Diary of a Bipolar Explorer

Lucy Newlyn

In September 2002 Lucy Newlyn found herself incarcerated in a mental hospital in Leeds. She had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act as a danger to herself and others during a psychotic episode after three nights without sleep. The psychosis was triggered by unusual circumstances — two years of grieving for a dead sister followed by a vigil at her father’s deathbed, during which she hallucinated that his hospital ward was a trench on the Somme during the First World War. This psychotic episode uncovered long-term psychiatric problems, which led in due course to a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder (manic depression). Bipolarity involves extreme mood swings, from very high to very low, which can be incapacitating. The condition is classified as a disability and requires medication; but it is also a source of creativity — as Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell all knew. Lucy Newlyn’s emergence as a poet is partly due to Bipolar Disorder, which gives access to some unusual dimensions of human experience. This fifteen-year diary uncovers recurring episodes of mania and depression, hallucination and paranoid delusion. It explores emotions which are magnified by changes to the chemicals in the brain. Lucy Newlyn describes her struggles within family life and the workplace during illness as well as her fulfilment as a scholar, teacher, critic and creative writer. Her feelings as a mother, wife, daughter and sister are analysed; her difficulties with groups and social media revealed. She de-stigmatises bipolarity and critiques an environment which still, even in the twenty-first century, is suspicious of mental illness. Above all, she celebrates the discovery that writing poetry enables a cathartic engagement with her own condition. Diary of a Bipolar Explorer is not a self-help manual (there are plenty of those) but a candid confessional memoir which offers no easy solutions. It involves a mixture of observation and reflection, interspersing poetry with prose. Written accessibly, it will appeal to anyone interested in mental illness, creative process and the life of the mind.

Lucy Newlyn is Emeritus Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where she worked as a tutor in English literature for thirty-five years. She has published widely on English Romanticism (including four books published by Oxford University Press) and is the author of two collections of poetry.

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192 pp
February 2018
ISBN: 9781909930636