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All The Lines are Curly and Purple
By Katy Sara Culling

ISBN: 978-1-84747-667-8
Published: 2008
Pages: 294
Key Themes: mood disorders, eating disorders, attempted suicide, self-harm, surviving, recovery



This book includes a true story about reaching the very edge, the very depths and heights of bipolar illness, but almost always with a sense of humour. Much like a car crash, people cannot help but look when they spy on these sort of black events. It is a new perspective on manic depression as in Prof K.R. Jamison’s autobiography about her illness in An Unquiet Mind, but mixed explosively with S. Kaysen’s immersion into madness in Girl, Interrupted; except this book feels like it’s been written whilst on crack-cocaine and directed by Quentin Tarantino on a blood-thirsty day. This book may be dark but its underlying message is one of hope. Sometimes you have to see the depths of Hades before you can really appreciate life and health.

Being a manic depressive from just 5, then adding in anorexia, bulimia, self-harm and hundreds of suicide attempts, “typical” student substance misuse on the heavy end of “normal,” culminating in a long hospitalisation when I was an Oxford doctoral student in clinical medicine. I ended up totally “mad,” in a long-term psychotic mixed episode (being both manic and depressed concurrently, and suffering from delusions and hallucinations) and several actual deaths that I was revived from.

This had a massive impact on the lives of my friends and family who have been dragged through 25 years of serious illness whilst feeling helpless and scared. I also experienced a lot of unhelpful medical treatment and misdiagnoses – all detailed here, which should teach those in the profession what not to do. This book will also answer the questions of friends and family, and give some pointers of ways to help and not help. I lost many friends as I withdrew into my illness, but I made many friends with people similarly ill. Some have died, some have recovered, and some remain ill. All agree that such a complete and honest book like mine is needed.

This is my autobiographical tale, a girl who came from nowhere “up North” to study medicine at Oxford University and spent the majority of her life quite literally mad, but never stopped laughing about it. This suits a wide audience for personal and professional reasons. I want to reach sufferers, carers, and professionals. I am proof that anything can be overcome, what should not be survived can be, and that nothing is more important in these diseases than hope.

About the Author

Katy Sara Culling was born in Liverpool, North England, in 1975. Daughter of Sue and Paul Culling, her family moved back to its roots in Derbyshire, where she grew up along with her younger sister Beth, in the village of Castle Donington, on the Derbyshire-Leicestershire border. However, even as young as 5 she exhibited symptoms of bipolar disorder. She attended a private school for girls, Loughborough High School, where she was a high achieving student. Unfortunately, due to bullying and also to numb her mania and depression, she developed anorexia nervosa and began to self-harm.

Katy Sara then went to The University of Nottingham, where she studied Biochemistry and Nutrition. She did her (1st class) thesis on alcohol and metabolism, interested in the psychology of Alcoholism. All this was done despite considerable illness including over 60 suicide attempts and purging-type anorexia – and yet more bullying. Her good work at Nottingham lead to an offer of a place at The University of Oxford, where she studied for a PhD (DPhil) in Clinical Medicine. In her final year she became so ill with bipolar disorder that she was in hospital (first as a day patient, then an inpatient, and eventually a sectioned inpatient). During that year and a half she attempted suicide over 300 times, dying twice, only to be revived. She finally, at the age of 28 got a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the correct medication, and has been mostly fine ever since. She later wrote up her PhD thesis and published her results.

Now Katy Sara is mostly well and has become a writer, wanting to prevent others from suffering as she did. Katy Sara also spends her time working in medical research, and helping fellow survivors of bipolar disorder through charitable organisations whilst trying to maintain her own good mental health. She is an advocate for all survivors of this illness and believes that an “expert patient” system could be highly beneficial. She has a particular interest in improving diagnosis and treatment for mixed bipolar disorder states as this terrible form of bipolar disorder caused her significant, almost lethal problems and was not easily recognised. She has not ruled out the possibility of doing another PhD, this time in Psychiatry. Every day is a battle with illness that she wins, and she hopes that 443 suicide attempts will never reach 444.

Book Extract

So how is it that a “nobody” who is only in the twilight of her twenties decides to write her autobiography? Should she copy Tarantino in a Kill Bill-esque style and call it Volume 1? She is just a girl who was born to a humble family in Liverpool, England and brought up in rural Derbyshire. An inquisitive and humanistic child who was always fascinated by other human beings; a girl who aspired to study medicine to help others, and made it in to the eminent University of Oxford in the City of Dreaming Spires to do just that. An unpretentious girl, somehow surviving all along with undiagnosed manic depression. Yes, she had a very dark side.

Maybe these events were actually far from easy or smooth, and she feels, (knowing she is in no way alone), that she has already had more than her lifetime’s worth of pain. Maybe she can’t shake the feeling that she better write this now because she fears that her life may still be cut short by her own hand. No Volume 2!

Is she driven by a powerful desire to help? Has she had enough of societal stigmatisation as a result of misunderstanding and fear? Maybe she has beaten all the odds and survived almost appalling depths of illness, and wants to inspire, teach, warn and advise people, and prove to them that they can survive, and even better than that, flourish too.

I wrote this predominantly because it is the book I needed to read when I was ill, and I know there are many similarly struggling people. It’s a brutally honest real-life story – no frilly edges, with facts that cannot be ignored, however much we would like to.

