Article by Linda Gillard from the Depression Alliance newsletter
I wrote a novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY about bi-polar affective disorder, depression and suicidality. It's not fictionalised autobiography but sadly I'm qualified to write about these subjects with some authority being a long-term sufferer from depression and mild bi-polar affective disorder (aka manic depression.)
I wrote this piece for the Scottish Recovery Network in 2014...
WHAT RECOVERY MEANS TO ME
I never describe myself as "recovered", I say I'm "in recovery". I know my life will always be a battle with the enemy within, but I have weapons now: an understanding of my illness, self-knowledge, confidence and above all, creativity. After a mental breakdown, I started writing fiction as a therapeutic escape from the wreckage of my life and teaching career. My first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was published when I was 53 and it led to a new, successful career. Recovery taught me I'm a lot tougher than I thought. I'm a survivor and proud of that. I still lose the odd battle, but I know I'm winning the war.
The first inkling I had that I was on the road to recovery was when my kids started to laugh at things I said. People had always laughed at my jokes. Before my breakdown, I'd been a "life and soul of the party" sort of person, but no one had laughed at what I said for a very long time. Then one day I found I'd got my sense of humour back. I was myself again. Nowadays I aim to laugh more than I cry, because there was a time when I didn't.
I'm no longer defined by my illness and all the labels I used to describe it. I'm not sick, or mad, or a failure. I'm not useless or helpless and I'm definitely not a victim. I'm a writer. Mental illness is part of my past and my present and it will probably be part of my future, but it isn't me. I'm more than my illness, much more. When you realise that, you're on the road to recovery.
When I was ill, I felt as if I was stumbling around in the darkness. Sometimes I fell and it was hard to get up again. Now I'm walking in the light but I can't see very far ahead. When the fog descends, I get lost, but I know it will lift eventually and then I'll get my bearings again. So for now I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I was there... Now I'm here.
Famous manic depressives - a celebration
EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY features a manic depressive textile artist. Manic depression (properly known as bipolar affective disorder) is a mental illness that many creative and high-achieving people have suffered from. A documentary, Stephen Fry - The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive was shown on BBC2 in 2006. In the programme Fry says, "At the age of 37, I had a diagnosis that explained the massive highs and miserable lows I've lived with all my life."
The following is a list of people who suffer from, or who are thought to have suffered from bipolar affective disorder.
Caroline Aherne, Alexander the Great, Margery Allingham, Hans Christian Andersen, Adam Ant, Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, William Blake, James Boswell, Russell Brand, Jeremy Brett, Emily Bronte, Robert Burns, Byron, Anna Carteret, Chopin, Winston Churchill, John Clare, Kurt Cobain, Coleridge, Christopher Columbus, Patricia Cornwell, Noel Coward, Charles Darwin, Ray Davies (of The Kinks), Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Donizetti, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexandre Dumas, Thomas Edison, Einstein, TS Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sir Richard Eyre, William Faulkner, Richard Feynman, Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry, Peter Gabriel, Alan Garner, Goethe, Gogol, Goya, Macy Gray, Graham Greene, Ivor Gurney, Linda Hamilton, Tony Hancock, Handel, Ernest Hemingway, Jimi Hendrix, Herman Hesse, Catherine Zeta Jones, Keats, Otto Klemperer, Vivien Leigh, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Lowell, Mahler, Herman Melville, Michelangelo, Edna St Vincent Millay, Spike Milligan, Marilyn Monroe, Mozart, Edvard Munch, Mussorgsky, Lord Nelson, Isaac Newton, Florence Nightingale, Sinead O'Connor, Bill Oddie, Ozzy Osbourne, Picasso, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Cole Porter, Axl Rose, Rossini, Rubens, John Ruskin, Margaret Rutherford, Schumann, Nina Simone, Robert Louis Stevenson, Tony Slattery, Ben Stiller, Strindberg, James Taylor, Tchaikovsky, Dylan Thomas, Tolstoy, JMW Turner, Mark Twain, Jean-Claude van Damme, Van Gogh, Kurt Vonnegut, Tennessee Williams, Brian Wilson, Hugo Wolf, Virginia Woolf and Mary Wollstonecroft.
