Bipolar people can get fed up with the whole creativity thing. There’s such an expectation that we’re all going to be “tortured geniuses” that if you don’t feel creativity is a part of your make up, you can almost feel that you are doing bipolar wrong – or at the very least that you been grievously short changed. There’s even a theory put forward (which I’ve previously mentioned here) that bipolar is some kind of genetic advantage because our creativity is needed within the gene pool.
I’m deeply suspicious of the whole “touched by fire” thing in general. Does it do us any good to analyse the diaries and works of long dead writers, artists and composers and attempt a kind of retrospective diagnosis in order to “prove” that mental health problems, particularly those like bipolar and schizophrenia, are linked to creativity?
It’s true that I write more a hell of a lot more now and have done during these past five years I’ve been so unwell. But when I was in remission I had a full time job, a social life, hobbies. My children were younger and needed more of me. I didn’t really have the time or the mental space to think about writing, and the urge just wasn’t there the way it had been earlier in my life.
Now the urge is here – and then some. Even before I left hospital I started writing about my experiences without telling anyone. I couldn’t not do it. It didn’t feel like a choice. @ sent me this notebook and I bought a purple fountain pen (probably contraband for being too pointy, but meh) and starting scribbling notes into the night, unable to sleep for the shouting and religious chanting around me, feeling that I almost couldn’t be bothered to lie down and close my eyes because someone would just come along and shine a light in them anyway.
Since discharge from hospital, there has been an… outpouring. I can’t stop writing about the ward. The whole thing was so bizarre, boring, exhilarating, funny, scary, comforting, horrible… I never intended to carry on documenting my experiences, but it just keeps coming. I’ve produced 30,000 words since discharge, and that is with days off and strictly limiting myself. For me, that’s a lot.
Why limit myself? Because it’s taking me over. When I say I can’t stop, I mean it literally. I have to set time aside for writing and stick to it or I just write and write and write. When I’m not writing, ideas or thoughts about the project (and it has become a project, even thought I never intended that) pop into my head constantly. Washing up. In the bath. During yoga. On the tube or bus I’m always pulling my phone out, capturing a little section in Pages, worried I’ll forget and miss something important if I leave it until later.
My brain can’t shake the need to work on my writing. It is, quite literally, the very first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning. It pops into my head as soon as I get up to go to the loo in the night. I am on the alert even without meaning to be; things around me constantly remind me of nuggets I want to include. It’s disturbingly similar to the way my brain was preoccupied with suicide just before I went into hospital – my brain is working on the project even when I’m doing something else.
Last night I ended up going back up 50mg on the quetiapine, something I’d hoped not to do since I am trying to come off it completely. I’ve done very well in terms of symptoms so far considering I’ve dropped from 700mg to 300mg, but I just had to take some action, which I agreed with Home Treatment, because the night before had been horrendous.
I’d taken diazepam a couple of hours before bed as I was aware of being rigid with muscle tension and that I’d felt quite high in the day. I thought sleep could possibly be difficult. Difficult wasn’t the word.
As I lay in bed I felt utterly and totally overwhelmed by my own thoughts – and they were all about the writing. It was no good trying to focus on my breathing or do progressive relaxation or count back from 100 or think of my forthcoming holiday. Those measures were about as useful as putting a paper bag over my head in a monsoon. Because that’s how it felt, I felt deluged, the ideas fell and fell, rushing over me so that they roared in my ears, plastering my clothes to my skin, weighing me down. It was relentless. I was powerless. I was acutely aware of my thoughts but you just can’t let go of hard, hard rain falling on your head, running into your ears, into your eyes, into your mouth.
You can’t detach when you fear you are drowning.
More PRN meds, a candlelit bath, half an hour’s relaxation music, a mug of hot chocolate, aromatherapy, half an hour’s binaural beats… eventually something kicked in and I fell asleep in the early hours of the morning.
I thought of the writing the minute I awoke.
I have no idea how to tackle this. The extra Q helped me sleep more, and more heavily, but I think there will be more nights where my writer’s brain will not let go. I genuinely have no idea what the best course of action is. I’ve tried getting up and briefly jotting down the key notes, but when I lie back down my brain just produces more ideas. The alternative to frustrating attempts at sleep is to get up and just bloody write. But that’s more likely to build my hypomania, and it’s generally the high that comes first, then the low, then maybe mixed mood – and that’s what landed me in hospital in the first place.
Why should I carry on anyway? Is the project important? I think it is. None of what I have to say will be a surprise to anyone who’s been an inpatient, but for those of us who spend a lot of time with other service users it’s easy to forget that we are a small minority. Different studies come up with slightly different answers but the number of people admitted to a psychiatric ward is something like 3.5% per thousand or at the very most 6 per thousand. So for every 6 people who’ve share my (our) experience, there are at least another 994 who haven’t. Obviously I’m not the first to write about life on the psych ward and I know I won’t be the last but I think I can bring some kind of original voice to the table. At least I hope so, and so I feel I should carry on with it anyway.
But I don’t feel like I get any choice. And that’s the scary part.