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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Double Trouble - Living with manic depression: A personal story and a practical guide

by Rhodes, Pauline

on 23/01/2008

Price: £7.50

Published: Mar 2007

Format: paperback

No Pages: 88 pages


ISBN-13: 9780952976561

Category: Biographical

Pauline Rhodes’ book entitled Double Trouble is a down to earth and forthright account of one woman’s struggle with a mental illness that she describes as “widespread”.  The dramatic mood swings of Manic Depression are painful and full of fear.  They are often tied up with shame, silence and secrecy.  It takes courage to try to convey the “hell” (her word) of living with a serious mood disorder.  It takes courage to reveal ones self as a deeply divided, sometimes deluded person.  Rhodes tackles the difficulties bravely and clearly.


The catchy title and cover design of the book lure me in.  The List of Contents seems to invite a sharing of experience.  It is intriguing with a touch of humour.  As a reader I am put at ease.  Mood swings have haunted me for a large part of my life.  I am always anxious to learn more.  I have read widely, searching for anything that might have the merest hint of a mind in distress.  I have looked at the many paintings, drawings and photographs that have been produced in an attempt to visualize the sufferings of the many people living with a severe mental illness. Pauline Rhodes’ book offers “a personal story and practical guide”.  Could this slim volume, published in 2007, help me to gain more insight into my own experience of the bleak, blank darkness of depression?  Could it show me how to contain those manic moments in order to save myself from falling into the trap of excess?  I must read on.


Double Trouble begins with a short background to Manic Depression/Bipolar Affective Disorder.  Rhodes then moves on to her own personal experience.  Her illness she tells us began 16 years ago in 1989.  There is, as far as she is concerned, a before and after to this illness (“prior to my illness”  “since my illness”).  She links the moment of change, from before to after, to the birth of her children. She firmly believes that this “was, almost certainly, the onset of my illness”. The sudden arrival of twin girls, “by emergency Caesarean”, together with various nightmare physical ailments, changed the “respectable, efficient, successful career woman” into a “caricature” of her former self. 

The ‘before’ of Rhodes’ illness (prior to my illness) is introduced by reference to a glowing CV.  This leads to memories of the person she once was.  The successful career woman is portrayed in a photograph taken in 1980.  Since her illness she has had to face the sadness and madness of it all.  It is this sad madness that is explored in the rest of the book.


There are many episodes of illness to deal with.  Both her father’s death, and later her mother’s, send her spiralling down into the “indignity” of being a psychiatric patient.  Sometimes there seems to be no reason at all for such undignified suffering.  Sadly her experiences of psychiatric care are all presented as being seriously bad.  Involuntary hospitalization took her into a “hell on earth” and has left her with an “innate fear of hospitals, doctors and drugs”.  When “locked up” she lost the will to live.  Diary entries, made when she was in the depths of despair, show her weeping for “what she has lost”.  When manic, sectioned, and back in the hell of a psychiatric unit she hated everyone and everything.  Even her formerly strong faith in God let her down.


But her will to survive proved strong.  Her story is not only about the bad times.  Determinedly positive, she also writes about the ways her life was enriched by her troubles.  Illness gave her a “fascinating insight into the power of the mind” and opened up “new dimensions”.  This enabled her to move into “a more real world” where she had “contact with real people with real problems”.  There are also the “vivid and exciting times” to remember.  She speaks of the voluntary work she undertook and how it helped her to gradually regain self confidence.  A return to paid work led to a burgeoning sense of achievement.


There is plenty of sound advice woven throughout the personal story, and the coping strategies she outlines are helpful.  However, I have to admit that on a first reading I found myself (like a true depressive) noting many negative aspects of her writing.  It read too much like a CV with lots of dates, lists and facts.  The book, although first published in 2007, seemed ‘dated’, an impression reinforced by the photographs of Rhodes and her family.  Or so I thought.  This goes to show just how wrong a first impression can sometimes be.  On a second (and third, fourth …) reading I became aware of a strong sense of empathy and care threaded into her writing.  I felt that we had been through something together.  There was a bond forged.


The book ends optimistically.  Breathing exercises and crying are both recommended.  Like her, I too wish to end on a high note (not too high though!)  My writing about her writing has opened up “new dimensions” for me.  I can move another step forward.


I think her final sentence is both humbling and generous.


“This often works for me. I hope it works for you”.   


Anna Donovan


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