Us In January – Steven O’Mara


EXT. – CARPARK – DAY                                      1


Summer sun beats down on the bitumen. ALANA (26) and KATE (22) lean against the hood of a beat up old Corolla. Alana is taking drags from a cigarette.

They stare down the concrete monolith in front of them. An imposing building which says ‘Stillgrove Medical Centre’ on the glass sliding doors.

Alana scans the building, looking through the windows. Nurses rush around on some floors, some floors have rooms that appear more like offices. Alana makes eye contact with a man who has a shaved head and is wearing a hospital gown.

Guiltily she passes the cigarette to Kate, who takes a drag.





Yeah, we should quit.



Kate stamps out the cigarette butt on the ground.



Look, I didn’t make you go in when Mum…



Don’t worry, I’m not gonna do a runner. I just won’t get anything out of it.



You don’t know that.


Alana looks back up at the window. The man has gone.



INT. WAITING ROOM – DAY                                   2



Alana and Kate sit side by side in a packed waiting room.

Alana tries passing the time by leafing through well-worn magazines. Kate is peering around at the other patients in the room. They are a total cross-section across age, race, gender. Kate subtly points to a woman on the other side of the room.



(Whispering to Alana)

What do you think she’s in for?



Kate, you’re actually despicable.



(Mock outrage)

How dare you? (Beat) I’m just trying to cheer you up.



Alana Webster?


Alana gets up to leave. Kate pulls her back for a hug, and whispers in Alana’s ear.



I’ll text you pics of any gross rashes I see.



INT. THERAPIST’S OFFICE – DAY                                 3


A clock ticks, jarring the otherwise overwhelming silence.

Alana is slouched uncomfortably in a gaudy, pastel coloured chair. Across from her is DR. CAMPBELL (not much older than

Alana), reading paperwork for an exceedingly long time. No changes in expression, just the occasional tongue-click and head shake.

After an extended beat Dr. Campbell looks up at Alana and places down the papers, letting out a sigh.



So you’ve indicated you don’t wish to pursue talk therapy outside of the consultation last week?



I don’t trust people who profit off of other people’s suffering.



If you think that, why continue seeking treatment at all, if you don’t mind me asking?


A text flashes up on Alana’s phone, a picture of an oozing rash with Kate posing next to it with a thumbs up.



Uh, family.



I see. Well with the symptoms we’ve identified, we can definitely start you on a regime to get your life under more control.



So what do I have?


Dr Campbell hesitates – he’s young and still adjusting to blunt patients.



The best we can do is identify collections of symptoms, even if the label doesn’t necessarily cover it all.


Alana sits patiently with her arms crossed. She won’t proceed unless he gives her a concrete, digestible label.



You’ve been diagnosed as Bipolar. Now with this regime there may be some side effects, but it’s really the best chance…


Dr. Campbell’s words begin to fade into muffled unintelligibility. Alana’s face gets closer and closer, to the point of claustrophobia.

Her eyes sink, her face drops expression. The colour in the world slowly desaturates. The physical dimensions of the screen start retracting and closing in to a pinpoint.



INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT                                      4


Alana and Kate are sprawled on a couch together, pizza boxes and an open bottle of wine in front of them. They’re watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.



I’m liking this sympathy.



Don’t get too used to it. It’s still your turn for bin night tomorrow.


They sit for an extended beat, the lights of the television projecting onto their face.



It’s a good step though. Thanks for going.


Alana smiles back at Kate, without taking her eyes from the screen. The movie is at the point where Cameron’s father’s car goes crashing through the window.



I love this scene.



INT. PHARMACIST – DAY                                     5


Alana is standing at a counter opposite a familiar looking

PHARMACIST (note: the same actor as Dr. Campbell), and once again the world is severely muted in colour. In front of them is a small line of a few pill bottles. Each has the name

‘ALANA WEBSTER’ emblazoned on the label, above some medical mumbo jumbo.



…once every three days but only between meals. Got that?


Alana snaps out of a haze. Normal colour returns.



I think so.