Extract from EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY
Rose, a manic depressive, is talking to her psychiatrist.
"We can ease the pain, Rose, you know we can... and you can make something out of it, something positive. You of all people will know how to make a silk purse out of this particularly nasty sow's ear."
"Ha, ha, very funny."
"You will survive. You will grow as a result of all this. I've seen it happen many times. Your illness is a terrible gift. It makes you see things differently, it makes you create. Without it you would probably not be an artist, a maker. And if you didn't make things, who would you be? After all, isn't that the reason you stopped taking your medication?"
"But the pain in my head..."
"It will pass, believe me. But you must let us help you."
"If a dog or a horse suffered like this you would put it down!"
"The fact that you can articulate that thought shows how far you are from being a dog or a horse."
"But why should I have to suffer more than them?"
"You don't. You have choices, Rose. Very hard ones."
"What do you mean?"
"You could have killed yourself. If you had slashed your throat instead of your wrists I doubt you would have survived."
"I wanted to die!"
"You no longer wanted to live."
"Is there a difference?"
"Oh, yes, a great deal of difference... We can do very little for those who want to die."
Linda was one of four artists interviewed in CREATIVE MINDS, a 25-minute podcast about mental health & creativity made for the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 2012.
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
PTSD features in Linda Gillard's novel, UNTYING THE KNOT. The hero is a war veteran suffering from late-onset PTSD. The following information is taken from the COMBAT STRESS website.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a complex and debilitating condition that can affect every aspect of a person's life. It is a psychological response to the experience of an event (or events) of an intensely traumatic nature. These types of events often involve a risk to life - one's own or that of one's colleagues. It is a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or culture.
PTSD has been known to exist since ancient times, albeit under the guise of different names. During the First World War it was referred to as "shell shock"; as "war neurosis" during WWII; and as "combat stress reaction" during the Vietnam War. In the 1980s the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was introduced - the term we still use today.
Although PTSD was first brought to public attention by war veterans, it can result from any number of traumatic incidents. The common denominator is exposure to a threatening event that has provoked intense fear, horror or a sense of helplessness in the individual concerned. The sort of traumatic events that might be experienced by members of the general public include physical assault, rape, accidents or witnessing the death or injury of others - as well as natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and fires.
In the case of serving personnel, traumatic events mostly relate to the direct experience of combat, to operating in a dangerous war-zone, or to taking part in difficult and distressing peace-keeping operations.
PTSD: Frequently Asked Questions (from the COMBAT STRESS website.)
Q: How long does it take to show signs of PTSD?
A: In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, it is normal for people to experience some of the typical symptoms of PTSD. However, if symptoms are prolonged for more than one month, a clinical diagnosis of PTSD would be made. Many people may not report or even recognise the symptoms they are suffering from as trauma- or service-related. An individual may suffer for years in silence before finally trying to get treatment. Often the death of a spouse, loss of a job, or anniversaries such as Remembrance Day can be the final straw that leads the veteran to ask for help.
Delayed onset PTSD is rarer. In these cases PTSD presents many months or years after traumatic exposure, with no history of any prior mental health symptoms. Recent studies show that delayed onset PTSD is more common after the service man has left the military, and usually manifests in the first year after release. Delayed onset PTSD is also more common in the veteran population than it is among civilians.
Q: What is the average length of time it takes for veterans with mental health problems to seek help from Combat Stress?
A: Our latest figures show that it takes more than 14 years from service discharge to making first contact with Combat Stress.
Q: Is PTSD curable?
A: PTSD is easier to treat the earlier the person presents with it. The longer it has been present, the more chronic it becomes and the more difficult it is to treat. Many patients do well because they persevere in therapy and do not give up. It is important to be patient, and not expect an illness that has been present for many years to be cured within a few weeks or months.
Q: Is PTSD the only response to trauma?
A: No. People can develop a whole range of other problems, which can exist alone or co-exist with their PTSD. Anxiety symptoms, depression, use of alcohol and illicit drugs, problems with relationships, work and family function are common. In addition, exposure to severe stress may exacerbate physical illnesses, such as some skin complaints, as well as chronic pain.