games and wander over the rooves of the school.  He said he was a ‘show off’ a ‘loud mouth’ and ‘impossible.’  He met his old house master who remembered giving him permission to go to London and he didn’t return.  He had been to see ‘Clockwork Orange’ The Metropolitan Police were called and a psychiatrist said he had a mild depressive illness with ‘some brain damage’

He stole although he didn’t need to.  The school laid a trap in Matron’s room and everybody was very shocked to discover the thief was Stephen.  Stephen said the stealing was ‘nerve wracking but a real buzz.’  It was just called ‘bad behaviour’  He stole credit cards and then had a manic episode aged seventeen where he bought ridiculous suits and drank cocktails at the Savoy.  He was arrested and sent to Pucklechurch Prison.

When his mother visited him in prison bringing him crosswords, he was very upset.
He found prison very like boarding school.  He reckoned that every five years a ‘huge storm ‘would come.  First there would be depression and then 6/12 later a manic phase;’a Tourette's view of yourself – a complete arsehole.’  He attempted suicide.

He travelled again to the USA and found they diagnose children much earlier and thus are treated earlier.  In the UK they don’t label sufferers until aged nineteen.  He met a family where the two young sons were both bipolar.  Some are diagnosed as young as three years.
Stephen thinks that great stress can push you into Manic depression.  He suffers great stress before his many public appearances but thinks the illness has probably helped his brilliant career.

He met Rod in Cornwall who had been an officer on the Royal Yacht for four years.  He had a break down and went to France where he hallucinated and saw sea gulls as soldiers who had been killed and he thought he was Jesus.  He was hospitalised and decided to escape.  He walked onto a motorway and stepped in front of a lorry.  He showed his mangled legs – a legacy of that incident.  That was ten years ago and now he is stabilised.  He wouldn’t change his illness because he has ‘walked with angels.’

Stephen interviewed the chef Rick Stein whose father was manic depressive and hurled himself from the cliffs in Cornwall where Rick lives.  His concern is if he or his sons would develop the illness.  He also spoke to Tony Slatterley who had suddenly plunged into manic depression ‘out of the blue – for no reason.’  He rented a warehouse and stayed alone for months.  He called it his dark hour but – like most of the others – if given the choice to get rid of the illness would not.

A young mother knew that pregnancy was very dangerous for her condition and reluctantly decided not to have any more children.  It was said that somewhere in the sufferers history there would be another family member who had been bipolar – not necessarily diagnosed.
Another woman in her forties was the one person who bitterly regretted having Manic Depression.  ‘I don’t see the future’ she said.  She had attempted suicide a number of times – once by using an electric drill in her head.

Stephen reckoned that he was lucky to be at the mild end of Manic Depression but the psychiatrist thought differently and by the end of the programme Stephen said he must consider treatment and that his life needs to change dramatically.

It is not a very cheerful subject but I think Stephen Fry is doing a great service by bringing this out into the open.  When families are struck by this illness they shouldn’t have the added burden of having to hide it.  I did this post specifically for an overseas friend and apologise for any mistakes but shorthand is all Greek to me.
More information can be got from


granny p said...

Horrible condition. I know some. An ex-sister-in-law among others. Not nice, either. for relations/spouses/children etc. Medication pretty horrible too. Wish I could have seen the programme - or perhaps not. Thanks for writing about it though.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Pat, my friend, you are a sweet, sweet angel to write all that for some nutter reader of your's.

Thank you, m'darling. Love ya!

R. Sherman said...

The good news is that medication can moderate the effects substantially. The problem is that many with bipolar disorder will go off their meds during the "highs" which of course causes a relapse.

You're right. Knowledge and understanding are the keys.


Sim said...

I only caught this 15 minutes in, and felt so sorry for Stephen. The worst moment for me was watching Rod. I recognised each place and as he re-enacting his suicide, I realised where he jumped in front of the lorry was the bus stop I used as a school girl. I felt for them all.

PI said...

fjl: thank you for your comment.

randall: going off medication - that is a real hazard and a nightmare for the parents/family etc.

PI said...

sim: it was very sad and amazing that on the whole they wouldn't choose to change their condition. For some reason I was very moved by Tony Slatterley.


Never tried to kill myself before. Just thought about it. Then had another beer or joint or whatever instead. Got caz n Jax now so no probs. I like Stephen Fry a lot. Glad he's still around.

PI said...

4d: I'm glad you're still around!

crisiswhatcrisis said...

I go on at far too great a length about this today, too. Oh, hang on, I didn't mean you went on too long, just that I did ... ooops. Sorry. Move on.

Brave programme: brave of all the contributors to take part, particularly those who are in the public eye and must know that they will bear a stigma now. The whole subject needs much more of a soapbox: society in general should surely take a more sympathetic stance? Hopefully a positive step in the right direction last night.

Talking of which, fjl: I read your blog, you write well enough, and your comment was cynical and beneath you, I thought. If only moving on was that easy. If only. Feel free to come to my page and debate it.

apprentice said...

I think it was a worthwhile programme. I'd have liked less emphasis on the celebs though, and more on the real people, as I would suspect their treatment options are fewer than the well off folks.

