Blog John

Early Signs. John.

I was doing a stand-up comedy show on mental health at the Edinburgh Festival called Delusions when I first met Elle. Since then we’ve been in regular contact, discussing content for this blog. After a recent meet up we decided to go back to the start and have a chat about the early signs and symptoms of our conditions.
Now, before we get to that, I recently had a meet up with Elle and we discussed diagnosis. Elle put forward the idea that a simple straight diagnosis of just Bi-Polar doesn’t fully cover what’s going on with her, which got me thinking… it probably doesn’t fully cover me either.  Officially I’m diagnosed as Bi-Polar One, however I reckon if I was to dig into my clinical notes there may be a whole list of psychodelic descriptions of what’s going on with my brain.
You see I was diagnosed with Bi Polar around 2002. Prior to that from 1995 to 2000 I was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. And obviously for the two years without diagnosis I was just a very excitable and interesting (if occasionally delusional) chap. The good point, that Elle raised, is that back in the day you were one thing or another. However, now we look at conditions such as ours as being on a spectrum. So if I may be so bold as to suggest (and I think since it’s my brain we’re talking about a wee bit boldness is permitted) I probably sit on a spectrum between Bipolar and Schizophrenia, leaning into Bipolar with a dash of schizoaffective disorder. I must point out I don’t have that officially on my passport, that is purely conjecture on my part. But hey, that’s just me and the way I go about things.
So, back to those early signs, it can be difficult to find a place to start. There’s much out there that says people like me are born with this condition, and it doesn’t fully ripen and manifest itself until your early twenties, which is the case with me. But I certainly was an energetic and imaginative child, but then again aren’t we all? I can however pinpoint my first bout of poor mental health. I first suffered a stretch of depression when I was fourteen. The reason I can pinpoint that is because something happened in my life to cause it to manifest. So is that the condition saying its first hellos…or was it just natural causes? As we go through these blogs I’ll probably chat at times about how we shouldn’t define ourselves via conditions/diagnosis. Life can throw rocks at you. Sometimes being down is just the right way to be. With this early bout of depression I think it may have been a bit off both.
So in the words of another Joker, “Why so serious?” Well…reality was catching up on me, that’s why. As a young teen, like now, I had a strong interest in the performing arts. I should probably tell you, that as I write this, I’m currently half way through the second year of a degree in Drama and Script Writing (Note I’ve given these areas of study capital letters because they are important and a proper degree!) I’m also about to celebrate my forty-eighth birthday…so I’m a wee bit late to the party.
So where did reality strike? Well, I’m from a working class town and a working class background. Back in 1984 as we were fighting through a miners strike, trade union collapse and families like mine being put under a governmental cosh of poll taxes and stolen school milk…Going on to study DRAMA! was never going to be on the cards. This upset me, I knew I was good at it, and could maybe make a career of it, but then don’t we all? So now I was getting early inclinations that being the next De Niro was not what life had planned for me. So all I really had left was an aptitude for art (the painterly type) …maybe art school would be an option? So at fourteen I was just in the process of choosing my O-Grades for the next two years when disaster struck.
I was never one for skiving school, but on the LAST DAY before the Easter holidays I took a morning off school. This wasn’t unusual, lots of folk did this and it was passed off as a minor misdemeanour. But in taking time out I’d missed a music lesson on the tenor horn. An instrument I’d been learning for around four years now and was yet to show one iota of talent for. Our music department was run by a particularly vindictive head called David Crisp. He had a particularly vindictive attitude towards yours truly (there are good reasons for this, but that’s for another day). Soooo…he saw a particular window of opportunity that day and decided to phone my mother, planting the idea in her head that I was a regular skiver of school, which I wasn’t, but it was now my word against a department head. So when I got home there was hell to pay. To cut to the nub of it, my dad stopped me from studying O Level art, as my head obviously needed screwing on right, need to live in the real world, get a proper job, yadayadayada…This is quite an  irony, as I reckon it was this particular incident that caused my head to start unscrewing.
Now I had no outlet for my artistic side at school. And trust me I’m arty on both the left and right sides. So I fell into a depression. A properly noticeable one. I remember the feel of it. I became withdrawn, which for an extrovert like me was a new behaviour. I also remember thinking strange things at the time like, “Maybe this is just how growing up feels. Wow, it’s shit?” Anyhoo, in short, the quite bright fuse I burned on went totally out.
The first person to notice was our chaplain at the Boys Brigade. Our minister was a great chap called Bill Armitage. He approached me one night and pointed out that he could see that I wasn’t my usual self, that I was quiet and withdrawn and not at all like the John he knew well. I don’t think I plucked up the courage to express what was going on with me properly at the time. I don’t think I actually fully understood. He let me know that if I ever needed to talk he was there for me. Many years later I would approach that very man asking for help.
Thankfully the depression cleared after a bit and effervescent, daring; dashing (if slightly delusional) John was waiting just around the corner to get the party started again. Of course girls were about to happen and he was about to discover how awfully he dealt with rejection. Way more badly than the other folks…but that’s for another day.
I suppose if there’s a wee moral to this story, then it’s this. If you see young people in some form of distress or acting unusually withdrawn, don’t dismiss them as the Snowflake generation. These things can seem huge at that age. I’m still dealing with the outcome of that situation today.

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