Talking a good fight

After years of relying on medication, Jay Bolt found that discussion alone could improve his mental health

I believe that opposites, such as war and peace, despair and hope, pleasure and pain depend on each other. Life is a struggle between encroaching shadows and new bursts of light. Sadness and happiness are the two most common words to describe our inner world. From my experience of the extremes of sadness and happiness, namely, melancholy and mania, I have learned that illness is only a convenient term when applied to the mind. Are we ill when we are unhappy? Are we ill when we feel elated by the presence of a loved one?

The vague notion of mental illness is generally applied when mental processes impede the natural progression of life. I have grown up fighting myself and, without violence, others so much so that the progression from adolescence to adulthood has been delayed. To describe a particular condition such as bipolar affective disorder as a series of highs and lows is to belittle the consequences of the condition’s symptoms.

The symptoms may be similar from sufferer to sufferer but the consequences are different. My own version of the events in my life can be described as a struggle, and the nature of the struggle changes from month to month, year to year. I think the greatest thing anyone can achieve in life is peace with oneself. 

When I started secondary school I was a model pupil but by university my perception of life had become clouded. In 1993 the stress of spending a year teaching in Paris precipitated a breakdown. My experience of it was a strange dark world of exaggerated sounds, garish colours, senses on high alert. My imagination took over so much so that conversations appeared like tennis matches; I was unable to speak and chair legs became distorted.

I was prescribed Prozac and returned to Paris. But I was still in a parallel world to others. I stopped taking this new antidepressant and continued with my studies. Back in London, I lived with a volatile consciousness that would interpret the world on a different level and I took to writing poetry to contain this symptom. When I told my GP I’d seen monsters behind my girlfriend’s back and that my parents were evil I was put back on Prozac. It made things worse and I was sent to a private psychiatrist who stated, prosaically, that I was a little high. I returned to my parents’ house and spent two years living in the grey cell of my mind.

Whatever the diagnosis, talking is the simple cure. Medication can address the chemical imbalance but its consequences may only be addressed with communication. Throughout my 10 years of troubled mind I have made good use of the NHS. It has provided me with four psychiatrists, five community nurses, four psychologists and other services. These have all contributed to the talking cure. They have had the patience to encourage me that I will win my fight and in writing this article I can see that perhaps they are right.

Jay Bolt (not his real name) uses mental health services

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.