This book is a conversation, or rather a soliloquy directed to you as my friend. I feel I need to warn people in advance that I am a direct person. I am blunt. Unequivocal. Some parts of this book might cover topics highly sensitive to you, especially those of you who have lost someone you love. I try to be sensitive; indeed I am very sensitive in my heart. However, experience has enabled me to talk too freely about issues such as suicide, particularly my own suicide attempts and self-harm, whilst anyone else’s suffering pierces me to the core, time and time again.

If you recognise that you need to help yourself, or someone close to you is suffering, personally or professionally, you will find great help in educating yourself. Such edification and possibly inspiration, without false claims, I aim to give here. A lot can be learnt by simply not doing as I did! I aim to teach you to spot the warning signs, learn ways you might help, and learn ways you will not help, either yourself or someone else. Being honest, my book cannot provide the “easy,” textbook, correct answers that you would like, or miraculously cure the ill, because every person is individual and there are no easy answers.

When considering the amount of explicit content, I sought advice, which came back very mixed. Thus, I chose to write the book I would have liked to read when I was ill – blood and guts included. I censor little – just the small fact here and there that could do harm, especially where that information might be directly harmful to the general public (but watch out if you are a doctor/ nurse/ vet/ pharmacist/ or drug user). I have included some dangerous information that is already well known: but you will find many candid warnings. I am concerned about the bulimic looking for tips about purging, anorectics looking for tips about not eating, and the suicidal person looking for tips on how to exit this world. I must caution you that you may find the subject matter “triggering.” There are no pictures that might trigger. This book is explicit and at times disturbing, but it is never gratuitous; rather it is the whole truth of my experiences, which are horrific.

It is my hope that this book will not be used for self-destructive purposes – I realise that some people will want to use it for just that. It would have been easy to provide more details in some inane attempt to prove to you how dedicatedly I sought death: instead I choose restraint. If you look elsewhere, (please don’t), there are ways to find step-by-step instructions on how to kill yourself, and websites (please avoid) encouraging and teaching anorexic and bulimic behaviour. There are many helpful pro-recovery books, organisations and websites given at the back of this book.

There are many distressing psychiatric conditions. I will be focusing mainly on what I know best, which is depression (of several types), various addictions complicating other illnesses, eating disorders (mainly anorexia and bulimia), suicide, attempted suicide, and self-harm: though not entirely these topics exclusively. I will share real life stories from people whom all suffer, suffered or recovered in different ways: all of whom agree that sharing is the good and right thing to do. Some things that worked for them did not work for me, but they may help you.

According to the World Health Organization, 450 million people worldwide suffer with serious mental health, neurological or behavioural problems. These people suffer just as much as any other physical illness can cause them too, plus they feel additional guilt, shame and worthlessness. The severity varies from person to person of course, but any suffering requires attention and, if possible, a remedy. Understanding and reassurance is required, and in my experience there are health professionals and organisations you must approach, who are ready and want to help.

7 reviews for DARK CLOUDS GATHER

  1. Michael McCook (bipolar II) 9 Dec. 2007 (verified owner)

    “Hi Katy, thanks ever so much for the opportunity of a chapter pre-read, I was utterly enthralled by the levels of blunt honesty and the situations you were in. To describe it in a word, “wow” would be a major understatement if ever there was one. “Captivating” would be my word of choice. You will most definitely sell a copy to me, that’s for sure. The gold nugget of a preview you sent will be securely for my own eyes, I will tell you it’s fantastic though. Also, you’re very cheeky leaving it on such an enigmatic cliffhanger!”

  2. Sarah Mercer (bulimic, borderline personality (verified owner)

    “I’ve read the whole book and really would love to see it in print. I found it a compelling read, VERY well written and something which I feel should be available for all to read. I think it is quite unusual as Katy is in a position to combine extensive intellectual expertise with quite extraordinary personal experience. The brutal honesty of this book is quite unusual but so refreshing, the fact that little is censored is so important – it facilitates a deeper understanding of mental illness and the hell the sufferer experiences. Honesty and open disclosure is the route needed to break down the social stigma surrounding mental health matters and this book takes a huge step forward in this respect. I gained greater understanding of my own illness and even felt more accepting of the struggle I faced, but most of all seeing how low one person can sink and to then recover enough to be in a position to help others gives me hope for my own recovery.”

  3. Tobias Monk USA – Texas (verified owner)

    “Once I began reading Dark Clouds Gather I could not put it down. As the child of a bipolar parent it struck a chord within me. I was particularly impressed with your perception and perspective of your illness. Your story is a confirmation of experiences for those who suffer from bipolarity, and an eye opening revelation for those who do not.”

  4. Lucy Sumner perfectly sane (verified owner)

    “Unquestionably the most gripping thing I’ve ever read. The Oxford background is a great added bonus.” ………………………………………………………………..

  5. Maria Nieto Vizcaya Spain (verified owner)

    “I’m deeply thankful to you for letting me dive in such a private experience, it’s been an amazing read I’ll never forget, you left a print in my heart. I just pray you finally find someone interested on publishing it, cause I think it is an incredible testimony to bring huge awareness to society.”

  6. Stephen major unipolar depression (verified owner)

    “Wow!!! I just finished reading that chapter of your book. That’s pretty close to the bone. I really admire your courage and candor and total honesty about everything about your guilt, confusion and your own faults and fears. I really hope that someone reads it who could be able to publish it, this is a story that needs to be told, to be read, to be understood. Get that book done, it’s a very important work as I’m sure you know, and will do a lot of good.”

  7. Bipolar disorder survivor anon (verified owner)

    “Until I read this, I thought I’d made an embarrassing number of suicide attempts…”…………………………………………

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