Archive for the ‘Bipolar’ Category

The Curse of Perfectionism

In Bipolar, Exercise on September 12, 2011 at 3:18 am

I have a problem. All of my life I’ve wanted to be perfect. On the surface perfectionism sounds like it is anything but problematic. Who could fault someone for trying to achieve his or her personal best? Surely this is what our parents and teachers taught us to strive for? Work hard. Do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.

But, for me, I always wanted more. I’ve never wanted to blot my copybook. In fact just one stain would make me want to toss the whole thing away.

I’m not making an analogy. I’m being absolutely honest. There are days where if I write the date or the words “to do list” on the top of a blank page of my notebook and accidentally make a spelling mistake, rather than cross the offending typo out, I will rip out the page, tear it up and throw it away.

This doesn’t mean that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I don’t insist that the tins in my kitchen cupboards all face forward or that my books are stacked in alphabetical order on my bookshelves.

My version of perfection is the “Oh fuck I’ve blown it, now I’d better go off the deep-end” type of perfection. Like a dieter who falls off the wagon because she has had one cookie and then proceeds to eat the entire pack – plus a giant bag of potato chips, a burger, fries and that milkshake she always denies herself – I am an all-or-nothing kind of girl.

I guess that’s why I have bipolar. It makes sense. I’m either saint or sinner, virgin or whore, lazy or incredibly busy. I can be a sloth, sleeping hours of my life away, doing no exercise for months and then transform myself into an exercise fiend, clocking at least nine hours at the gym in one week.

I can spend weeks knitting hats, blankets and scarves for family and friends furiously click-clicking away. Then a few months later, I will groan at the thought of being anywhere near a ball of yarn.

(PS This doesn’t translate to my work. I’m grateful that my bipolar has never affected my ability to earn a wage. If anything my bouts of mania propel my productivity. If I get depressed, I take myself off for a walk at lunchtime just to get away and clear my head.)

It’s outside of work that my battle to be perfect often impedes me; paralyses me.

So, it’s no surprise that after having verbal diarrhoea and uploading multiple posts within the first month of The Moody Cow, I have since been silent.

Oh dear. I didn’t write two pieces a week on a Tuesday and Thursday like I promised myself that I would. Oh the shame.

What my silence over these past few months has taught me is that doing something, anything, no matter how little, is often better than doing nothing at all. And if in my quest for perfection I muzzle myself it is an exercise in futility. Writing one sentence a week would have been far more productive than bemoaning the fact that I haven’t written anything of substance for months.

I don’t know if my quest for perfection is a “bipolar” thing or a “Marissa” thing or if it’s something that plagues us all from time-to-time. All I know is that it has sucked the life out of me for far too long and rather than be perfect I want to be productive. Progress, not perfection is my new goal.

M x


Mommy Day

In Bipolar, Children, Miss Helena, mother, Parents, School, Uncategorized on May 6, 2011 at 1:31 am

My Mummy

“My mum has very funny moods…”

(Marissa Charles, aged nine, June 1985)

My essay about my mother.

Anyone who knows my mum knows that she is a hoarder. It’s not just that she is untidy. (She is. As am I. Life is too short to obsess about everything being in its place. There are far more important things to do – like read.) It’s that she is sentimental and it’s that sentimentality that leads her to save the smallest of items, things that to you and I may seem insignificant.

Mummy still has the cot I used to sleep in when I was a baby. (I’m 35 years old. President Jimmy Carter was in the White House when she bought that thing.) She saves the messages that I leave on her answer machine. (She played about seven of them back to me the other day.) She even saved a kitchen towel from her local pub. (Last month I cut my arm and needed first aid. A kind stranger in the pub where I sought help used it as a tourniquet.  Thankfully Mum washed the kitchen towel before she saved it.)

So it should come as no surprise that my mother has a collection of my old school books. I’ve tried to encourage her to throw them away but all my attempts have failed and Mum has a library of my compilations – from the days when I could barely write “see Jane run” to the present day when I have had exclusive features published in the Daily Mirror.

Every now and then, under the pretence of clearing her “rubbish” – her word, not mine – she will leaf through my greatest works, cry, laugh or both and put them into a pile of things to keep.

