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Brighton’s West Pier: our famously shabby landmark (watermark?)

OK, you got me. This photograph has got nothing to do with Spain. And it’s completely unrelated to walking. Unless you’ve got a Messiah complex. But I did take it today, and this is where the story starts.

Wet Wet Wet

A paddy field in Sussex

Brighton, my home town for the last 7 years, is feeling distinctly soggy as the UK emerges from the wettest April since records began, signalling another triumph for the Met office, which had predicted a severe drought and ordered a hosepipe ban. Shortly after this announcement it began to look as though the most effective way of negotiating the highways and byways of East Sussex was by gondola.

None of which is particularly relevant to what follows, apart from allowing me a slightly laboured segue into Longfellow’s observation that “Into each life some rain must fall”, which seems as apt an introduction as any to the purpose of this blog: a record of my experiences as I prepare for, and embark on, an 825km ancient pilgrimage across Northern Spain, El Camino de Santiago de Compestela, to raise money for Equilibrium, a charity founded to advance the understanding and treatment of biploar disorder.

Longfellow clearly wasn’t far off the mark, given that as many as 1 in 3 people is estimated to suffer from some form of depression during their lifetime. But whilst there have been huge advances in the successful identification and treatment of many types of depression, biploar disorder – in which depression presents as just one of a range of symptoms in varying degrees of severity – remains notoriously difficult to diagnose.

It is not unusual for those suffering the condition to be misdiagnosed for up to 10 years, and often considerably more, as the symptoms closely resemble those of a wide variety of other mental health-related conditions, which also means that sufferers can easily be prescribed entirely inappropriate forms of treatment, including various talking therapies (which may have their place, but are usually wholly insufficient in isolation), anti-depressants (which can sometimes exacerbate the condition), and any number of other false starts, some of which I’ll come back to at other places in this blog in the context of my own experiences.

In my case, it took around 20 years of false starts before I was finally diagnosed three years ago with bipolar II – thankfully, a relatively easily manageable form of the condition, and one that is highly treatable, with a huge degree of success. And that is a large part of what has set me on this journey; my own diagnosis and treatment has been nothing short of life-changing, and I can think of no better way to express my gratitude to those that helped me than to raise as much money as I can to contribute in some small way to Equilibrium’s initiatives to advance understanding and treatment of the condition.

But it is also strongly motivated by the experiences of people close to me who have suffered from chronic clinical depression without ever receiving a conclusive diagnosis or effective long-term treatment; and in particular by my mother, Jenny, in whose memory I am undertaking this journey – this year being the 10th anniversary of her death – and who suffered increasingly severe episodes of depression, several of which required institutional care, throughout her lifetime. Given that bipolar disorder has a strong genetic component and is highly heritable, it seems plausible given her range of symptoms that she suffered from the more extreme form of the condition, bipolar I. And if that was the case, although effective treatment of the condition is more certainly more challenging than my own, it also seems highly likely had she had the benefit of the diagnostic tools and treatment being developed today, the quality of her life would have been improved immeasurably.

For anyone who reads this and might want to find out more about bipolar disorder, I’m planning to use separate pages on this blog to record some random thoughts, insights and personal experiences which I hope may resonate, and to provide links to other sources of information that I think are particularly useful or informative. But for the main part, these posts are intended to be in the spirit of the journey itself: a bit of fun, a bit of adventure and hopefully an enjoyable read all round – after all, we wouldn’t want anyone getting too depressed, now would we?

Needless to say, any contributions to Equilibrium would be hugely appreciated. For anyone who has suffered serious bouts of depression, or indeed has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I hope the importance of the work that Equilibrium is doing speaks for itself. For anyone who reads this and feels no direct connection to the charity, I would still urge you make any contribution you can; even if you’ve only ever experienced a mild case of the Monday morning blues, you’ll have at least some inkling of how incapacitating a full blown depressive illness might be, and consider how much worse, or indeed better, things could be.

A different perspective…

Filed under: Camino Countdown

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