London Metropolitan sent me a parcel last week (hooray!) containing my preliminary assignments for next year (boo!). This week I received a letter from a doctor in Holloway that I have never heard of, asking about the severity of my 'mental disorder' and if it would 'affect my suitability for the teaching profession'. They must have picked it up from the health declaration that you have to complete before applying for a PGCE course.
For those of you that don't know I have Bipolar II Disorder. Which is characterised by the following: 1. Had / having at least one Major Depressive Episode. 2. Had / having at least one Hypomanic Episode. 3. Never had a Manic or Mixed Episode. 4. The episodes, 1 or 2 above,are not from another disorder. 5. Clinically significant distress from symptoms,or impairment in work, social,or other areas of important functioning.
Social functioning, check. Other areas, check. Work, no.
Bipolar disorder manifests differently in different people. Mine has a crash and burn approach, my brain likes to trick me into feeling well, then spring prolonged periods of misery or short bursts of euphoria on me, seemingly out of nowhere. It also seems to be linked heavily to the seasons, which is quite typical for a lot of sufferers. I spent years forcing myself to be sane and trying to control my mood and environment to prevent episodes from occuring, but I learnt last year that this is pointless. I have no control over when these incidences occur. I can manage them when they do and initiate damage limitation, but ultimately I have had to accept that I am stuck with this for the long haul, and it's sometimes best just to let these conditions have their own way. But, for the benefit of those around me, and anybody else that thinks they might have a similar experience, below is a guide to my personal symptoms.
How to tell if I am depressed:
- I won't return your calls or texts, or I will but my replies will be short
- I will sleep a lot
- I will be incapable of making any decisions
- I won't venture far from home
- I will be surrounded by half-read books that I cannot concentrate on
- I won't be wearing any makeup
- I won't have put any effort into getting dressed
- I'll lurk around the internet, reading emails and messages, without replying to anybody
- I'll 'disappear off the radar' for a week or so
How to tell if I am hypomanic:
- Everything will be 'brilliant'
- I'll shake
- I'll become wreckless with money (buying stupid expensive drinks, clothes etc)
- I will speak really quickly, so fast that I won't be able to get all the words out
- I'll skip, jump and run instead of walking
- I'll 'jerk'
- I won't sleep all night because of IDEAS
- I might have a panic attack
Don't be fooled. A lot of people would never know I have this. I have become extremely good at covering up the depression, and the mania is usually mistaken for exuberance. Only four or five people in my life could probably tell when I'm suffering, and three of those are close family members. So, for the most part, most people who meet me assume I'm 'normal' (I am normal really, I'm just coining a phrase). Am I insane? I have never considered if my sanity is an issue or not. I have certainly felt out of control a few times, but I've always had some comprehension of how I am behaving and what is going on around me. I take insanity to mean that I'd have little or no control over myself and hardly any comprehension of my circumstances or surroundings. So whilst I could probably be described as borderline insane at times, during my lucid periods, which account for 80% of the time, I am probably saner than most people out there on the street. Put it this way; I am not about to stand outside a tube station with a bag on my head preaching about sin.
I could probably give up and go on Incapacity Benefit. I could probably claim Housing Benefit. I could probably surrender to this anomaly in my brain and never have to work again. But I made the decision when I started university in 1999 that I would fight this for my entire life, or failing that at least try to understand it. It didn't stop me from passing my A-Levels. It hasn't stopped me from getting a degree. It didn't prevent me from passing my driving test and it has never once got in the way of my teaching. So it was with confidence that I replied to this mystery doctor that yes, I had bipolar disorder, yes, it is ongoing, and no, it will not affect my career choice in any way. And I threw in a few examples for good measure.
All teachers are close to nervous breakdown anyway, so I'll hardly be in the minority!