by Neil Walton
Posted July 13, 2010
When you’ve been to hell and back a few times, you can’t help but ask yourself a couple of what, I’m sure, are universal questions. Mine were: “What have I done to deserve this,” and eventually, “Why me?”
My problems began with stress, but two years down the line, lay a set of circumstances which would be out of my control, and neatly coincide with England’s last recession, back in the late eighties.
My marriage ended in 1988, and in 1989 I was made redundant for the first time, when the lithographic printers I worked for closed. Twelve years of graft and laughing vanished over night. I found another job, only to be made redundant again 16 weeks later – a month before Christmas. And in November 1990 I watched my father die of lung cancer – I couldn’t see the point of staying on the planet after that. This was just the start of my time in the mental health barrel, and one step closer to my first admission in to a Victorian psychiatric hospital in London called, Claybury.
As the entire structure of my life had collapsed I resumed to alcohol. On three separate occasions I found work, but having a stubborn depression meant I was unable to sustain my career. Eventually my flat was repossessed and I was left with nothing.
After my second visit to Claybury I was diagnosed with a type II bipolar disorder, and when I was admitted again, two years later, I thought I’d been born with a target on my back! I’ve survived: five break-downs, been sectioned four times, admitted to three hospitals, arrested twice, and endured a severe beating by 11 men, while handcuffed, when I strayed onto an airbase used by the Queen. I was only glad I was having a high episode, and wasn’t a terrorist!
That’s the potted history and, for some, the next part of my story may come across as one of those annoying success accounts you hear about, usually when you’re on a downer. No matter how many times I heard, “Try not to worry, things will improve,” I didn’t believe a word of it, but I am here to eat my words.
Over time I learned to go with my diagnosis, rather than try to fight it as I feel, up to a point, a disorder has to run its course. Compared to a holocaust survivor, I had a walk in the park but, as you know, your life is on hold while the correct medication is found for your diagnosis, and sadly it’s not an overnight fix. Every ‘happy tablet’ I was ever given left me in a soporific state. The legacy I have after countless high episodes are: a broken sleep pattern, I also have to fight lethargy on a daily basis, and waking up takes me over two hours. But it could be worse – I could be in hospital.
A month after my fourth break-down I met an occupational therapist, and the meeting literally changed my life overnight. I quietly mentioned to her I was considering writing a book about my experiences I’d faced with my illness, fully expecting her to burst out laughing. She didn’t even pause before saying, “Let’s get you published first.” Hilary referred me to a day unit where a user-run editorial team was based, and on my first nervous day there I asked the facilitator what she thought of my idea for a book. Again I waited for a bout of hysterics, followed by a ‘there there’ pat on the head from the freelance journalist. Instead she said, “That’s a great idea, have you brought any of your work in with you?” Well slap me with a 4lb trout! That was the first time I had heard my ‘scribblings’ described as work. That was May 1999. I haven’t put the pen down since or been readmitted to hospital.
I was encouraged to take a college course, and in 2001 I passed my English language exams, with ‘B’ and ‘C’ grades, aged 43. Some months later my work was recommended to a publisher, and in 2007 my first book, Bi Polar Expedition was published. I’ve sold copies in the USA and the UK, but my most prized reviews came from a psychologist who said, it’s the best user-written book he had read in the 30 years. He and a colleague took my book and used it as training manual for their work in the field, during a six month stay abroad. It’s still hard to believe that my story, written in a back bedroom in north London, made it half way across the world to India.
For more about Neil Walton and his bi polar expedition, visit Bipolar-Expedition.co.uk or order Bi Polar Expedition on Amazon.com: