Copyright© 2011 Kit Johnson
All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner
First published 2011
This edition published 2012
A Lifetime’s Preoccupation
Dedicated to my lovely, adorable daughter who is the one constant in my life, and whom I love so much. I turned extreme mental anguish into motivation and it’s a message of hope for everyone who suffers from Bipolar. God gave me Bipolar – but he also made me funny!
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
To The Samaritans, a marvellous institution which I managed to avoid calling for reasons of pride and embarrassment. It’s pure luck that I am still here to type these words, and I was wrong. If this book stops anyone from committing suicide, which is, as Camus said, the ‘ultimate irrevocable’, then put embarrassment to one side and call them.
I am pleased and proud to state that a % of the profits from this book will be donated to The Samaritans.
About the author
Kit Johnson, despite the self deprecation all too evident in ‘his story’, has managed to enjoy a significant business career. Though undoubtedly he did not fly quite as high as his talents suggested, he nonetheless garnered a degree of expertise and recognition, particularly in the fields of coaching and mentoring.
It is one of the more hackneyed clichés that many of us are apt to ‘do as I say and not as I do’ and this applied to him more than most. His intuitive skills, borne no doubt from a lifetime of self absorbed analysis, gave him real insight into the issues and problems of others, but pointedly, and with amusing irony, he has never managed to sort himself out.
Much of his life could be reasonably characterised as huge effort followed by failure, but with age and experience, he learned to cease looking for a silver bullet solution, and determined to manage the condition, and to do so by laughing at its absurdities. It proved to be a pivotal moment, and one which ultimately lead to this book. He discovered through blogs and contributions to mental health bodies and magazines, that he had the gift of making a grim subject both palatable, and indeed amusing.
His approach will not suit everyone, and nor does he suggest that humour is the answer. It was for him and it may well help many see the condition in a different light, but the message is one of hope and optimism. He has managed to be successful on the Krypton Factor (A British TV show), enjoy a high profile business career, build two businesses, and be a prominent and amusing After Dinner Speaker, where he can bring the subject of living with Bipolar to a wide audience and help break down the stigma associated with mental illness.
Not the Olympic 1500 metre champion he dreamt of being, or the Great White Hope Heavyweight who knocked out his hero Muhammad Ali, but someone who has managed to enjoy a decent degree of success, despite being burdened by the condition that is Bipolar. It’s a story of hope triumphing over disaster.
To you the reader
If you find the book has helped you in some way I am profoundly pleased. Whilst my primary aim was catharsis and self-healing, I am dedicated to assisting others who feel they have no voice, or hope, or understanding. You are not a lunatic, or a bad person or anything else, you simply have a brain that doesn’t quite wire up as it should. Your affliction is no worse than any other birth defect, or acquired condition, and no less socially unacceptable.
Of course, I hope this book is also read by people who are fortunate to not have my condition or anything similar, and that it amuses you and touches you in some small way, and helps you better understand what a trial Bipolar and it ‘siblings’ can be.
You can reach me or follow me on
This book is not for the faint hearted or the easily offended. It was not written with any forethought in that respect, and in no way is there any intention to offend.
But I make no apologies for the content. I determined to say it just as it is, to use an old cliché, and when editing, I avoided the temptation to clean up my act. Bipolar burdens the holder with a compulsion to shock, and a need to be dramatic. Thus there are few attempts to be elegant, overwhelmed as one is towards self indulgence. The euphoric phase often brings risky behaviour, a high sex drive, and a ‘the hell I will’ approach to everything. My humour follows suit.
Humour intersperses the content like mortar in a brick wall, and like mortar, it’s what has held me together at times: so I make no apologies for the frequent interruptions in flow to tell a joke that for me reinforces the narrative, and the absurdities of the condition. And that inherent need to shock means the jokes are invariably bawdy.
You have been warned!
Last week I tried to commit suicide, not a pathetic crie-de-coeur, but a full on attempt. I’ve always been partial to the Lake District and I drove to the far end of a little visited gem of a lake called Haweswater. It fulfilled my needs on a number of levels; one cannot drive further – it’s a dead end – which seemed poetic; it’s not an area that emits mobile signals, and finally, it’s eerily beautiful. The latter point is heightened by its provenance. Ten metres or so below the surface sits the village of Mardale, forever submerged by reservoir flooding in 1935. In times of severe drought, like 1975, the village walls and foundations rise up from the waters like a ghostly apparition. So it seemed right. I gathered the tools of my imminent extinction, namely 30 pills or so and a bottle of Scotch, and headed off around the lake to the remotest spot I could find. There I sat, not a sound to be heard, and nothing moving but a Hawk drifting high above the surrounding peaks. My only thought was that I’d better not die on my back, as the bird might well peck my eyes out long before I was discovered. As if that mattered, but the daftest notions wash through your head when it’s spinning. It’s akin the one’s mother calling out to her six year old in the street, “have you got clean underwear on?” To which the reply is “why?” and she replies “in case you get run over” Bizarre, but true, and one shared by many.