Alana takes the pill bottles and attempts to stuff them into her handbag. They don’t fit. She begins unpacking the contents of the bag onto the counter – phone, purse, makeup mirror. But the items don’t stop coming, like the bag of Mary Poppins. More and more peculiar objects begin to emerge – a teddy bear, a knife, a mesh bag of marbles, an encyclopedia, loose cut grass. A small mountain of objects amass, but the pill bottles still don’t fit. Alana’s heart is audibly pounding as she tries to stuff them in the bag, her breaths getting shorter and more urgent.





Alana’s head snaps up, remembering where she is. She looks down, at the pill bottles still in her hand and her handbag fastened shut. The mountain of objects is nowhere in sight.

She makes awkward eye contact with the pharmacist.



Do I know you from somewhere?



…no? I only started here a month ago. Anyway, you should be sorted with these, contact your therapist or GP if anything arises.


Alana puts the pill bottles in her handbag, with the greatest of care.





INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT                                      6


Kate is washing up the dishes, while Alana has lined up the pill bottles on the kitchen counter. One is in her hand, as she inspects the label.




Only take after meals. Got it.


Alana shakes out two triangle blue pills and chugs them down with water. Kate watches over her shoulder. She tries to ease the tension.



You fucking druggie.


Alana chokes down two oblong orange pills. She smiles at

Kate, who’s trying her best to look supportive.



Go back to washing up, you might find a black pot and a kettle in there.


Kate laughs this off and flicks some soap foam at Alana.



INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT – LATER                              7


Alana is asleep in the dead of the night. She is tossing and turning. She is covered in sweat – not Hollywood ‘glowing’ sweat. More of an aggressive, ugly sweat. Like an addict coming down off a binge.


A metallic, high-pitched whine begins to fade in.


Alana’s stomach gurgles, her eyes shoot open. Disoriented at first, she looks around at the room in the dark. Glancing down she sees the sweat that has formed on and around her.

Another gurgle.


The metallic screeching starts to crescendo.


Alana jumps up out of bed, with urgency and purpose. She takes two or three frenzied steps before clutching her back and crying out in agony.




Alana bursts into the ensuite bathroom. She grips the sink, knuckles white. She looks up herself in the mirror. Bright red yet shaking as if she’s in the Antarctic.


For a sudden, brief flash, an alternate vision of Alana appears in the mirror. Pale white, blood flowing freely from both wrists, purple bruising around her neck. The figure stares back at Alana, expressionless.


This brief flash sends Alana into panic mode, clutching her own hands to make sure they’re really how she sees them, hyperventilating. A gurgle.


Unbearably loud. A climax.


Alana rushes over to the toilet, gets on her knees and flips the lid with reckless abandon. A short, sharp breath in. The screeching is replaced with the guttural sound of Alana emptying her stomach into the toilet. She flips her head up.

Uncomfortably close, Alana’s face fills the frame. Streams of tears have run past her bloodshot eyes. The sweat is tenfold, and evidence of the vomit has already started to crust around her mouth. Staying focused, we pull back to reveal:



INT. THERAPIST’S OFFICE – DAY                                 8


Frozen, Dr. Campbell’s office materialises behind Alana – still in her nightwear and in the vulnerable state from moments ago.

Dr. Campbell is writing some notes in his typically drawn-out manner.



So you say you experienced some nausea in the past week. Any other symptoms?


Back to Alana, who is cleaned up. A sundress, flats, subtle eye make-up, and definitely no vomit.

Not a trace of the night before.



Um, I sweat a lot now, which is new. My anxiety attacks are still a thing. But they feel much worse.


Dr Campbell raises an eyebrow. He writes even more arduously slow notes. The clock ticks.



Well with these symptoms, I can offer you an adjustment. Then we’ll see how you respond to it and keep trying and refining.



This isn’t very precise, is it?


This strikes a nerve with Dr Campbell. Flustered, he answers.



We don’t know exactly what causes deep, recurring disorders. The brain is mysterious, Alana. But our tools are strong. We can get you to a good place. We just have to find the path.


