The story of my bi-polar journey of mind
or, a search for spiritual truth.
By Bryan Hopkins
Key Themes: manic depression, bi-polar disorder, cancer, family story, bravery
It is three years since the death of my grandfather. You could say that he was beaten by cancer, although in my heart, knowing how he suffered throughout his life with mania, I couldn’t say who won. I often consider whether he is now happier, free from the constraints of a ‘socially unacceptable’ illness. People who suffer from depression should pull themselves together- right? It is understandable why some people think like this- doesn’t everyone suffer from depression?
When I tell people that my grandfather suffered from manic depression, they often look at me with a misguided, knowing look; “ah yes” they think, “I’ve felt sad sometimes”. This is the point when I get the desire to shake them until their eyes fall out! If I’m honest, I cannot possibly comprehend how it must have been for him. Some days he would wake up and the world was so grey – black even- that the idea of plummeting hundreds of feet from a multi-story car park was preferable to being alive. Other days, I remember him frantically writing, drawing, possessed by a passion for a new plan; it could be anything, my Nan, Brother and I were often guests at our own family ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’. My Granddad created Brain Clubs, Mind Map Clubs, Writing Clubs; I remember all of us sitting around the dining room table, surrounded by masses of multi-coloured stationary, my Granddad excitedly waving his arms causing wind to flutter his wispy silver hair.
The ‘The Ego Has Landed’ is about my Grandfather’s courageous battle with life; from being given the name of his ‘mental illness’ to his journey with cancer. He was an inspirational, passionate man. I really miss you Birty, but I hope you’re there when I graduate! Charlotte Easter
Shortly after retirement, I was fortunate to attend a weekend school on the ‘The Human Brain’, where Tony Buzan (of Use Your Head, Brain Club, Mind Mapping etc fame) was the only lecturer/group leader. A wide range of topics was covered and that weekend proved to be the most intensive and enjoyable learning experience of my life (I had not yet the Life Foundation!). I wish I could have had the benefit of that sort of learning in my school or college days (but perhaps then I would not have understood or appreciated it properly) and that it could be more widely available to pupils or students today. Unfortunately, in the UK, maybe the demands of the national curriculum, entrenched attitudes, general bureaucratic requirements and indiscipline make it unlikely. We may be taught a lot at school about what to think, but perhaps little or nothing about how we think, how to think, and how our Minds and Brains really function.
The weekend school could not have come at a more opportune time for me. I was looking for interests to replace my previous obsession with work and my reading about Manic Depression was already leading me to develop a fascination with The Mind. My Accountancy Institute organized the event and I had attended many such schools over the previous twenty years. However, those weekends covered such subjects as: Accountancy; Public Finance; Economics; Politics; Information Technology; and Management (including such Psychological aspects such as Leadership, Teamwork, and Group Dynamics). A weekend devoted to the Human Brain was a complete innovation. How strange it should happen when my Journey of the Mind was at an embryonic stage.
We learned about our incredible and wonderful Brains (and the relationships to the Body), about how memory works and ways to improve it, and how to read and learn more quickly and effectively. We were told about the attributes of high-level mental and physical performers and given examples of genius characteristics. Specifically, we were told about Leonardo de Vinci (perhaps one of the greatest geniuses of all time) and his development equation i.e.: Use All the Senses; Study the Art of Science; the Science of Art; and Everything Connects (something the reductionist scientific approach may be in danger of overlooking).
Tony also taught us (a room full of Accountants!) to make musical sounds; develop our innate drawing skills (using our left, or non dominant, hand); to break for exercise; and to juggle (which was particularly good fun as we scurried round to retrieve the balls we had dropped!). This was also quite appropriate for those of us who were often required to keep several ‘balls in the air’ as part of our job. He also challenged us on the ways in which we tend to think about the world, e.g. our views of violence in the world, and proved to us deficiencies in our thinking. I am especially grateful for his advice he gave me regarding my then recently diagnosed manic depression and for awakening in me an enthusiasm for Science and Scientists.
Most significant for me was his introduction to Mind Mapping (on which he has copyright). After reading his book on the subject, The Mind Map Book, I began to create and develop my own Mind Maps. The Mind Mapping became a compelling hobby and I produced many dozens of these as I developed ideas for my mental journey. Without those maps, this story would probably never have been written. The Mind Mapping also became useful as I tried to record, arrange and make sense of the rapid, wide ranging and confused thoughts that raced through my mind in certain stages of mania (and sometimes in depression).
After that weekend, I read a number of Tony Buzan’s books and some of his recommended reading. This led to various other interests including Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Also, I joined the Brain Club and attended one of their Annual General Meetings, and a gathering in the Royal Albert Hall on 21 April 95 to celebrate 21 years since Tony Buzan’s Radio 4 ‘Use Your Head’ series with accompanying book (still in print today). At those events we were taught and entertained by a number of first class speakers and incredible memory feats were performed by Dominic O’Brien (the then world memory champion) and others. We were also introduced to Accelerated Learning and other topics. Both events were very interesting, extremely entertaining and highly enjoyable.
The Royal Albert Hall Day ended with a performance of part of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by the National Youth Orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Zander (of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra). First he demonstrated the difference a conductor can make by allowing us to compare the Orchestra playing without him and then with him. Suffice to say the difference was remarkable. He then invited the audience to come forward to join the Orchestra as a choir and we were supplied with words in a phonetic German sounding form. After some training with the Orchestra, the part Symphony was performed, with the previous audience now acting as the choir, giving a rousing finale to the evening.
After the Brain Club AGM, I contacted members in my area and a few of us formed a local branch of the club. We had a number of educational and enjoyable meetings and covered various subjects, including Memory Techniques and Neuro Linguistic Programming. However, meetings were in the evenings, members other than me had full time jobs and often were unable to attend. Consequently because of this, and the failure to recruit more members, I discontinued the Club. In addition, by then my own interests had moved on.