I became interested in Winston Churchill when I read his single-volume abridged version of The Second World War. I was eighteen and I remember it being a very long book that took me a good part of the summer to read. Little did I know at the time that we possibly shared a similar mental illness – Bipolar Disorder. Today Winston Churchill is a very polarising character, although I admire him as a leader, he had many faults and if he was a politician today he would not get my vote.
World War 2 was a huge global battlefield with challenges in almost every sphere of technology, strategy, individual ingenuity and hardship. As someone with Bipolar I have sometimes referred to it as being like a ‘World War 2 in my mind’ this is not out of disrespect to the people that have suffered but a way of articulating the intensity of the experience to me. So I will try to explain how the cycle of Bipolar for me feels through the lens of what happened in Second World War and the parallels it draws to me.
Before the Second World War began, the British were weary of another war and did not want to face the rising tyranny of Nazism. The first world war had reaped a great deal of suffering on the nation, as well as many losing their lives, some returned with symptoms of PTSD and the nation had also experienced great hardship from the Great Depression. Neville Chamberlain the British Prime Minister at the time tried to reassure the public by negotiating peace with Hitler and famously waved the agreement paper declaring ‘peace in our time’.
As someone with the illness I have experienced many depressions in my time (some worse than others) and always fear them coming back. Depression with it’s negative thoughts, fatigue, sadness, pleasure deprivation and self-esteem destroying ‘Tyranny’ is something I desperately try to avoid. I will endeavour to make peace with the Tyrant by filling in my CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Thereapy) worksheets in the hope they will work this time. I will ‘flap’ my CBT worksheets at my support workers possibly believing like them that I have found ‘peace’ as Chamberlain claimed. However, like Churchill at the time there will be a deep suspicion that this Tyrant isn’t going to go away and accept peace. At this early stage I have often warned those that support me that I maybe becoming ill but like Churchill’s warning of ‘A Gathering Storm‘ such warnings would not be listened to and no action would be taken. The support workers don’t want to do anything about it as it seems unnecessary and requires too much resources.
A few years later Britain is locked in deep conflict with the Axis powers but alone having just lost their closest ally France. At this point Churchill was Prime Minister with the British behind him. Churchill had to make many difficult decisions including much criticised and ridiculed actions such as sinking the French naval fleet before it could be commandeered by the enemy and allowing many British colonies in Asia to be sacrificed in order to defend the realm. As someone with deep depression my resources will be limited but those closest to me will be behind me. However, during this process I can lose people because of the depression. Some will be lost because they can’t withstand the depression like the French and some may become ‘toxic’ towards me as result. Like the French naval fleet, I may choose to avoid these toxic people and possibly even remove them from my life in a healthy way. I have also had to make sacrifices in my life in order to preserve my health such as reducing or stopping work such as employment and volunteering. Such decisions lead to great personal cost with similar ridicule and criticism that Churchill was met with.
As time went on it became apparent to Churchill that Britain would not win this war alone despite his confidence in public that Britain would ‘Never Surrender‘. Churchill tried to help other countries fight the ‘Tyranny’ of the enemy but for the most part Britain was fast running out of money to finance the war and it’s people were on strict rations. When I have been depressed I have put on a ‘brave face’ in public to shield them from my personal misery despite wanting to act on the dark thoughts of suicide (a few times I did). Even when this is going on I would still continue to offer support to others that are feeling depressed even though my kind words or actions didn’t help myself (sometimes it did though). As my financial and emotional resources became depleted I would be making continuous effort with the NHS and welfare for assistance. As Churchill discovered when trying to seek help from the Americans, it required a lot of convincing writing and meetings to get the aid Britain so desperately needed to survive and win. As Churchill once said “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else” – in my experience this often is the case when dealing with the NHS and Department of Work & Pensions though sometimes with Maverick Machivillian execution like Churchill.
If we fast forward to the later stages of the Second World War, huge progress is being made in various theatres of war all over the world by air, sea and land – the allies are winning on all fronts but it’s been no easy feat. The Nazi Tyranny is smart, capable and very resistant to the allies attacks. The allies crack the Enigma code and have a better understanding of the strategy of this enemy. It ends with the ‘Tyrant’ being found dead and the allies declaring victory. As I get help with my depression I become emboldened to tackle it. I am taking new medication, running again, having therapy – taking on multiple goals or obstacles. All these being my theatres of war against the depression. Almost like I have cracked the tyrants code I become unstoppable and relentless. I then get to my version of the tyrants bunker, ready to declare victory until I look at the face of the dead tyrant and see…myself. I then realise in my crusade to destroy all of depression within, that I have gone into the realms of mania. If I don’t reach realisation that I have Mania then it can get worse…the fabric of reality becomes distorted and psychosis has developed.
The whole cycle can start to repeat itself and I sometimes ponder whether I should escalate to pressing the ‘nuclear button’ rather than suffer it all over again. Today I try to maintain a healthy ‘Cold War’ with this tyrant.