It should have come as no surprise to me to be told, at the age of 40, that I had bipolar disorder. I had suspected for years. But it had taken the doctors a long while to catch up.

When I was ‘sectioned’ under the Mental Health Act, meaning that I was to be detained in a psychiatric hospital for my own protection, I was undergoing a manic episode.

I experienced it as a burst of frenetic energy, firing on all cylinders - and with so many great plans. In truth, I was leaving a trail of chaos.

And I was psychotic - a much misused word which some wrongly take to mean out of control - even violent. It more properly means, simply, that part of me was not connected with reality.


Amongst my disordered beliefs was that I was doing background research for a Great Novel which would - somehow - solve all the problems of the world.

This grandiose delusion was, on its own, harmless enough. Except that I was charging around Glasgow making a thorough nuisance of myself, spreading the word to everyone I met, getting into scrapes, emptying my bank account - and more than once being threatened with violence.

I was never a danger to others - but it was wise to keep me in a safe place, away from harm.

Hypomania and mania are sometimes misunderstood as the fun side of bipolar disorder. They are anything but.

Once I had a diagnosis, I was encouraged to make a historical timeline of my symptoms to see if there were any patterns.

From young adulthood I had experienced frequent periods of debilitating depression and was often unable to work. I was even hospitalised, voluntarily, and was regularly treated with antidepressants.

Their effect was marginal at best.

But I had also experienced high moods and bursts of activity. These might normally be mistaken for common-or-garden happiness, except that some of the episodes felt like they were - well - a bit too much.

The Herald: Roughly 2-3% of the population are estimated to have bipolar disorderRoughly 2-3% of the population are estimated to have bipolar disorder (Image: Getty)

During one, I was concerned enough to present at my GP with a checklist of hypomania symptoms that I’d found online.

I was met with bemusement by a doctor who should - quite honestly - have picked up on my rapid-fire tangents, digressions and non sequiturs, if nothing else.

To an extent, I can understand why bipolar disorder isn’t picked up on early by medical professionals. People go to doctors when they are unhappy, less so when they’re happy. In excess.

But in my case, as someone who was speaking to GPs and psychiatrists regularly, there was still a long line of missed opportunities.

My doctors were focused on my depressions. I wasn’t ever asked about my moods or behaviours outwith that lens.

But a recognised manic episode - and, especially, being sectioned - is a fast track to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and getting the correct diagnosis is crucial to getting correct treatment.

Bipolar depression is not the same as ‘ordinary’ depression and often doesn’t respond so well to antidepressants - which can even trigger hypomania.

So for years of my life I received no truly effective medication for my depression, and nothing to stave off my increasingly intense flirtations with mania, which would come to damage my life.

The Herald: Suicide rates are much higher in people known to have bipolar, but there are concerns that those undiagnosed and untreated will be at even higher riskSuicide rates are much higher in people known to have bipolar, but there are concerns that those undiagnosed and untreated will be at even higher risk (Image: Getty)

Because this is World Bipolar Day, I’ll make the obligatory statement that people with bipolar disorder can and do live successful and fulfilling lives. It’s true.

And there are numerous examples of talented, creative people who live with bipolar disorder.

But there is Survivorship Bias. We only know of the ones who have a diagnosis and therefore access to treatment. I worry about those who may have been missed.

My own diagnosis was a long time coming. My life would have been easier if my GPs especially had known better what to look out for, what questions to ask.

Even now - I still hear accounts, from younger people especially, of just not being listened to.

My untreated depressions were crippling - and almost fatal. My manias were explosions in my life.

It would have been much better to have headed them off with earlier diagnosis and treatment, rather than leaving me to pick up the pieces.