Matthew – how the premature birth of my son helped heal my bipolar disorder #memoir #bipolar #99cent
Title: Matthew – how the premature birth of my son helped heal my bipolar disorder
Author: Christopher Griffith
Genre: Autobiography / Memoir
Matthew is my autobiographical account of the premature birth of our son who joined my wife and I in the world at just 27 weeks gestation; for me personally, the journey upon which we travelled at that time actually started two decades earlier for I found myself drawing on, reliving even experiences and frames of mind I had first suffered alone back at university when I grew mentally ill. This time though I had support, not just from my wife but from a soul-speaking comfort we both realised was helping us through our trauma…
(Don’t worry, this isn’t some misery memoir)
It’s Halloween, 1995.
There’s my housemate, she’s dyeing my hair green.
I’m drinking Southern Comfort.
No problem with that, except I’m having the bottle.
One swig after the other.
It hasn’t hit my senses when I reach the party.
I don’t even feel drunk when I’m vomiting in the toilet.
But when I look up to see my friend dressed as a devil, brandishing her pitchfork, asking me if I’m alright…
Of course I’m alright.
I can stand.
I can walk.
Except I can’t.
Because suddenly I’m stumbling up the hill towards the Downs.
For the love of God, I’m blind.
I can’t see.
And then I’m there on the grass, death rattling, my whole body arching round as auditory hallucinations trip the switch between conscious and subconscious so the latter breaks barrier between them, throwing up into my thought-awareness nightmare images of darkness and despair.
There’s earthquake, wind and fire.
I mean I’m in the chapel, in the hospital.
I’ve been visiting each day, for repose, to pray for my wife’s health as she spends what seems an age in ante-natal, and to plead for the life of our unborn child, Matthew.
And then I’m back on the Downs.
And the earthquake, wind and fire, they’re battering my senses, the god who I worship coming at me with hell fury, like the flame-elephant on the front cover of that Terry Pratchett novel, coming at me, shouting, threatening, overwhelming me.
And then I’m in the chapel again.
It’s been a miserable day.
The wait on ante-natal seems eternal.
And I’ve been reading this book by John Buchan.
It’s about some guy who’s on the verge of death, contemplating it, living it, the wastes of northern Canada playing pathetic fallacy to his state of mind.
My mum’s visited us.
And she’s told us that my dad is struggling now.
Yesterday, she found him sitting on his bed in his pyjamas.
Just sitting there.
Because he’s got dementia.
And we’ve been seen by a junior doctor.
And she hasn’t sugar coated the pill.
Matthew may well be born prematurely.
With a host of complications, she tells us unkindly.
She’s like the god in Job.
The Book of Job.
The horror of Job, his life bartered for by a god like this nurse.
And I’m in the chapel, with all this on my mind.
And I’m in the ante-natal ward with my wife.
And we’re in floods of tears, hugging, holding each other.
We’re being transferred, you see.
Sent to another hospital.
Because we’re at 25 weeks, and we need to be at 28 for this hospital to be able to help us further, with Matthew, our son.
And I’m on the Downs.
And in the midst of the earthquake, wind and fire telling me I’m going to Hell, screaming at me that I’m going to be incinerated continually, for eternity, which completely crushes my soul, in the midst of that…
In the midst of that despair in the chapel…
And whilst I’m bawling my heart and soul out with my wife, in the midst of that…
The still small voice of calm speaks.
On the Downs, quite simply – ‘Give yourself to me’.
It cuts through everything.
Profound in its care – ‘Give yourself to me.’
And in the chapel.
Through the sound and noise of despair – ‘That’s not the real God.’
That is god, bellowing at Job.
‘That’s not the real God.’
And in the ante-natal room, no voice, but a sense, the feeling I’ve had throughout my battle with manic depression, whenever I’ve broken down, that there’s something there, with me, bearing me even whilst the world breaks me with its capricious whim.
But it hasn’t finished yet.
I’m on the Downs.
‘Give yourself to me.’
And I do, without hesitation.
There I am, you see, I’m in the doctor’s surgery two and a half years after my psychotic episode on the Downs.
That’s me, being told flatly by the doctor – ‘It’s manic depression.’
That pill wasn’t sugar coated either.
Just delivered straight, without emotion, as my world implodes and my heart drops again into the void.
And that was the start of many visits, to doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors.
And blood tests.
I hate watching needles break the skin.
I can’t look even now when I’m having my blood taken.
And that’s been happening every three months for almost twenty years.
To make sure my medication isn’t poisoning me, you see.
It started in my third year at university.
I was driving along, approaching a roundabout in the city centre, and I thought he was staring at me.
Why, that guy in the car behind.
I checked my rear view mirror.
He was definitely looking at me.
Two and a half years of consistent heavy drinking had added paranoia to my already worsening mental illness.
Only I wasn’t diagnosed by that doctor, you know, the ‘it’s manic depression’ doctor, until after I left tertiary education.
You see, once I’d had that trip, that bad trip on the Downs, I stumbled away from the green to my student accommodation.
I lay down in bed.
And what happened next was quite extraordinary.
For suddenly, I was infused with energy.
It started at my head and travelled all the way into my feet.
Except it didn’t stop there.
Because then it went back up to my head.
And then to my feet.
Over and over.
As though I was being scanned.
But it wasn’t alien, and there was no malevolence.
It was the most incredible feeling of concern that I’ve ever felt.
Quite the opposite of other experience I underwent at the same time.
Like the drawing back of my mind into itself, someone stretching its elastic band until I gazed into abyssal depths.
And the sensation of something chomping at my brain, gnawing and feasting away at my grey matter.
I’ve learnt since then of course that all these experiences can be clinically explained.
But I didn’t know then.
Because I was a Christian.
And I thought I was being assaulted by god himself.
The Book of Job.
I was in the chapel again.
‘That’s not the real God.’
Well who is then?
This process was going to show me.
I read English at the University of Bristol and had always intended to remain in academia after graduation, but it was my misfortune to fall very ill during the course culminating in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder when I left the west country for home; much soul-searching soon indicated to me that perhaps life wanted me to be a writer rather than a literary critic.
I was given tremendous support by loved ones through this time of mental fragility including that from my great aunt who advised me not to engage in self-pity regarding the condition. At first, as with many I suppose who receive gut-wrenching diagnosis, I did feel sorry for myself, but over time her counsel grew wiser within me and I learnt to abide by its direction.
In a way, with all the common sense hardiness of her generation this relative of mine was expounding what has come to be known in our time as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the replacing of negative thoughts with more life-affirming ones; CBT has been fundamental in correcting and balancing my state of mind, and I still employ its skills to this day.
After a while, I did return to tertiary education pursuing a postgraduate qualification in Creative Writing from that most prestigious of institutes for the discipline, the University of East Anglia. At the very end of this course my great aunt passed away, yet she it was who with her original advice imbued me with resolve enough to write, and edit, and here publish.
It then remains for me to thank you greatly for any time you take in considering and/or buying my book. I have put all effort into condensing the novels from sometimes unwieldy narrative to then often snapshot story, and I really do hope you enjoy the result!
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