Alana shifts uncomfortably in her seat. She begins scratching at her arm. We stay focused on this.



Let’s figure this out, try the adjustment.


Alana stops in her tracks and the screen rushes towards her face, like we’re travelling through her eyes to…



Cut to:

INT. VARIOUS LOCATIONS – DAY                              9


MONTAGE: Alana goes about her day to day routine, with differing adjustments to her medication affecting her world.

An experimental, jazzy underscore.

Alana is lying in bed. She is acutely conscious.


SUPER: Adjustment 1.



I’m having trouble sleeping now.


Alana’s eyes slowly start to close. The moment they shut, the alarm clock next to her buzzes. She punches it.



Alana is in the kitchen making herself lunch. She attempts to open a jar of mayonnaise. She can’t open it.

Jump forward in time to her using a towel to grip the jar.

Not useful.


Further forward. The jar is jammed between her legs as she uses both arms to try open the lid. The jar slips out from between her legs and smashes on the floor. She stares at it.



My muscles seem weaker too. Alana walks out of the kitchen.



Okay, we have your second adjustment configured.



Alana is lying in bed again. This time she’s alone, fast asleep with the alarm clock buzzing incessantly next to her.


SUPER: Adjustment 2.



Now I’m too tired.



Alana is having her morning shower when her stomach gurgles.

A panicked look in her eye. She quickly runs out of the shower and embraces the toilet bowl like earlier.



Alana is grocery shopping, staring down the fresh produce section. Her shopping trolley is empty.



My nausea is getting much worse. My appetite is completely gone.


Alana walks out of frame to keep shopping.



Yet I’ve gained weight, which is total bullshit.



Third adjustment…



SUPER: Third Adjustment.


Alana is sitting watching television at night with Kate. She scratches her arm again. She pulls up her sleeve to reveal a deep red rash that’s blistering. Kate looks on concerned from the background.



…skin problems…



Fourth adjustment.


The underscore starts picking up speed at a frantic pace.

Cuts become more frequent. All the voices blend into each other to form an unholy choir. Again, the world is literally losing colour throughout. As Dr. Campbell lists off the adjustments, the words appear and fly off the screen.


Dr. Campbell’s voice becomes more uncertain with every adjustment, to the endpoint of a question-asking, permission-seeking tone.



Alana roars down a highway in her Corolla, cigarette in mouth. Moments later, the car is stationary on the side of the road, Alana is crying and having a meltdown in the driver’s seat.



Mood swings.



Fifth adjustment. Sixth adjustment.


Alana is brushing her teeth when the same alternate version of her from earlier appears again in the mirror. She shrieks.



Visions. Suicidal thoughts.



Seventh adjustment. Eighth adjustment. Ninth…


Alana’s world is now crashing together. Past symptoms. Dr. Campbell’s voice is counting upwards and repeating over itself. Rapid fire cuts. The music indecipherable, distorted and unbearably loud.



Alana’s rash.


The broken jar.


Excessive sleep.


Vomiting naked with the shower still running.


The mirror vision.



Crying in the car.





INT. KITCHEN – DAY                                        10


The world has only the slightest hint of colour, and the noise from milliseconds ago is replaced by the most still of silences.

Alana stares down the lineup of pill bottles on the kitchen counter.


A long beat.


She picks up one bottle and unscrews the lid. Two square orange pills fall into her palm. She inspects the label, which fills the screen.




Alana looks down at the pills in her hand. She crosses the room and defiantly throws them down the kitchen sink, followed by the whole bottle.

She grabs the other bottles and empties their contents too.

She takes the empty bottles and heads upstairs.

The world returns to colour.





Kate pulls her car into the driveway. She enters the house with a bouquet of petrol station flowers.



Alana? I’ve got something for you!


Kate walks into the kitchen, pulls out a vase and fills it with water.



(quietly muttering to herself)

Now, where are the scissors?


Kate turns around and one of the drawers is already flung open. She makes a quick face, but grabs the scissors and continues on her way.