I've known a few and hear of a few through my husband's work. It's true the highs are euphoric and people do go off their meds to experience them. Can't say I blame them it must be amazing to have all that energy and creative thinking power before it goes pear shaped.

Post my illness I had a situational depression, in part for chemo inducing early mrenopause, and because the cancer drugs suppress any residual trace if oestrogen in the body. It was bloody awful and my heart goes out to anyone who experiences regular/continual depression.

I think the more honest we are about all health conditions the better it is for all of us.

I find I appreciate elderly, disfigured and disabled people more now after my treatment, as I know from my crappy chemo days what a supreme effort just getting to shops can be if you are physically and emotionally frail.

My cancer therapist says my illness has given me the facility to feel others' pain. I find that a good thing and a bad thing, but it certainly makes me feel more human.

PI said...

crisis: if I went on too long it's because I was trying to reproduce it verbatim for my friend Sam. Of course it isn't possible but ideally people will read your post also and get the full monty. I agree with what you say and have commented more fully on yours.

PI said...

crisis: if I went on too long it's because I was trying to reproduce it verbatim for my friend Sam. Of course it isn't possible but ideally people will read your post also and get the full monty. I agree with what you say and have commented more fully on yours.

PI said...

Leave my comment box alone you blogger you!

apprentice: I'm sorry you had to experience depression as I'm sure you had enough to contend with. I think you are a very strong person - that's not to take away anything from your shining courage.
One thing we all agree about is -get it out in the open. I know what you mean about celebrities but they can highlight a problem.
You have to protect yourself sometimes whilst feeling others pain.

fjl said...

You are way too soft. I've written quite the contrary analysis- feel free to come and check it out.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Pat, I loves ya, hun.

One of these days I'm coming to visit you so you might want to start looking into selling up and moving on anonymously to hide. Just giving you fair warning!

If, in your memoirs, you suddenly reveal that you tempted a monk away from his Godly life with your body, or spent the 60s breakfasting on babies-on-toast, or were responsible in some way for the crucial character-forming stages of Mr. G. W. Bush, it will not cause me to stop adoring you for a second; for you are one of life's goodies and I feel lucky and delighted to have stumbled across your blog these many months ago.

You're what my grandpa would call " thoroughly decent" and that is the highest praise I can think of for anyone. I don't mean decent in the sense that you're obviously a nice English lady leading a good and decent life; I don't mean decent in the tea and cucumber sandwiches and behaves-well-in-church sense; I mean that you have a decent, kind, generous soul and these come equally in charming English lady packages and Hells Angels, profane and hairy packages.

Right, I'll stop embarrassing us both now. We are British after all! Living in California has taken its gushy toll. (Funny thing is it's quite liberating! I don't mind it nearly as much as I thought I would).

Thank you for taking the time and effort to take all these notes and type them up like that, for some random bozo you happened to meet on the internet. Best to you, Pat. Love ya. Now give us some more memoirs!

PI said...

fjl: thanks i will.

sam: I like 'decent' thanks a lot. I hope I'm not a 'hairy package' - don't want the dreaded bristles! Memoirs will follow anon:)

kenju said...

My ex-son-in-law's brother is bi-polar and I think he was too. What I am afraid of is that any of his 4 kids might turn up with it too; one of the boys already shows signs of it and he is 10.

PI said...

Judy: I'm sorry to hear that. It is, I'm sure, much more common than most people realise. The first reaction is to try to hush it all up. Terrible grammar but yuo know what I mean.

Guyana-Gyal said...

This is something that's not discussed at all here. I know only one woman who talks openly about it, her husband was bi-polar, and now her daughter is.

I don't know who Stephen Fry is but I admire him for talking about it. I think the more the brave ones bring it out in the open, it will encourage others to go seek help more readily.

Life of a Banana said...

Well I think I told you that Dolly and I know Stephen and his in-laws.

I've to admit that I'm a sufferer of that terrible illness. My life has been hell and walking with demons for the past two years. Although my condition is not as bad as Stephen's, but I fear that I may do something harmful to myself one day.

It's very hard to talk about the illness and one tends to live in an isolated world... that world is very scary.

PI said...

GG: Stephen Fry is so many things:-actor (played Oscar Wilde in the film - Jeeves in bertie Wooster)writer, presenter, comedian and brilliant wit. He is well worth a google. You either love him or not but not can gainsay the fact that he i multi-talented.

banana: it is very brave of you to admit it honey. You are not alone and I send you warmest good wishes.

apprentice said...

Pi thanks for the kind words. You are thoroughly decent person and we're all lucky to know a wee bit about you.

Banana, yes you are brave, not just admitting to the illness, but in trying to change your life too, which i think you are actively trying to do.

PI said...

apprentice: thank you.

zoe said...

pat, this is where i tried to leave a comment yesterday - but couldn't. your post really moved me and i'm annoyed that i didn't see this programme as i suffer from depression too, have tried suicide several times - but not since the birth of my children.

you wrote this beautifully and i had a whole lot of gumpf to say yesterday but as i've not been well today, have now forgotten what it was!

thank god stephen fry is around - and lovely people like you, pat.

PI said...

Zoe: I'm glad you persevered and got through eventually. Blogger loves to play these tricks. I really value your comment Zoe and I know others will so thank you and, as you know, you are not alone:)