As I once introduced myself at an After Dinner speaking engagement,
I am what my Mother made me – an over anxious, over achieving neurotic with clean underwear
I crammed the pills into my mouth and swigged ferociously at the Malt Whisky. I guessed this was the least painful solution - and it’s not something you practice is it? Dependent upon your point of view, my inexperience lead to a miracle of sorts, if surviving could be classed as that. I was not a whisky drinker by habit, so the combination of 30 odd pills lubricated by strong liquor was way more than my stomach could take, and without warning, I projectile vomited the contents over my lap. Yuk. I’d checked the internet on how many pills would do it, but the search proved inconclusive, other than to suggest it was not as easy as one might imagine. Too many and you will vomit and too few you won’t die, but you will possibly wreck your kidneys and liver. My poor wife thought I was going to do something unspeakably dumb and had called the police. And so on my way back home, already feeling I’d failed in life and at suicide, I get arrested. As you will see, my relationship with my wife deteriorated as time progressed from that fateful day in March 2007, so having me arrested was a mixed blessing at best.
At the time it felt like the final insult- not even able to get this right. As the days passed, I decided to put pen to paper. Not from some ‘he wrote it so that others may live’ altruism, but as an effort to understand myself. But as others will see, if other people end up reading this, a seriously cyclothymic personality can be eye balls out committed one day, and slothful to the point of rigor mortis the next. Staying power is not one of the conditions plus points. It gives you the creativity and dramatic mindset to deliver an excellent of piece of work, but with metronomic frequency you will likely as not have ripped it up before you ever finished it: and carelessness too, as with typos – which no doubt may make the odd jarring appearance. I was adjudged careless that way as long ago as being a five year old.
Sitting next to a ‘sniffer’ on a plane this week ( the reader should set aside what week as I am writing this in real time and no doubt it will take some years to finish – if ever ) made me even more determined to try and earth all this angst. Though hard for me to imagine, I doubt if anyone else was paying any attention to this at all, but all I could focus on was counting the seconds before he slurped another slug of snot up his nasal passages. After getting to around 200 sniffs over 3 hours, I finally blew a gasket and threw him my napkin and exhorted him to ‘please do the whole plane a favour and blow your f****** nose!’
If you haven’t already come across the term, tmesis, you will be aware of it now. I use it a lot. It describes the linguistic action when one splits a word with another, often for emphasis. Allow me to be more prosaic, take abso–f******-lutely. Now do you get it? There are no experts (lots of charlatans though ) in Cyclothymia, and you have to become you own shrink. For me it’s like being on the cusp of Tourette’s Syndrome – the compulsion and obsessiveness being very similar. So we like expletives and filth! The desire to shock at times is overwhelming and any attempt at self-control at those moments vanishes like early morning mist. So please excuse me if at times my comments are offensive to any reader, or if my jokes are deemed sexist, lavatorial, or both. They will be. The book is of no value to me, nor you, if I attempt to clean up my act. You have been warned as they say. You may be pleased to have already noted that I have disguised the F word with asterisks in the style of our newspapers, though the whole effort seems a charade, as we all know what the word is: and the word pops up more than ‘thank you Doctor’ on the average soap these days. And there’s another minor wrinkle in my capacity to notice daft things that others miss. Just why is it that whenever there is a hospital scene, the screenwriters seem wholly unable to summon up more than ‘thank you Doctor’. And in some soaps the said Doctor is truly eponymous! – brain tumour? yes its him again, that’s right he’s now a psychiatrist, blimey what a guy, now he’s a gynaecologist! That’s maybe a good place to mark the condition in a small way, as most readers will chuckle and think ‘you know he’s dead right’. But with me, it really grinds my gears and I ended hitting the remote saying ‘I can’t watch this rubbish!’ Much to my daughters chagrin.
Back to the plane story, I know that if I asked my closest seated neighbours if he was ‘doing their head in’, I might find that he was, but most people can tune out. I can’t, even if death was the consequence of not doing so. So here I am, bashing out the words that are pouring from my brain like a cataract. If you are reading this, it means I succeeded in finishing it – hoorah! – A first for me and a boost for others like me.
And as for words pouring out, take it in the most literal sense. The words do: and since my brain never stops, nor do I ever relax, then so shall my story reflect that. In other words, forget content pages, page breaks, chapters, and sub sections. From start to finish, this is going to be a mindless ramble. I figure if the reader sometimes feels lost or exhausted by the leaping about, then that in itself is a pointer to what I am like.
The plane story is far from isolated. Even minor things irritate and get under the skin. Take the 9 items or less queue in a typical supermarket. I am compelled to count how many items customers have in their basket, especially those ahead of me in the queue. And if someone has 10 or more I cannot hold my tongue. On the one hand I am right and these people are taking the piss, but in the overall scheme of things and life in general, it’s not worth getting worked up about at all!! But all I can say is that in the cold light of day, such common sense deserts me when it happens. My daughter can see it coming even before it happens and senses a change in my body language. Usually she says – “uh oh you’re going to embarrass me”. Thankfully when she says that, I desist, but not always.
