Ignorance + Bipolar = Calatrava?
Manic, I knew the ‘up’ me was the true me (‘I’m exponentially me!’); depressed, I knew the ‘low’ me was the true me (a waste of space).
Earlier today I bought, read and reviewed (haven’t even finished it, on pg. 192 as of writing this post) Ellen Forney’s autobiographic graphic-novel Marbles. It is quite possibly the best book on bipolar disorder, second only to Kay Jamison’s biography, An Unquiet Mind, which Forney also references. Her candid and artistic approach to the battle she had and still fights has inspired me to begin writing about my own experiences, chronologically and logically at least, on this poor excuse for a blog.
At boarding school, or just before when I was around 12 / 13, I’d never really noticed anything wrong or strange about me. I did prefer spending time alone, with my own thoughts, but I think that was because I just happened to be a cerebral chap.
There is one early moment, however, that I remember very well. It was 2003. I was 15. The long British summer holiday had arrived and I was away with my grandmother on the riviera. We’d sailed between Cannes and Menton – she’d drink, I’d ‘drive’ – and it was in the latter town that I saw it. A vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava in a small accessories shop on the Avenue Félix Faure. It was the most exquisite thing I had ever seen. I didn’t have an interest in watches but this thing seduced me. Never before and never after had / have I coveted an item so powerfully. I ran to our hotel and begged my grandmother to buy it. Her answer was a definitive and very French ‘non’.
For three days and nights I couldn’t eat, sleep or think straight. All I wanted was that bloody watch. Then on the fourth day (at around 5am) something in my head just went ‘SNAP‘. I suddenly had a gush of ideas. I’d never felt so clear, driven and happy about something in my entire life. I grabbed my moleskin (I always carry one: more on them later) and set out a clear and grand plan for this watch. It took me until 2pm to have everything in place, make calls and rush around the docks speaking to people. The plan was simple – I was going to spend the next three months cleaning sailing yachts day-in, day-out and save enough to buy that watch.
A siesta or two later (back in those days no serious Frano-Italian would open their establishment before 3pm) I was speaking to the owner of the store, Christian. It was late May and I begged him to give me until mid-August to raise the thousands of Euros needed to buy the watch. He was skeptical of my plan but I sensed that part of him wanted to see if I would succeed.
So, I worked. And worked. And worked. I rarely slept – managing on 3-4hrs a day and still feeling energetic. I was in my element and obsessed. I ignored friends, family, my grandmother, polo, school reading-lists, food, etc. I felt on top of the world. People irritated me after some time. I was cocky as shit. I mean, I’d just casually strut onto some billionaire’s yacht in my all cream Brooks Bros. and Gucci outfit, interrupt what they were doing, explained what I wanted and get to work. Afterwords I’d distract myself with alcohol, reading, composing and summer flings.
I went on like this until early-August, still brimming with energy but I finally had enough money for the Calatrava – in cash! I still remember the look on Christian’s face before, during and after the transaction. Surprise, disbelief and then laughter. I was happy, he was happy, everything was fine. At least I thought it was. But that elation I’d had all summer suddenly and violently dissipated leaving behind a hollow shell, like an ancient oak tree struck by lightning.
I remember dreading the train from Nord to St. Pancras (Paris to London) and I ran into the station’s rest-room wondering why I felt it, this immense and diffused apprehension without reason. I tried to think back; but I could not remember when it had started. The feeling came to me suddenly, at random intervals, and it was coming more often than ever. It’s the twilight, I thought; I hate twilight.
The rest-room was unoccupied when I rushed in. I stood for a moment in the middle of the floor, my face beaded with perspiration, my mouth hanging open and my face pale. I could feel the walls closing in around me, squeezing out any remaining air. Abruptly, without any regard for my environment, I sat down and braced myself. I brought my knees firmly together, placed my palms over my eyes and pressed hard. I wanted to paralyse my nerves and drown all images into a void like black. I shook uncontrollably as memory upon memory mired my mind. I extended my fingers and studied them with a certain disconnect. Although they trembled, or because they were trembling, they looked oddly supple and indistinct. I’m not sure how long I held that tense foetal position, but I broke down. I cried. I cried all the way to London.
I still own the Patek I worked so hard for a decade ago. Ironically it’s become too precious an item to wear (unless I’m at a ball or whatnot). Not only its vintage (over 40 years!) but also what it represents. Ten years ago I went through a manic phase and, although ignorant and undiagnosed, I was able to channel it successfully to get something I really wanted. My Calatrava reminds me that manic-depression does not have to be a ‘spanner in the works’ of one’s life’ so to say.
Yet, little did I know that my actions and feelings over those 3 hot summer months signalled the beginning of something that would define my life for the next decade. Four years later I would finally be diagnosed. And today, a decade later, is when my journey to recovery finally begins. This is my story.
Next time: Welcome to the club! (How I tried to cope with a new school, old friends, suicidal thoughts and a flirtatious psychiatrist who called me, ‘Balls to the walls crazy.’).