"Guess what, Honey, Daddy's just won an all expense paid trip to the Loony Bin!"
And so I announced to my then fifteen year old daughter that I was going to be admitted to the psyche ward at a local hospital. I merely wanted to use humour to break the news but I'm sure my face looked maniacal. I know my voice sounded so. She didn't, however, look at all surprised. Later she'd say she knew it was coming. Maniacal faces and voices were nothing new to her and she'd known I needed help.
She would walk with me down the bus stop where I'd take the bus to the hospital. She wouldn't join me on the ride, she had other plans. As we parted, she gave me a stoic look and subdued wave. Both hid inner sadness. I tried to smile back to let her know it would be alright. Her expression didn't change.
I'd been through the admission phase at a special emergency ward for psychiatric patients. Two young doctors interviewed me, one a very sympathetic woman of - I'd guess by her accent and blond hair - Scandinavian background and later a young Chinese-Canadian. Neither seemed to know much but they had to 'screen' me. They left me alone for a long period (to consult with themselves? with someone else?). Bored while waiting, I spied a large book on a table in the room. I picked it up and glanced at the cover. It was the "bible" for psychiatric diagnosis. I quickly scanned inside for the relative chapter and sub-chapters before coming to the condition I suspected - bipolar - and read as much as I could. I had to chuckle to myself how "by the book" their questioning had been. But what else could they do but go 'by the book'? Anyone's mind is an amazingly complex and often chaotic place. Add any psychiatric disorder and you get a brew that is difficult for the most expert psychiatrists to sort out in a short interview.
They came back and I'd "passed the test". I was enormously relieved. In the previous days and weeks it'd become clear even to myself that I was in urgent need of help. If I'd been turned away, I don't know what I would have done.
People with bipolar disorder are, according the book Taming Bipolar by Psychology Today, ten to twenty times more likely to commit suicide than those that don't have the disorder. It was two episodes of intensely wanting to commit suicide that prompted me to finally admit what I previously couldn't - there was something seriously wrong and I needed immediate help. And that took me to an emergency room to seek it and from there to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
For twenty years I'd known 'something' was wrong. Why hadn't I acted earlier? What took so long?
I am from a family that 'suffers in silence', be it physical ailments, unhappiness or what have you, we swallow it and carry on. I suspect that is not too uncommon from anyone with strong working class backgrounds; it's a tool of survival. And too, it's not a lot different than how some people 'maintain' their car; as long as it's chugging along somehow, it's all right. In other words, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.
For me it took twenty years of breaking down, and four years of 'running' really rough and then intense desires and plans of suicide to finally realize that just because the 'motor was still running', something was badly wrong.
The question was then, what was wrong and how to fix it.