They used to say all you needed to be successful in Hollywood was to be Jewish and Gay. But now the Holy Trinity in Tinsel town is to be Jewish, Gay and Bipolar. One out of three is not going to qualify me, so I guess I could change my name to Goldstein, undergo some corrective surgery, but sorry, I’m not turning ginger for anyone. For the non Brits the term ginger is cockney rhyming slang for ginger beer – aka queer. Forsooth! Gadzooks! as they might say in Shakespeare’s day, I have already offended by using the term queer. Sorry but there it is – PC I’m not. On that point, I recall a radio broadcast in which someone was being castigated for using the term gay to describe a car. It was all pretty trivial, but what really got to me was the gay’s insistence that the guy in context had somehow hijacked the term. Au contraire my dear fellow! ‘Tis they who have laid claim to the word gay, which until say twenty years ago may have simply described happy. A Battle of Britain hero could well have been termed a gay blade. I guess he might be less than thrilled were he called that today. In fact, my worry is that homosexuality is going to be made compulsory in a few years. As a rampantly heterosexual guy, I am unnerved by how gay is seemingly becoming the default position for men. More of my prejudices later – and before gays switch off, no, I am not homophobic, but feel it’s too in my face: and I should be allowed to say so. We live in a world where one is not allowed to say anything – well not me, and not with my condition! To coin a phrase I’m coming out! Nor am I racist. Let me demonstrate.
A Welshman, Scotsman, Irishman and Englishman are captured by the Taliban. The Mullah asks each of them have they any last requests before he kills them?
The Welshman says yes I’d like a Welsh male voice choir to sing Land of my Fathers.
He asks the same of the Scotsman.
He replies I’d like a mass Pipe Band to play Flower of Scotland
And what about you Irishman?
I’d like to see 100 dancers perform the Riverdance please.
Then he turns to the Englishman and says what’s your last request?
‘F****** kill me first!’
I’m Bipolar, or more correctly Cyclothymic. The doctor said you’re rapid cycling, and I said ‘but I haven’t ridden a bike in years’. One could be forgiven for thinking that sufferers were afflicted with uncontrollable wind, rather like the staid Victorian term ‘the vapours’ applied to that condition. Not proud of being Bipolar, but I accept it. Actually that’s bullshit – I hate it. Perhaps I can look forward to the day when we are fully liberated and can walk down Fifth Avenue celebrating Bipolar Pride Day. Let’s hope not. It would be bloody disorderly.
It’s probably an appropriate juncture to detail what the condition is. Cyclothymia is a serious mood disorder that causes hypomanic and depressive episodes. Symptoms of the dysthymic phase include continuously feeling sad, apathy, hopelessness, low self-esteem, irritability, temper, insomnia, guilt, self-neglect and suicidal thoughts: and the euphoric phase is seen in extreme optimism, inflated self-esteem, rapid speech, spending sprees, high sex drive, aggressive and hostile behaviour.
It doesn’t make for good reading does it.
With almost impossible cruelty and not a little amusing irony, when I finally determined what it is that’s jack hammered me almost flush with ground, after spending 20 years ‘on the couch’, guess what? - everyone’s coming out, especially z list celebrities! It’s as though Spartacus has melded with One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, as one by one, cocaine fuelled Herbert’s stand up and say “I’m Bipolar”
The Psychiatrist said to me ‘Mr Johnson you’re raving mad’
I said ‘I demand a second opinion’
He replied ‘ You’re pug ugly too’
And why is this? Well research shows that the condition particularly affects the creative and the gifted. To see how these people rush to embrace the condition you’d be forgiven for thinking it was akin to touching the robe of Christ. Though laughable, it is nonetheless disheartening. To those of us who do have it, in all its varying degrees, few would see it as a badge of honour, something we are lucky to have. Would my life have been better without it? Is the Pope a Catholic? Of course it would.
Nature Notes 1
Noun – aggressive biped, high sex drive, prone to moods, scaly skin can suggest toughness, but actually hypersensitivity is the more likely trait
However, there is nothing wrong with humour and black humour in particular; indeed it’s been that very thing that’s held me together at times. I love to laugh, and at me most of the time. You realise the condition will always be with you, but hopefully, this book will show you can keep on top of it. Maybe my way might work for you.
If you’re not sure if you have it, you can’t rely on the medical profession. Sure there are the highly competent ones about, but where to find them? More often than not, a five-minute chat will result merely in 20mg of Prozac being administered. Pills are maybe not the answer. But I fully acknowledge that for many it’s the only way through it. For the condition is not like rupturing one’s medial ligaments in the knee where the treatment is universal: no Bipolar comes in a myriad shades, and so a universal treatment isn’t on offer.
So maybe this book, leavened with some humour – I hope – might be of more use.