This is what my psychologist said to me when I was diagnosed with bipolar: ‘Ryan, you have a very serious mental illness that will see you experience extremely elevated moods along with powerful bouts of depression. If you don’t take your medication and make major changes to your lifestyle, including addressing your alcohol addiction and general substance abuse, eating well, exercising and undertaking psychological training, your life is going to be very, very difficult.
‘You may well have very poor outcomes without the appropriate medical treatment and lifestyle changes. Your work, health and major relationships may all be seriously affected. Right then, I charge £75 per hour. Let’s catch up next week shall we?’
Nine years on, this would have been far more accurate advice: ‘My Good Sir, you must brace yourself. Your brand of bipolar disorder is quite something. You are an unstable human bomb appearing innocuous, hidden perfectly in the labyrinth of the metropolis. But you are not hidden Sir. Quite to the contrary.
‘The firestorms and cannons will roll in. They will seek, and they will find, and they will scorch your life, your hard work and many of your most critical relationships, time and time again. This is not a possible outcome Sir. This is your future.
‘You may take your medicine, exercise valiantly, eat well and with good intent. You may avoid the excessive consumption of liquor with discipline, undertake psychological training with diligence and form intelligent relationships. But this Good Sir, is but no guarantee. Indeed, such pursuits will prove feeble. You are now a 35-year-old man and the wiring in your mind and spirit holds strong like a flourishing fig tree. You will be overwhelmed with the power of your own self-destructive nature and the chaos of the ecosystem in which you inhabit.
‘The most important word you need in your mental health vocabulary now, Good Sir, is endurance. You must endure my good man. Endure. That is your true weapon and your closest sibling and friend. Endurance transcends mere medication and pathetic days of arranged exercise and forced routine, along with other feeble attempts to quell the searing heat from the friction born in the ceaseless rivalry of the endless thoughts that are the racing tracks of your mind.
‘Your mind which is merely a collaboration of simple receptors for your spirit and your soul. If you choose foolishly not to befriend endurance, you may very well die a relatively young man, leaving behind your small man-child to fend for himself.
‘If you fail to embrace endurance, he will cry from his soul, now charged in darkness. He will hurt from the kind of loneliness that only descends when your guardian and keeper; the one who lives in your essence, is gone for what may yet prove to be eternity.
‘However, the welcome contradiction here good Sir, is that your life will at times be sublime. You will be a stylish creature of the finest kind. One who does not walk, but, rather, one who drifts and glides. You will dance hot and naked on the sweet skin of brown, white and red nymphs, dissolving into sensual symphony, naked under the sparkling sky. You will be the wise and all knowing romancer, the self anointed demigod of all things delectable and ravishing. On those nights all will be your treasure. An open cave of gold and jewels.
‘And then, my Good Sir, you will burn again. And you will burn to cinders. You will feel and even see death, and you will sweat bullets in the torment of life’s futility. This is the moment when you must again call upon endurance.
‘If you are unable to capture endurance and take her for your own, you will move on another dark voyage into the worst places on Earth. You, Good Sir, will be driven mad. Truth be told, you may be driven mad regardless of how strong you are. You are welcome to visit as frequently as you choose, at no financial cost. But you really must know, for the most savage and magical elements of your exotic journey you will be travelling entirely on your own.
‘So where to from here Good Sir?’
Ryan Heffernan is a highly-regarded Australian author and journalist. Ryan’s latest work is a dreamy, soulful and unique new bipolar memoir, Clown & I.