It was while doing this that she discovered an essay I wrote when I was nine. I was at primary school at the time. My teacher must have asked us to write about our mothers because I composed a piece describing Miss Helena (Mum). But I didn’t just describe what she looked like. I also wrote in detail about her moods and what life was like for my dad and I when she was manic and when she was depressed.

It is an insightful look into a child’s mind and how a little girl views her life with a bipolar parent. You can tell that I am aware that my mother has manic depression but what is interesting is that I don’t seem to fear her moods. By the mid-Eighties bipolar was a normal part of my life. Mummy had her breakdown and was hospitalised when I was five. I was sent to live with my grandparents in New Jersey and returned to the UK after a year. I was a precocious child so there is no way the adults in my life hid my mother’s illness from me.

The second part of my essay about my mother.

Below is a typed version of my essay. I have corrected the childish spelling mistakes. (If you want to see the unedited original have a look at the accompanying pictures.)

As Mother’s Day is celebrated in the West Indies and the US I want to remind all bipolar parents that their children are resilient. Talk to them. Be honest about your condition. (Make it age appropriate of course.) But rest assured that once they understand why Mummy or Daddy has “funny moods” they will learn to cope with it and they won’t love you any less.

That is not to say that when my mother was in the midst of her nervous breakdown in 1981 I wasn’t afraid of the disorder that surrounded me. No little child will feel secure with his or her mother ranting, raving and swearing, especially when that mother is usually so kind and gentle. What it means is that children are smarter than you think and clearly at nine-years-old I was smart enough to know that, yes, Mummy can be moody, but she is my mummy and I love her whether she is high, low or in between.

M x

Factual Description of My Mummy

My mummy is beautiful so first of all I will describe her beauty.

My mummy looks half-caste but she is not. My mummy has red, black, brown, gold and grey hair. (I have the red and black, brown and grey hair bit.)

My mummy has brown eyes and a flat nose, with lovely, lovely soft lips. My mummy is between slim and fat. My mummy is beautiful in my eyes because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Secondly, I will describe my mum’s kindness. My mum is very kind because she loves me, buys me clothes every day and has sent me to such a nice school with such nice teachers. My mum’s kindness has made me feel happy even if it has not to you [sic] because kindness is in the heart of the beholder.

Now I will describe my mummy’s moods. My mum has very funny moods. When my mummy is happy she will either cry or dance and sing. When my mummy is sad she either cries or reads her Bible or prays. When my mummy is angry she cries and sometimes goes to sleep.

When my mummy is all these things my daddy and I join in with my mummy and now you can guess her name – Helena L Charles.

The Smile Files

In Bipolar, Dancing, Exercise, Hoopnotica, Hula-Hoops, The Smile Files on April 28, 2011 at 4:03 am

Smiling Marissa.

Left untreated bipolar is the sickness of extremes. There’s left, right or up, down and never the twain shall meet.

Try conceiving the stickiness of a scorching summer when you’re knee-deep in snow and your fingertips are so numb they feel like they’re going to fall off. It’s hard, isn’t it? The mere thought of running around in a tank top, shorts and flip-flops makes you shudder. It seems impossible that the hardened ground beneath your feet was once carpeted with grass and flowers.

That is what being depressed can feel like. When I struggle to do something as simple as brushing my teeth it seems inconceivable to me that yesterday, or last week, or last month, I was giggling with my friends in an exercise class or munching popcorn at the cinema.

So I’ve decided that the next time I feel low – and I will, I can’t pretend that it won’t happen – I’m going to be prepared. I’m going to be armed with a series of thoughts and activities that make me smile. I’m going to store away in my mind a file of happy, positive thoughts that I can cling to when I feel like shit.

Stay with me here. I’m not just being a hippy-trippy tree-hugger. And I know that I sound like the bipolar version of Julie Andrews singing My Favourite Things in The Sound of Music. But hey, Maria was on to something. When I’m facedown in my pillow thinking that I’m an insult to the human race I need something to remind me that my life isn’t that bad. Yes, I have a roof over my head, a job, a car and I am physically in good health. These are all blessings that I am thankful for. But I’m talking about the simple things, the everyday things that bring me joy – little reminders that I need to focus on when my world seems black.