She sets the flowers down, and takes a beat to admire them with pride. Realising there’s no answer, she walks around to find Alana.

The messy living room. No Alana.

The sterile laundry. No Alana.

She makes her way upstairs and into the bedroom. No Alana.

She knocks on the ensuite door, then opens it.

Alana curled up in the corner of the dry bathtub, an empty pack of cigarettes and two empty wine bottles in front of her.

Kate coughs through the remaining smoke in the room. She looks over at the garbage bin on the other side of the room.

She notices the empty pill bottles and panics.



Fuck, Alana. Have you taken al-



No, I just got rid of them.


Kate gingerly walks over to Alana and gets in the tub with her. They sit quietly for a beat.



Why did you throw them?



I always either felt worse than before or numb. Which they call ‘stable’. It’s no way to live.


Kate holds Alana’s hand, as Alana puts her head on Kate’s shoulder.



INT. THERAPIST’S OFFICE – DAY                                 12


Both Alana and Kate are in the office this time. Outnumbered,

Dr Campbell is visibly intimidated.



This is highly unorthodox.



I can’t do this again without her here.


Kate smiles over at Alana.



I’m not just talking about her. You want to go completely off the regime? You were making solid progress Alana.


Both Kate and Alana pull the crossed arm routine from earlier

– it runs in the family.


Dr. Campbell sighs.



Alternatives are few, especially considering you won’t pursue talk therapy. And you began developing symptoms of a treatment-resistant disorder.



So what do we do?


Dr. Campbell shifts uncomfortably. He hesitates his words.



Electroconvulsive therapy is the standard in cases like these.


Alana and Kate share an extremely worried look. They clasp hands, both with white knuckles.



It sounds scarier than it is. It’s effective for more than 50% of patients with your particular disorder.



…and the other half?


Dr Campbell considers engaging, but pulls back. He is extremely measured with his response.



Either you receive the treatment, with its risks and benefits taken into account…


Kate looks over to Alana.



…or you can suffer your symptoms for a few more years until they snowball.


INT. HOSPITAL – NIGHT – DAYS LATER                            13


Kate is at Alana’s bedside. She’s reading over a pile of medical paperwork.

Through her eyes, we see some of the pages:

By signing off I recognise the inherent risk in the procedure, including and not limited to the known side effects of: Memory loss, jaw pain, weakening of heart tissue, inability to process information...”


Kate puts the clipboard down.



What. The. Fuck.


Now the roles are reversed, Kate is anxious about what’s going to happen and Alana tries to lighten the mood.



Hey, when I get out of here we should download One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.



Not funny.


A little funny.


Alana motions for Kate to come over to her. They hug and Kate lies on the empty space on the bed next to her. A still, silent, perfect moment. The Kate pulls out her phone.



This is going on my Snapchat story.



INT. SURGICAL WAITING ROOM – LATER                            14

Alana is conscious, but a bit out of it. A SURGEON is nearby, trying to be reassuring. This surgeon, like all the other medical personnel we’ve encountered, looks oddly similar to Dr. Campbell.



You seem very familiar.



(with a heavy Spanish accent)

I get that a lot.



Will it hurt?



It’ll mostly be confusion. Patients only record a small amount of lost memory.



How do I know the amount of memory loss if I’ve already lost it?


A beat. The surgeon chuckles, conceding her point.


A crackle of inaudible, distorted words through an intercom system. Nurses on either side of Alana spring into action.

Cannulas get inserted into her arms, electrodes are placed onto her head.



Do you have a history of seizures?




Alana goes to elaborate, but is intercepted by another nurse fitting a breathing apparatus. The sound of mechanical breathing fills our ears.





Alana is in the middle of the room, with a number of identical doctors hovering around her.


Suddenly we’re seeing the room through Alana’s eyes. Masked faces drift in and out of frame.



I’m going to get you to count backwards from ten, okay?


The screen nods up and down.



Ten, nine,


The sound of static appears faintly, like an old CRT television warming up.



eight, seven, six,


Edges become soft, light becomes dim.



five… four…



A VOID – OUTSIDE OF TIME                                      15


Extended blackness.


