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