Common warning signs that a person with bipolar is having a manic episode include rash/risky decision-making, big spending and an inflated sense of self-importance. So you can imagine how my friends, family and psychiatrist felt when I decided I should live on a boat on Monday, found one on Tuesday, borrowed some money to pay the deposit on Wednesday, moved in on Thursday and Friday and Saturday… started a blog about it on Sunday. Or so to speak.
Today is the two-week anniversary of my life as a mermaid, and I am happy.
For the record, I don’t think I was manic when I made the decision to move here, I think I had a good idea, and quite helpfully wasn’t clinically depressed, so was able to act on it, quickly and successfully IF I SAY SO MY SELF. But that’s what happens when out of nowhere, little old happy-go-lucky summer breeze-esque You, is diagnosed with a mental illness that is characterised by wild mood swings. You can’t trust anything anymore. But I’m not manic. I was manic when I had to be restrained from leaving the house to buy a cat at 4am (more on #catgate another time). Not now.
I wanted to move onto a boat because I was bored, and sinking, and wanted something fresh in my life. I was also curious, after having lived in a beautiful, busy, hilarious, active, party house for the previous 2 years, how it would feel to live alone – something that I’ve always romanticised. Part of me probably also wanted to remove the burden of myself, due to my mental health… quirks, from the living environment of other people. But mostly the first two. It’s astonishing, the impact this move, and this boat seem to be having on me. And seeing as boating, and mental health difficulties are both new to me, and both will probably be sticking around for a bit, I thought I’d write about them.
So much has already happened in two weeks:
I have made friends with a man with dreadlocks, and a woman with a new kitten, I might have got myself a gig on a floating stage, I have bought a bike, I have had a bike stolen, I have suffered a broken heart, I have rekindled an old friendship, I have spent £32 on new clothes (not allowed), I have learnt how to clean and fill my water tank and empty my poo, I have been fabulous kettle shopping, I have woken up to find a massive spider on my chest, complained about this on an internet forum for boaters and now got a reputation for myself as a massive pussy, I have purchased a wind chime with a solar powered multi-coloured glowing orb (not allowed), I have gone skinny dipping under a full moon, I have watered some plants, I have not cooked a thing but I have eaten A LOT of crisps and made some tea, and I have accidentally dropped a large polystyrene box into the river.
My boat doesn’t have an engine. I won’t go into details but it doesn’t. So this blog probably won’t be about anything useful like how to do moving or parking. But it might be about how it feels to live like this. How it feels to go from living in East London for your whole life, from never even knowing there were canals in London till about 2011 (for real) from hating nature and other middle-class endeavours like “boating” and “walking” to basically voluntarily living at Climate Camp. (I can’t take credit for that comparison, it was kindly pointed out to me by a friend as I struggled to get water out of a bag and into a cup).
There’s lots I can say, but I want to say one thing – the one thing that has struck me, so far, as the most important thing about living like this.
When an old friend found out I’d had a nervous breakdown, had been diagnosed with bipolar, and was struggling to get on my feet again – that I was still terrified of making decisions some 6 months after it first really struck, he took me to dinner. He said:
I’ve known you since you were 11. You’re not scared of anything. I don’t want to see you scared. You can’t let this stop you. Just be grateful for things. Try to be grateful for things.
And I remember thinking, as I often have, I appreciate you trying to help me, I really do. But you don’t understand. It’s not a switch you can flick, I cried on the way here, and I will probably cry on the way home. There’s no space for gratitude. But since moving onto a boat, gratitude has crept back into my life, moment by moment, and has ultimately made me thankful to be alive again – something I had forgotten how to connect with after 9 months of catatonic depression, peppered with some psychotic episodes and a few manic ones.
I am grateful for showers in the middle of this hot, hot summer. Especially cold ones. I laugh hysterically during cold ones. So grateful for cold water, grateful for friendly people, smiles, flushes, internet access, and sometimes even human company! Grateful for the sun, my bronze skin, and all the beautiful memories I have the time to remember.
This boat with no engine has given me the gift of gratitude, and I think that’s pretty good going for 14 days. That’s not to say we should collect all the depressed people we can find and place them in challenging living conditions… If someone had done that to me 4 months ago… well… I would have been sleeping. The mentality that mental people need to just get a grip makes me want to kill people. I am just lucky that this move has coincided with a fairly stable point in my life. Fingers crossed it stays that way. The spiders can fuck off though. Seriously.