A visible waveform with the sound of lightning.


A flash of the pills going down the sink.


A spark. Back to nothing.


A flash of Alana driving down the highway, carefree.


Two frames of Alana’s first meeting with Dr. Campbell.



Alana and Kate as children. Their mother still around. But only for a fleeting second.

A hundred unrecognisable memories appear at once for a second.

Then nothing.

The sound of breathing appears.


INT. HOSPITAL – NIGHT                                     16


Kate is sitting in a chair, watching the mounted TV on the wall. Next to her is an unconscious Alana in bed.


Kate has either just woken up from a nap or has been awake for an excessive amount of hours. She’s frazzled.

Alana’s eyes flicker open. She stares at her surroundings, her wrist tag, the gown. The world is more saturated in colour than we’ve seen before.

Kate looks over at Alana. Careful not to overwhelm her, Kate approaches and smiles.



Hey sleepyhead.


A nurse enters and gives Alana a plastic cup of water. Her hands tremble lightly as she drinks. Kate motions over to the corner table.



Look at what I got for you.


There’s a giant, gorgeous bouquet of chrysanthemums sitting in an ornate vase.



Chrysanthemums – my favourite.

How’d you know?


Alana seems genuinely confused as to how she would know this, but Kate just smiles and holds Alana’s hand.


Alana looks down at their hands, confused. The trepidation in


Alana’s eyes gives Kate pause, who lets go.



And you are…?


Kate stops dead in her tracks. Her face drops. Alana’s face also changes, feeling bad for seemingly offending this unknown woman. The nurse leaves to get a doctor.

They stand there in silence. Alana looks up at the television on the wall. There is the familiar scene of an expensive red car crashing through a window as Ferris Bueller, Cameron

Frye, and Sloane Peterson look on.








Download a PDF of ‘Us In January’

Bipolar Disorder: One Woman’s Story, Francesca Tichon

I’ve grown up around mental illness. My mum worked as a teacher’s aide in a class of severely mentally disabled children when I was a kid, and my sister and I would often spend Take-Your-Daughter-To-Work days there. To us, the kids were funny and harmless, often pretending to be tigers or elephants and playing silly games with each other. But then Mum would come home with stories of colleagues having to go to hospital when the games got out of control and the ‘tiger’ got angry and scratched the teacher hard enough to draw blood.

American feminist and writer Rita Mae Brown once said, ‘The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four people are suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they’re okay, then it’s you’ . That’s pretty accurate. According to Sane Australia, an award-winning national charity that focuses on campaigning, education, and research relating to mental health, ‘around 20% of adults are affected by some form of mental disorder every year’ and ‘nearly half (45%) of the population will experience a mental disorder at some stage in their lives’ . Only 3% of adults are actually disabled with mental illness though, some like the kids I grew up with. Most of the time though, you wouldn’t even know if your neighbour, colleague, or sometimes even friend had a mental illness.

Earlier this year, I found out one of my close friend’s mother has bipolar disorder, which really shocked me. My previous experience with mental illness had all been so obvious, but Anne Naylor was a whole different story.

Anne Naylor @
Landscapes of the Mind. Artist: Anne Naylor @

I had always admired her strength and ability to juggle work and raising a family including a son with serious mental disabilities (including Down syndrome, mild autism, a severe speech and communication disorder, a mild hearing loss, obstructive sleep apnea and depression), and yet I had no idea that she had been in that 3%. Most people had no idea.

Anne Naylor is a teacher, a mother, an artist, and an author. But about ten years ago she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It wasn’t out of the blue; bipolar is a slippery slope, and it took four different psychiatrists and multiple diagnosis before reaching bipolar. You’d think a correct diagnosis would be a good thing, that she could be treated and get on with her life, that’s what I thought at least, but you’d be wrong. It’s much more complicated than that.