That’s why I’m creating The Smile Files. It’s cheesy, I know but every couple of weeks I’m going to list something that brings me joy, something that I can pull out and appreciate when I wish I’d never been born.

It can be anything – the sound of birds singing, a beautiful sunset or dancing in my kitchen to Eighties music while singing into a wooden spoon. (Yes, I have done that many, many times.) It can be an activity, a film or a book. Whatever it is it means something to me.

These are just suggestions – a list of things that make me smile that I want to share with you. Feel free to add to it. We begin with…


Gabriella Redding, Hoopnotica CEO

Yes, those round plastic toys that we used to play with when we were kids. Within the last year I have rediscovered the joy of hula-hoops thanks to the ladies behind Hoopnotica, an exercise firm based in Venice, California where I live.

I believe in supporting my local community so every year, whenever I’m in town, I try to attend the Abbot Kinney Festival. Named after the founder of Venice, it features the arts, crafts, businesses, food and people that make up the eclectic personality of the area.

Needless to say when I saw a group of women at a stall twirling around in hula-hoops I was intrigued. They weren’t just spinning them around their waists. They were throwing them in the air, swirling them on their arms, around their shoulders, shaking them on their hips. Their movements seemed effortless and graceful. When the CEO Gabriella Redding told me that she had lost 70lbs (5st) doing it – vain cow that I am – I was sold. I bought myself an instructional Hoopnotica DVD, a hula-hoop and went on to spend hours dancing with my new black-and-pink striped toy.

Sure I’ve got sweaty, I’ve burned calories and wowed my friends with the different tricks that I’ve learned. What I didn’t expect was to have so much fun.

I challenge anyone to step inside a hula-hoop, spin it around his or her waist and not smile. It’s impossible.

Whether you can keep it up for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, can twirl it from your right hand to your left or pick it up, watch it fall down and do the whole darn thing all over again, you are going to smile.

And it becomes something more than exercise. It becomes something joyful. For me it reminds me of being a little girl again. I put my iPod on and hoop my heart out while Madonna, Mary J Blige, Biggie Smalls or The Rolling Stones play in the background.

Hoopnotica reminds me to have fun and that the simplest things can bring me joy – even if that’s a colourful plastic tube.

M x

The latest celebrity trend?

In Bipolar, Celebrities on April 24, 2011 at 4:12 am

When Catherine Zeta-Jones recently announced that she had bipolar disorder I was worried. Not about her, for me. While I admire her bravery and honesty in confronting this issue publicly – from a totally selfish perspective – it was the classic case of bad timing.

The last thing I want anyone to think is that I’m jumping on the bandwagon, that I’ve launched The Moody Cow because a series of celebrities have either announced that they have bipolar or have been diagnosed as such by armchair psychiatrists and gossip columnists alike.

Let’s make things clear: I don’t do trends. Never have. And I’m not going to start now at the age of 35. If I were so inclined I’d sooner buy myself a Louis Vuitton bag than tell the world I have a mental illness. This blog was conceived weeks before Zeta-Jones’s health problems came to light.

On the surface, however, the “bipolar” label seems to be THE latest thing to have in the world of celebrity. Like adopting black babies from Africa and getting a colonic before the Academy Awards it seems that everyone has to have a touch of madness to be cool. (I’m being facetious, of course.)

Nevertheless, for the past few years “bipolar” has become the latest buzzword in showbiz media. Celebrities who have publicly admitted to having the disorder include the actors Stephen Fry and Mel Gibson, singer Sinead O’Connor as well as Brit pop star Kerry Katona. Let’s not forget Disney actress Demi Lovato whose revelation came on the heels of the Zeta-Jones announcement.

Then there are those celebrities who are going through a personal or professional crisis and are acting erratically. They could just be behaving badly or purposefully trying to break free of the cookie-cutter image managers and agents want them to fit into. But we have to label them with something. So Britney Spears and Charlie Sheen have both been shoved under the bipolar umbrella.

I’m not belittling any of the celebrities that I have mentioned. (In fact I admire all of them for being so upfront.) But I am concerned that some members of the public will become cynical. I don’t want the term “bipolar” to be likened to “sex addiction” where just the mere mention of the term makes people roll their eyes and think it is just an excuse for bad behaviour. It is not.

