Robert Westhead: Instead of just being lively, I was losing touch with reality

I was detained under section... but it took another decade and a suicide attempt before I got proper treatment

Share
Related Topics

I used to do some extremely odd things during manic episodes, when you feel euphoric, uninhibited, full of energy and talk non-stop. Once, I went charging back to my school two years after leaving it. I went bursting into classrooms, interrupting lessons and causing havoc.

I barged my way into a physics lesson and started pontificating to the class, as my old physics teacher looked on in horror. I did the same thing at a management consultancy where I worked briefly, storming in there and talking excitedly to everyone, a crowd gathering around me. Although I wasn't remotely religious, when at my most ill I thought I was on some kind of mission from God and was going to usher in the Second Coming. I remember seeing God's face in anything and everything.

It has been suggested that having a celebrity's ultra-outgoing personality might dispose someone to bipolar illness. At least one in 100 people has bipolar disorder. Most are ordinary, everyday people.

If you are mildly manic you bubble over with energy and creative ideas. If you are creative already, the ideas and imagination will overflow. I remember spouting poetry when wandering around Edinburgh Festival while manic. If I had had a gift for poetry, it might have been an incredibly productive phase for me.

I was first diagnosed as bipolar at 19, but the symptoms started when I was much younger. I went to a grammar school in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, and was a high achiever academically, as well as being very sporty and popular. But I was a real worrier, and always have been. In my early teens, if I got upset about something it would go on for several days. Later, I started having regular and increasingly severe mood swings.

The illness got more and more extreme. The highs were getting worse and I was losing all sense of reality. Instead of just seeming lively and chatty I was talking constantly – my speech became so fast I ceased to make any sense at all. I also did really odd things such as taking photos of people in the pub, or stealing a pint of milk from behind the bar and drinking it.

One day my mum called the GP, who recognised I was so ill I needed to be treated in hospital. When I was high the GP persuaded me to go to hospital with her – once I was there, I was trapped. They could see I was severely ill and detained me under section. That was very traumatic. It dawned on me, even though I had nearly lost touch with reality, that I was going to be held there. I was desperate to leave and felt betrayed by my family. I got into a stand-off with a bevy of burly psychiatric nurses, who surrounded me and had no intention of letting me make a break for the exit.

In the end I was shut in a room as they held the door shut. Eventually they stormed in, pinned me down and forcibly sedated me. The next few days were a blur of heavy tranquillisers that only took the edge off my mania. I still stalked the ward thinking I was either Jesus Christ or the Dalai Lama, and painted the "evil eye" in a manic delirium during art therapy.

It took another decade, and a suicide attempt, before I got proper treatment. By that time I had received a postgraduate degree in journalism, worked in various news agencies and a government press office, and met my wife, Suzanne. She is an amazing, long-suffering woman who stuck by me during my illness. We are blessed with two wonderful children.

For years my doctors failed to see I was depressed. I was angry with my psychiatrist for not being proactive enough about my treatment; he could have saved me from all those wasted years. But since then they have experimented with my medication. I'm now on the anti-psychotic quetiapine, the anti-epileptic sodium valproate and an anti-depressant, which together seem to work very well.

I still have occasional mood swings, but they're nowhere near as severe. I recently became a trustee of the user-led charity Stand to Reason, which challenges prejudice towards people with mental illnesses. Recovering has made me want to improve the lot of people like me.

The writer works for Shift, a campaign against stigmatising mental illness

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star