Sane Australia defines bipolar disorder as ‘an illness, a medical condition’ that ‘affects the normal functioning of the brain, so that the person experiences extreme moods – very high and over-excited or very low and depressed’. These mood swings can vary in severity, but generally however high one becomes, the individual will experience an equal low. Usually, it’s the lows that lead people to seek help, presenting with severe depression, unable to go to work, look after their family, do the grocery shopping, or even get out of bed. According to Anne, you’re so depressed you’d commit suicide ‘if you could be bothered’. It’s the highs that are the truly destructive part of bipolar though.

Anne got off pretty lucky with her behaviour when she was spiralling out of control pre-diagnosis. ‘For me, it didn’t start with photocopying, but looking back that was one of the indicators. I was planning a party for my son’s eighteenth birthday and decided it would be very creative to display large photographs of him in a continuous border at eye height around the room. I chose the photos I wanted and took them to work. Every day after my colleagues had left the office, I enlarged, copied and laminated photos, 200 of them in total, in what I recognised later as a ‘frenzy of photocopying’’. She would stay up until 3am every night, doing the washing, ironing and folding, cleaning the house, working on the computer, never tiring. She asked her husband for a lime green Holden Monaro for her birthday, and if she couldn’t have that then she wanted a tattoo (‘a big one with beautiful flames of red, orange and yellow, flaring up my right arm from my elbow to my shoulder’). She decided, in her 40’s, that she wanted to be an ice-skating champion, taking classes and confident that she ‘would be great’. She even began writing erotica, leading to a very inappropriate flirtation with a male colleague.

Others suffer much greater consequences from their mania though. In the book Mastering Bipolar, one woman tells of the financial consequences of her mania:

‘It becomes a devilishly expensive dance. I lose control over the purse strings. I need a new outfit; it must be black and sultry. I love it so much I don’t take it off for days. And always, the music. I have been known to buy twenty CDs at a time whilst high. All bought randomly, for their cover or some weird connection to something else that I can’t remember in the end. I love books too. And don’t the booksellers love me. I choose books on colour or because they contain quotes I like or maybe they just smell good. I am unable to stop at just one or two. The only thing that distracts me in the bookshop are all the men. All these gorgeous men seem to be shopping with me. I am admiring eyes, necks, beautiful hands, and even their glasses or the way their hair is parted. I have truly become part-woman and part-werewolf.’

Another woman tells of her husband losing control: ‘Receiving a phone call from him on his mobile at 30,000 feet in first class informing me that he is Neo from the Matrix and that I am to arrange a Porsche to collect him from Heathrow Airport is not a call I wanted to receive, nor could have ever anticipated’. After being released from hospital, he then went shopping and ‘clocked up an extra $3000 (on top of the $15,000 he had already shelled out pre-hospital when he was en route to his £400-a-night suite in London’s Park Lane)’. Whilst in hospital, the husband was also unwittingly allowed unsupervised access to email ‘which sent him straight back into attempting to develop a network for his reality TV idea, and enabled him to denigrate many colleagues for their lack of support, via a global email in which he also lovingly included many a personal detail about our relationship, and espoused our love story as the ultimate in blockbuster epics’.

The things people do when manic can ruin lives. You lose sight of what’s important, think you’re indestructible, and many become sexually promiscuous. According to Anne, the philosophy of a person under the influence of mania is ‘always surrender to temptation for it may never pass your way again’. ‘Some [people] have spent so much money that they have lost their homes. Some have slept with people they shouldn’t have and become pregnant and/or lost their families because of it. Some have driven way over the speed limit and crashed their cars, or been caught driving under the influence, once, twice or three times. Some have found God, or thought they themselves were God,’ she explains sombrely.

Getting a correct diagnosis of bipolar can take years. For many people, bipolar does not develop until later in life, and there’s usually a trigger. For Anne, it was the onset of menopause. For others it’s puberty, pregnancy, or any other shift in hormone levels, and for others it’s not known what the trigger is. Anne was diagnosed with ADHD at first and put on Dexamphetamines, a central nervous system stimulant whose actions resemble those of adrenaline. It’s supposed to calm those with ADHD, but for Anne it was ‘as if someone had plugged me into an electricity socket and switched me on,’ she laughs. She could concentrate, lost her appetite and consequently lost weight, and had plenty of energy. There was a sparkle in her eye and she became quick and witty (or so she believed), and her sex life became mind-blowing. But all this was just kindling for the fire that is hypomania, making her ascent even faster and more exhilarating, and her descent into depression even more crushing.