Bipolar disorder is a real illness that affects millions of people worldwide. According to an 11-nation study published by the Archives of General Psychiatry in March 2011, 2.4 percent of people around the world have been diagnosed as having bipolar at some point in their lifetime. The US has the highest lifetime rate of the disorder at 4.4 percent. Meanwhile the National Health Service (NHS) website reports that in the UK, one person in 100 is diagnosed with the condition. So there are many people with this condition walking among us.

There is nothing sexy about bipolar. There is nothing trendy about being immobilised by your moods. Depression for me is like Mike Tyson – it can knock me out with one punch. It leaves me groggy and listless. There have been mornings when I’ve had to negotiate with myself to brush my teeth let alone have a shower. At my worst there have been weekends where I haven’t had a wash, combed my hair or left my house I’ve been so depressed. I don’t go out and see friends. If the phone rings I don’t answer it preferring to roll over in my bed and bury my head beneath the sheets.

Conversely being manic is an exhilarating experience of having fire running through my veins. I’ve never snorted cocaine but I don’t think I could work longer, talk faster or have more powerful orgasms if I took that drug such is the intensity of my natural highs. Then I crash and more often than not cringe when I realise how I’ve run amok over the last x amount of days.

For 80 percent of the time I’m stable and the only thing that reminds me that I have bipolar is the medication I have to take every morning and every night. Other than that if I get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and don’t drink in excess, I’m fine.

But it’s that remaining 20 percent that makes me want to warn those who read about bipolar in the news and rush to dismiss it as a celebrity fad. It’s not like hair extensions or Botox, fake boobs or the latest diet. You can’t be bipolar one day or suddenly decide you’re not the next. It’s serious. It’s real. And if you’re suicidal it can be deadly.

Bipolar is no respecter of persons – whether you’re an Oscar-winning actress or a shopkeeper. It’s a great leveller.

So, while I’m glad that more celebrities are opening up about their private battle with the disorder and attempting to divorce it from shame, I don’t want anyone to think people who say they have it are slavishly trying to follow the latest trend. Trust me, if they had a choice, they’d invest in a designer handbag instead. It’s a hell of a lot more fun.

M x

Coming out…

In Bipolar, Uncategorized on April 18, 2011 at 1:04 am


My name is Marissa Charles and I have bipolar disorder.

There. I’ve said it. After much worry and anxiety. After thinking, and rethinking, overanalysing and losing many jobs that I have yet to apply for and sending men that I have yet to date running for the hills, I, Marissa Charles, am coming out.

Hello world. I have bipolar.

Back in the bad old days – before bipolar became a sexy term tainted with celebrity – back when it was known as manic depression, it was my family secret.

My mum has manic depression. But, not only was it an unspoken reality that we didn’t really discuss in public, at home it was referred to as being “sick.” My mum would say: “When I was sick” or “before I was sick.” If she were manic or angry, it would become: “When I was mad.”

My mum was diagnosed in 1981 when I was five. So I have lived with this illness for 30 years, although I only became an official club member in the last days of my 20s. And now, five years on, I’m declaring it to the world.

Why has it taken me so long? Because deep down I know that madness scares people. It is the plight that dare not speak its name.

Tell people you have diabetes and they might say: “Oh really?” Tell them you have cancer and they may throw their arms around you and say: “I’m so sorry,” before reassuring you that cancer can be beaten and that their aunt, dad or mum beat it and survived.

But tell them you have a mental illness and…silence. Crickets chirp. They shift uncomfortably. Then, finally, they say: “I didn’t know… But you seem so…OK.” (They mean “normal” but can’t bring themselves to say it.) One fears that they start seeing you in a different way, as though you have the word “bipolar” tattooed on your forehead.

Little did they know there was someone mad walking among them. She wasn’t walking the streets with matted hair, talking to herself, smelling like garbage and wearing holey clothes. She was holding down a job, paying her bills, driving a car and well – you can say it, go on – she was, is, normal.

So, just to clarify, to make absolutely clear that I am finally stripped of all fear and shame: I, Marissa Charles, have bipolar.

And? And I’m doing just fine. Thank you.

M x