If life were like the movies, this month’s column would be a joyous account of a slow burning love affair. I would like to be able to regale you with charming anecdotes and the disastrous but ‘happy ever after’ antics of two kindred spirits. But right now, my life is playing out like Apocalypse Now and I’m not sure that Ride of the Valkyries makes a very convincing romantic score. Instead, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on being a woman on the edge, in the unfortunate position of trying to date again in her forties.
It takes a brave heart to get back out there and if you’re a marriage or two down, it’s likely that you’ve collected a fair amount of baggage. Mine isn’t the pared down, co-ordinated compilation of the seasoned traveller, rather the disparate belongings of a shipwreck survivor. I’ve always thought that the trick to baggage is to try and conceal it as best you can in the beginning. You don’t want to be turning up to a first date with a collection of bulging Sainsbury’s carrier bags and spill your apples all over the floor before the starter arrives. I’m speaking metaphorically of course but the imagery is clichéd for a reason.
As well as having two small children and a hectic life, I carry extra baggage in the form of bipolar disorder. Whilst writing this column I’ve been increasingly conscious of the elephant in the room. I’m now at the stage when I really have to start addressing it when it comes to my desire and ability to date. On the whole, I manage my life pretty well but I’ve been quite ill of late and am writing this from a psychiatric hospital. I ought to probably add that the elephant is also metaphorical – I’m not hallucinating.
Mental illness can be a tricky subject to discuss and over the last few months I’ve been conscious of how my illness might impact on a new relationship. I’d like to say not at all, but as I get older my manic spells are more frequent and the depressive periods deeper and more prolonged. I am, however, very high functioning and manage to hold down a great job with the unparalleled support of incredible colleagues. The debt of gratitude I feel towards them is huge and the thought of working with them again soon keeps me going during these dark days. But how would a lover react to my illness? When would I need to disclose such information? I’m pretty convinced I’d want to know from the off that someone had a debilitating illness that could affect the relationship.
Friends have advised that I shouldn’t put myself at a disadvantage by disclosing too early but I’m not sure that’s fair. I’m not ashamed of my condition, in fact I’m rather proud of my ability to have managed to get this far without too much destruction. Bipolar disorder is well known to wreak havoc on sufferers’ lives in forms of addiction, profligate spending, dangerous relationships and risky activities or ventures. My manic spells, though fairly frequent, haven’t caused any major catastrophes and are mainly characterised by increased productivity and creativity. My work record has been a little patchy but, when I hear how debilitating the illness has been for others, I consider myself fortunate.
Whilst in hospital I decided to post my situation on Facebook. This may seem like an attention seeking action and in some ways it was – I wanted the support of my friends and to share the more amusing anecdotes of my time spent on a psychiatric ward. The support has been overwhelming and one person in particular really touched my heart.
Dan and I used to go to school together over 25 years ago. He was aloof and oh, too cool for school. I was a mass of blonde curls – effervescent and jovial whilst he was quiet and brooding. If we’d had parts in Grease he’d be Kenickie and I’d probably be Patty Simcox – the annoying bossy one. I wish I could tell you I was Rizzo but I was achingly wholesome back then, though still with an eye for a bad boy. Dan and I first locked lips at the school fancy dress disco. I went as Supergirl. He was all sexy strut and immaculate quiff, capturing most of the hearts of the Class of ‘87. Not Jennifer Peyton though. She’d already announced her aspiration to be a cat burglar and sworn an allegiance to sapphism.
Sauntering over he asked me to come outside and proceeded to put his arms round me, whispering in my ear ‘You look so gorgeous I just can’t resist’ and kissed me like I’d never been kissed before. A quarter of a century has passed and we’ve had our various relationships and a swarm of children. My photo albums from school days are full of pictures of Dan, so when he sent me a friend request, I had to accept. About three months ago he sent me a message asking if I’d been at Edinburgh airport that week. He works on an oil rig, safety testing equipment by abseiling up and down the rig (I know, swoon). He’d seen me standing in the departure lounge about to board a flight to London. I just missed him but after my revelation of tough times he sent me a very compassionate message and we now speak a lot. Obviously I’m being therapised to within an inch of my life and he’s stuck on an oil rig in the North Sea for most of the year, so dating isn’t really on the cards. But to feel that I don’t have to hide anything is a huge relief. We’ve arranged to meet for lunch on his next shore leave – I might just have to start working in a factory to recreate that scene from An Officer and a Gentleman: Way to go Eve, way to go!
Follow me on Twitter @hornseycupcake