There are countless stories in books and online of people’s manic episodes. Anne suggests that this is because ‘in hindsight, the ups can provide some hilarious stories, and a great way of coping with the mood swings is to laugh about them,’ as she does when recounting the stories of her sudden passions for cars, erotica, ice-skating, and tattoos. No one wants to talk about the lows though. Sane Australia describes the lows as ‘feeling helpless and depressed, with difficulty making decisions or concentrating’. That’s an understatement. This is how Anne describes it in her book Art From Adversity, A Life With Bipolar:

‘I couldn’t do much. The only thing I could do was sleep. Every morning I would wake up and think, ‘not another day, another long, awful, agonising day that I have to somehow endure until it is time to close my eyes again’. The only respite I had was when I was asleep and yet, during the day, I kept going, forcing myself to do the things I had to do.

I was tired, desperately, achingly tired, with absolutely no energy at all. My limbs were strangely heavy. I saw everything through a fog. Literally. I couldn’t see properly. I was sure there was something wrong with my eyes, even though two optometrists told me otherwise.’

Anne was unable to make decisions on what to wear, what to eat. She couldn’t even read or watch TV. ‘Every single thing I had to do was impossibly difficult,’ she says. ‘I felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen.’ She couldn’t even remember what it was like to feel happy.

Though her family were generally supportive and caring without being overbearing, her friends’ reactions, though well-meaning, were not helpful. They would say things like ‘what can we do to help?’ and ‘I’m surprised you have no resilience. Can’t you control it?’, but there was nothing they could do to help, and she was trying to control it.

It ultimately ended in her bipolar diagnosis and a stint in a mental institution.

A correct diagnosis and treatment does not fix everything, however. For some people, the diagnosis offers relief and an explanation for their behaviour, but then there’s always the question of who to inform of your diagnosis. Many people only disclose their bipolar to close friends and family, and only those who must know in their place of work or study. There is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, and disclosing your bipolar diagnosis to people who do not need to know can often lead to uncomfortable situations. In Mastering Bipolar Disorder, one person explains that, ‘sometimes the knowledge burdens others or, worse, is titillation. Sometimes no matter how much you explain, people will never understand.’

When Anne was first diagnosed she took an extended period of leave from work and then resigned due to her illness and side effects from the medication she had commenced. She told only a few close colleagues of her diagnosis and received mixed responses. One refused to believe her and Anne had to try to convince her that she really was mentally ill, another became very embarrassed and suggested this was ‘personal information’ that she should have kept to herself, and another, whilst initially supportive, gradually distanced herself from Anne, and their relationship became uncomfortable and strained. Ashamed and embarrassed due to these reactions from people she had considered friends, Anne never told her boss of her illness. Though her rights should have been protected by legislation, she didn’t want her professional reputation to be compromised due to confidentiality not being respected and people finding out about her being mentally ill.

Once she had stopped working, Anne, who has always been a passionate and motivated woman, was determined to get a handle on her bipolar. She found out as much information as she possibly could, found a psychiatrist that she trusted and saw him (now her) every week (now every few months). She followed his/her advice (such as eating well, exercising, not over-exerting herself in any way), and took her medication religiously.

‘Having to take medication is the pits,’ she says with a resigned laugh. In her book, Anne says that ‘approximately forty percent of people who have bipolar disorder take three or more psychotropic medications and eighteen percent take four or more.’ Everyone is different in what medication works for them, and what works is always changing.

