When I was diagnosed in 1991, a lot of things fell into place as far as my past was concerned. The RAF psychiatrist didn't actually tell me my diagnosis - he wrote a letter to my GP and gave it to me to deliver. On the envelope, it said "To whom it may concern" - I thought "well, it concerns me" so I opened it. The diagnosis was there in black print - manic depressive psychosis. I had to look it up in the library; bear in mind it was over 20 years ago and the internet was in its infancy. I read everything I could get my hands on about the illness, and gradually realised that I had been having minor episodes all my life - black days/weeks, bursts of excessive energy and, occasionally, outrageous behaviour. That was a real eye opener.
I had my first major episode when I was 17, but no one diagnosed me, thank goodness, or I would have had a lifetime of drugs and a terrible label to live with. It was the day before New Year's Eve 1973. The phone rang and it was my Sixth Form Tutor - my best friend Carol had been found dead. (Only later would we discover it had been suicide) The next few days were a blur of making sure all her friends knew, telling the Sixth Form, and getting ready for the funeral. When all the fuss died down, I started to write a diary. Every day charted my collapse into depression, although I didn't realise what was happening, and wouldn't have had the words to describe it anyway.
One Sunday, I got out of bed feeling jittery and strange - I couldn't control my thoughts, which were all over the place. I was still in my pyjamas, sitting in the sitting room, with my Mother on another chair. My parents usually went to church, but for some reason, hadn't gone that day. Suddenly, all the colours went bright through the French windows. Time both stopped and rushed past. I felt an overwhelming sense of loss of identity - I didn't know, suddenly, who I was. I couldn't speak. I stood up and went to the bathroom, where there were some strong painkillers, and I took them all. I didn't want to die, I just wanted to lose consciousness until it was all over. I began to feel dizzy, then I was sick and up came the pills.
I was lying on the bathroom floor and my Mother, who had heard me vomiting, came in - she asked me what was wrong, but I couldn't tell her; I didn't know what it was, only that it had to stop. I went to lie on my bed, but that was completely wrong as I was alone with the ghastly feelings, so I went to the sitting room. Mum was obviously worried sick, but didn't know what to do, so she just sat with me. Eventually, I began to feel less agitated, but still felt very unlike myself. The day passed slowly and I went to bed with the light on, so as not to be alone in the dark.
To cut a long story short, I went to see my GP, who said he thought it was an extreme grief reaction. The only thing that made me feel better was driving the car, so I went out endlessly. I missed three weeks of school and my friends were all very worried about me. As PInk Floyd said "there's someone in my head, but it's not me". Eventually, it passed and I went back to school.
I was lucky not to be diagnosed - I'd never have got into the RAF with a history of mental illness - so that was a positive. Over the next few years, I had minor episodes, times when I would seek to be solitary, and times when I was over excited and sought to burn the candle at both ends. My next collapse was much worse - some 16 years later - and would lead to me being chucked out of the RAF.
I spent 16 years in the RAF defending the Free World , then got bunged out unceremoniously for being bipolar. I and was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD. Funny old world, isn't it?