There is little doubt that the virus has brought people together just as it has also pushed people apart.
Obviously the social distancing and lockdown have meant that we are no longer able to physically meet with family members and friends. It might be weeks or months until we can kiss and hug and dance with those we love the most. The virus has driven a fissure between families, businesses and communities such as schools and societies. It’s been tough.
But like all such actions, there has been an opposite – and arguably equal – reaction. We have come out to clap for workers each Thursday, we have given huge sums to forgotten charities, we have volunteered in thousands to the national scheme and put cards through doors to offer help to strangers. An old man has walked to the moon to raise money from television viewers, pop stars and entertainers have come together to lift the spirits of the nation. There is a sense this is like those national calamities of yesteryear. We are all in this together – young and old and rich and poor.
“ The queen seems to be speaking to all her subjects and we all seem to listen…]
We have that spirit here in Whitstable, don’t we ? Of course we find it here in our delightful small coastal town. I’m sure it’s all around but is it sometimes lost ? Does it sometimes go missing in action when it comes to the mental cases ?
I accept it might just be me. I’m not to everyone’s taste. I can be abrasive and confrontational and unapologetic and make references in bad taste. But I’m not sure that is justification for the following anecdotes. Indeed I would argue those elements are part of my bipolar episodes – to object to them is to object to my illness. To object to my disability is like refusing to open the door to a wheelchair user or to turn away when a blind person struggles at a junction.
In the aftermath of bipolar episodes – times when I am high or overactive – I have recently been dropped by a whole swathe of friends, all Whitstable residents. On the surface they are the most alternative, open minded, compassionate and empathetic bunch. But my bipolar ravings hit a nerve. Those who I have known for thirteen years no longer pick up the phone. It’s been a pretty devastating break. I’ve lost over twenty friends – charismatic influencers leading the way for others to follow. Would you act that way to a depressive who shouts out in drunken desperation ?
I have similarly lost touch with blokes on a What’s App group. I say lost touch.
“ I was dropped from the group because of inappropriate comments when I was high…]
I posted challenging texts and may have offended people. This was months ago but there has been no softening with the crisis. Just when a lonely soul might need some silly banter, the admin team keep me out. Not for you, strange man. You know you don’t belong here.
While one might accept footballing fathers just want banter and gentle ribbing, you might think that local branches of national political parties might be able to cope with heated debate. In this case my comments only walked the bipolar line on the constituency Facebook forum. They were intellectually provocative but not made in some hysterical high. Regardless of the intellectual comments and regardless of the crisis and my bipolar status, I was blocked from the forum. A party which prides itself on inclusion and co-operation, dropped me as soon as I mentioned hate speech. Perhaps I did write some hate speech but what about their action ? Was it hateful to block a vulnerable middle aged man and leave him to lockdown loneliness ? They did not follow up the block – there was no text or phone call or support. I may as well be hanging in a lock up for all they care.
My bipolar behaviour has lost me the dearest of friends and seen me blocked from football friends and political allies, all of whom could be brilliant support during the crisis. My final disappointments come from pubs which have now been closed. In my nearest bar, I was asked to leave because I had been too difficult the days before.
“ I was not drunk or swearing. I was talkative – bipolar people sometimes take the conversation towards the boundaries. People fear the cliff edge…]
I understand that and accept the ban. I had shared a DVD with the landlady about mental illness and its consequences but that wasn’t enough. We don’t want your type here.
Another pub banned me a week or so before. I had written a piece in the local paper about terrorists. Essentially, it suggested that we would only get rid of terrorism when we shared love with everyone – even the bombers and demented attackers. The pub had some tabloids but no local so I brought in a copy for them to read. Upon returning the next day, there was no friendly greeting. You’re not welcome here.
I appreciate this is just a snapshot but they all happened within the last six months. I appreciate that it could be me. I might just be a loon who deserves to run back to his hole. I appreciate that dealing with mental illness is difficult. But this is 2020. We are all supposed to be working towards improved mental health and supportive of those who suffer problems. I’m not asking much. Just asking to be able to talk in the pub, text in political forums, comment in football groups and have some friends who see the boy not the bipolar.
I know our town has the Captain Tom spirit. After months in hospital, my head still reeling, I went to a cafe not far from my flat. I drank the latte and exchanged a few words with the boss. We’d got friendly before I got unwell. I’d sent the cafe a Christmas card. She listened to my story – the hospital stay and the frosty reception from friends. I found a catch in my voice and angled to leave. She ordered me to stop. I stopped. She hugged me. She welcomed me back to town.
I have struggled to see it but I felt it then.
Whitstable does have a heart.