The side effects of medication can be horrendous, and they can’t be predicted. ‘Except in my case,’ says Anne dryly. ‘I seem to get almost all of those so helpfully listed on the information sheets from the drug companies.’ Here is just a sample of some of the side effects listed for Anne’s various medications:

Fatal skin rash, vomiting and nausea, dizziness/unsteadiness, headache, drowsiness, double vision, blurred vision, tremors, trouble sleeping, memory loss, irritability/aggression, joint/back pain, constipation, dry mouth, runny/stuffy nose, fainting, uncontrolled movements of the tongue/mouth/cheeks/jaw, sudden increase in body temperature with sweating or fast heartbeat, restless leg syndrome, seizures, allergic reactions, diarrhoea, excessive and rapid weight gain, inability to control the bladder or bowels, slow or irregular heartbeat, slurred speech.

To many people, these side effects would be too much to bear. But, as one woman puts the choice between sanity and side effects, ‘it scares me, taking a drug to control my mind. But the thought of another episode scares me more.’

Personally, I think the hardest thing to lose would be the creativity so often associated with bipolar highs. Some people, mostly with less severe degrees of the illness, suggest that the creative highs can be harnessed to advantage. Most, however, refuse to allow their mood swings any leeway, knowing how quickly they can get out of control.

When Anne was very ill, she took up painting. Before the onset of her bipolar, Anne had no interest, experience, talent or training in arts. ‘The idea came upon me suddenly, out of no-where. I knew in my mind exactly what I wanted to do, and that was to paint large works and hang them all through my house,’ she explains. She started taking private art lessons, and then enrolled in a TAFE art course specifically for people with mental illness. She went on to study at an art school, and would lock herself away in her studio for hours to paint, often ignoring all of her other responsibilities, finding it soothing and addictive.

Bipolar has affected so many artists, musicians, writers, and other creative’s throughout history, so much so that John McManamy, a renowned mental health journalist and author, has pointed out that this list reads like an ‘honour roll’ . He also says, however, that this runs the risk of glamorising the severity and seriousness of bipolar disorder.

So what is it that connects bipolar with creativity? Apart from the fact that a bipolar high makes the world a brighter place (you can see colours more vividly, feel the music, taste the sunshine. One woman even suggests that you can understand what the frogs are saying), Kay Jamison says that ‘individuals with bipolar disorder … possess the rare ability to think along unrelated tangents, then put the pieces together (‘making connections between opposites’) into a grand visionary whole’ , and that ‘unbridled self-assurance and manic energy fuel the creative fire’ . What I wonder, though, is whether the tunnel-vision and manic energy of a mental illness unburden a person of their other responsibilities enough to allow them the time and inspiration to give an outlet to the creativity they have always had within but never had a chance to express, or whether mental illness creates something within a person that was never there before. Medication makes the world grey though; music is just music, sunshine is just sunshine, and the frogs go back to just making noise, but what if it didn’t?

As hard as living with a mental illness can be at times, those with any mental illness should not be pitied. As Anne will tell you, pity only makes you feel worse. And a woman like Anne Naylor should not be pitied. She is an incredibly accomplished woman with a beautiful family and (now back at work) a job she loves. ‘I take every opportunity to educate people who don’t know anything about bipolar disorder or mental illness and I do my best to empower those who do,’ she says with such passion it gets everyone around her excited by her cause. ‘I am lucky. I have a supportive, loving family and a few very close friends who understand and don’t care about my mental illness. … I am courageous and strong and I am continually surprised by the hidden talents and strengths I find within myself. I celebrate every day, because however long I live, my life will be over in a flash.’


Eyers, K., and Parker, G., (ed.) (2008) Mastering Bipolar Disorder, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, N.S.W.
Interview with Anne Naylor, 16th August, 2013, Anne’s residence, West Pennant Hills .
McManamy, J. (2012) Madly Creative, McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web, (last viewed 8th October, 2013)
Naylor, A. T. (2013) Art From Adversity: A Life With Bipolar, Glass House Books, Cairndale, Queensland
Sane Australia (2010) Bipolar Disorder, (last viewed, 9th October, 2013)
Download a pdf of Bipolar Disorder: One Woman’s Story