The King’s Head theatre in Islington, London, once staged a play of
mine called Is it a Crime to be Happy? It transpired that
although it may not be a crime, it is unwise to be too happy
because you get locked up and given time to “dry out”. This
entertaining illness is hypomania. An excess of joy, going up
instead of down and leading to the most vivid hallucinations – it’s
like being on bad drugs but doing it all yourself. At one point, I
was gripped by a trial in the room above my bedroom. It went on
without interruption for half an hour.
On reflection, it came as a great surprise that a feeling so highly
agreeable should be regarded as an illness at all. You are in a
state that is the very opposite of depression, you couldn’t feel
fitter to cope with things, and you remain blissfully buoyant. For
most of the day you are in veritable ecstasy. Professional
entertainers swear by hypomania, a state in which they can do their
very best work. Unfortunately, the whole thing gets out of hand.
Once I shot off into Oxford Street imagining I was making a
blockbuster film, and shouting at the hidden microphones. When
someone next to you on the tube is doing that, now you know what
they’re “suffering” from. It cannot just be described as youthful
high spirits. You are so completely out of control that you are
utterly useless. You could no more earn your living than fly to the
moon. But it was fun, by golly, was it fun.
The penalty for my merriment was incarceration, on and off, for 15
years. Other people go to jail for breaking the law; I was kicked
out of society for harmless enjoyment. In 1975 I emerged from my
last hospital, blinking in the bright sunlight, and have never
looked back. Confidentially, I have never lost hypomania
altogether: flashes of ecstasy lighten my life. As I whip an
audience up with one of my magic shows, I always aim for joy.
And why not? Were those 15 years completely wasted? In that they
got me back on the rails again, they certainly weren’t. The people
you make friends with in a mental hospital are an education in
themselves. When people say they must be healthy because they are
completely free of pills, I feel like exploding. These wonderful
drugs can benefit you enormously whether you consciously agree or
not. I would be happy to see a drug regime for everyone, if only to
do a bit of fine-tuning.
The result of all this is that I am probably saner than the next
man, and more genuinely happy. I don’t rely on dreams for
inspiration and I see the joys of reality more clearly than my
neighbour. I even have a pill labelled “realism inducer”. My good
self-control is boosted by another drug called “mood stabiliser”.
Am I an artificial robot? No, I am closer to the truth about myself
than ever before. You can imagine the joy of getting my play staged
professionally, but as my hero David says right at the end: “I’ll
do my best not to live too happily ever after.”
Richard Jameson is a mental health service user.