I am completely normal

I am completely normal

This was my original post that was going to be the “About” section of the blog, then I realised it didn’t work as that so I’ve made it my first blog post.

I am the most perfectly normal person in the world. I have an amazing wife, four children and a cat and dog. My son moved out a year or so ago, but the rest of us live an idyllic life in lovely old Berkshire in the UK. I’m pretty sure my son is happy right now as well – we saw him at Christmas and he was in good form. I mean we should see him more often than that – he only lives up the road, but that’s what happens in most families – when the kids leave the nest they forget where it is for a while. Unless of course they need something, then the selective memory starts to work again.

That’s me above, I am the 2nd stick person in from the left in the blue body suit (not something I thought I’d ever say/write). See – told you I was completely normal. Here’s another picture of me at a wedding – again doing the same type of thing as any other normal person would do (lie#1).

Me at a wedding smiling at a camera.

I should have absolutely sod all to write about in a blog. Why would anyone want to know about the average family who live next door?

I have regular bad things happen in my life just like everyone else. For example, my father passed away recently after a brief battle with cancer, but he lived an amazing life, so on his passing we found ourselves celebrating what he achieved rather than endlessly grieving his moving upstairs. For the avoidance of doubt here, by ‘upstairs’ I am referring of course to Heaven – it would be poor form just to put the old man up in the spare room at Mum’s house. And probably illegal. Anyway, he was a wonderful man and he had a wonderful wife and two great kids; one of which is me.

My mother lives locally as do the in-laws and we all get along like a house on fire. Both sets of parents always got along because of the amount of time my father spent working in Japan getting to know Japanese drinking etiquette – notably that you do not top up your own glass, but always someone else’s. My dad caused a few sore heads in his time, but his shenanigans always made for a good atmosphere at family dinners. My mother in law is still convinced she only had one glass of wine on many occasions.

To the outsider we as a family have achieved the pinnacle of suburban multi-generational bliss. Some of the time every single part of me longs for the above to be true, but in all honesty it isn’t.

Then again, being normal is all relative

This is what my “you have to be normal” brain thinks my life should be: Normal. Normal damned normal. A totally elusive state of being which I’ll never achieve. That same part of my brain tells me frequently that I am a total wanker for not really being like this. Well to that part of my brain I’ll always be a wanker. Sorry. I mean on the outside this is what my family looks like and how every normal family should be. Open up the tin and look on the inside and you’ll see a very different beast. Don’t get me wrong, our family is amazing and I wouldn’t change being part of it for anything (lie#2), but it has it’s unfair share of mental health issues and it takes a lot to keep us going.

I have a son with ASD, a daughter with Tourettes, ADHD and OCD and a wife who has suffered from depression; but who amazes me every day with how she keeps our family running and sane. My wife is my everything and this blog is my open and ongoing love letter to her. My mother also suffers from agitated depression and anxiety. So it’s not a new thing to this generation.

To make things more interesting for us as a family and to add to our variety of labels (none of which we particularly wanted), in November 2021 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I had suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, with my first memories of some form of affliction being from 1997. At my worst, I had been an inpatient at a clinic near Windsor for four or five weeks in 2007 when I had morphed from a sensible but somewhat changeable middle aged man into a shell of a human being. It was a lovely place to be and I met some wonderful people there, but it was also the worst time ever in my head. I could not close my eyes without a storm of panic brewing up on the inside of my eyelids, and when I tried everyday tasks like trying to eat peas with a fork my hand would shake so much it’d be the next sitting for dinner already before I had finished up. It did give the other in-patients a bit of a laugh though. My dad came in one day and took me out to buy some jogging pants from a large sporting retailer and I lasted about a minute in the store before I had to run out because everyone had figured me out and was staring at me.

I had gone from a man who could have ten or more parallel thought processes going on in my head, to someone who was challenged to put on his slippers to go for a piss.

I hadn’t a clue what was wrong with me at the time, only that in the run up to being like this I had done some stupid things: tried to sell my house, resigned from my job, wasted a tonne of money and starting planning a trip around the world where I would live in huts on the beach – the usual sorts of things when you’ve had a Eureka moment on a high. 

I think I had been behaving oddly for a while, but then there was this crescendo (sell house, resign from job, plan travel itinerary, email bollox to half of my friends…) followed by a massive crash. To the best of my knowledge with the crash, I had sat on the floor of my study for around 7-9 days drinking only chicken noodle soup and mint tea. It wasn’t the most comfortable of times as I was renovating the house so there was no carpet on the floor and I had no central heating. My saviour was the wife of a colleague at work who was a GP. She persuaded me to go and see my own GP to ascertain what was wrong. My colleague had suggested we (his wife and I) speak. He was a clever, clever man and if I ever see him again I will give him a massive hug. Or maybe buy him a beer.

Over and above my wife and parents, I have this lady and this man to thank for me being here in the state I am in today, for not long after I went to see my GP on her advice, I was being assessed and admitted to a mental health clinic. When I arrived I was in a zombie-like trance; capable of stating my name and offering up the most basic of responses to the questions being asked of me. When all was said and done and I was officially checked in, it was late in the day so was time for bed. Given I had not been in a bed for several days, the time for bed had been in reality well over a week ago, but the nurse had told me to go to bed and had given me a tablet to help me sleep so I figured it polite to oblige. 

The room I was given was very close to the nurses station and my door was propped open at night. Although I was awake, at the time I did not realise what this meant, but I know they came and checked on me often through the propped open door. This was in case I had tried to take my own life or self-harm in any way. This fact, along with comments from some of the other patients I kept in touch with that I was “by far the worst in the place” are a reminder to my now self that I could end up in quite a bad way.

The sleeping tablet didn’t have the strength to slow my thoughts down – my mind was way too strong for that which was bloody annoying. I believe now that I was in a dual state at this time – both horrifically depressed, but also hypomanic with a thought train that was hurtling down a track. I am only just learning what Bipolar means, so me retrospectively diagnosing my state of mind doesn’t really seem a sensible thing to do, but my brain thought this so I don’t think there is too much harm in noting this down even though it might not be a thing that exists.

This visit to the clinic (or as my fellow inmates liked to refer to it as the ‘Spa’) involved days of group sessions, arts and crafts and therapy through drama (which I loved). I had no idea if it was sorting me out at the time, but I felt safe, I was fed and I got to play snooker pretty much as often as I could as there were only three or four of us in the place that played it. After I finished my residential stint, this was followed up by extensive day patient therapy, but only for a limited time. I left the clinic with neither a better understanding of mental health, or with any idea of what was wrong with me. I only knew something was wrong and that I was perhaps not necessarily that normal. 

My work had been understanding and my solicitor thought I was mad, so I had managed to keep hold of my house and retain a very good job in marketing. On that front I had been a very, very lucky man.

To keep my mind happy from then on I decided to take my health advice from Forrest Gump. I just went running.

I met my now wife in February, 2011, and we married in November the next year. This is our favourite wedding photograph:

Only a few months after we met, I had what I would describe as a bad episode: a period of hyper-active and out of character behaviour followed up by a massive crash. Although at the time my wife had no idea of what I was going through, she did not run a mile. Instead she reached out to my parents to let them know something was wrong. Very wrong. They duly explained my history of “not being very well”. Bed rest, Fluoxetine and Lorazepam was really the only known cure at that time, so that is what my wife made sure I had. I mean the doctor prescribed this for me, my wife didn’t go and score it out on the street. I was really not in a good place then, and a lady I had known but a short time and now have as a wife dropped everything to sort me out. Wow.

At the time my parents were not in a position to say what exactly was wrong with me as they did not know. Neither did I. My wife looked after me and after a short while – it was maybe a couple of months – I was back to “normal” again. Whatever the hell “normal” might be. And I just kept on running.

In between then and now I have had a few periods of “abnormality”, but just as my son, daughter and wife have issues to cope with, we have dealt with it and moved on.

In 2017 the cartilage in my left knee started to object to running, and the following year my right knee followed suit. I have had surgery on both, but I can’t really run long distance any more and that was what I was reliant on to keep me happy. Turns out, this is a bit of a problem for me.

Fast forward four years, in November 2021 I had a crash that was almost as big as in 2007, but this time I had coping mechanisms that helped me deal with it. Except running.

I decided that I needed professional help again, so was referred by my GP to the same clinic I had been in previously; but this time to see a psychiatrist as an out-patient for a potential diagnosis. I was hopeful for a more specific outcome this time as I was open to the process of cognition.

Something that was apparently quite clear to the psychiatrist after our first session was that I was exhibiting bipolar behavioural traits. Her diagnosis was Bipolar affective disorder, current episode hypomania, ICD10 code F31.0.

After reading up on Bipolar for a couple of months now, my life makes a lot more sense. A lot more.

I am now receiving treatment including medication. This blog will be part of my recovery process. It is purely a cathartic exercise for me, but if anyone finds some of it interesting then that is an added plus.

Living with a mental illness is not easy, but I am going to try and enjoy the ride, and not have it buck me off.

Lie#1: This is me smiling after finishing being the wedding photographer at my sister in law’s wedding. I was asked the day before to do this and happily obliged. Not being a photographer was one problem. I did have a decent camera which was why I was asked. Had no bloody idea how to use it. That was the other problem. I didn’t contemplate for a minute that I’d screw it up – that’s not how my brain works most of the time.

Lie#2: Of course I would love to swap out certain things. My November 2021 blip had an aftershock in January 2022 whilst I was still recovering. I was having to spend a couple of days curled up in the foetal position in bed to sort myself out. During this time my wife was too afraid sometimes to open the bedroom door in case she found me no longer breathing. Imposing this on any family is something that could never be coveted.

Scully

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