2 of 2 | There's a sense of recklessness that leads to a lack of regard for life and for the feeling
One of the thorny questions about treating bipolar disorder is whether genius and the expression of sublime creativity are stifled in the process. How many of the world's masterpieces and breakthroughs were born out of madness? Do we really want to trade crazy inspiration for bland uniformity? Many sufferers don't take their medication for this reason; they risk the demon of depression in order to let their imagination and intellect soar to wondrous heights. In her manic phases Rahla felt invincible. 'I was at my best - there was nothing I couldn't do. I miss it. but I also know that mania makes us arrogant and irresponsible.' Rahla writes in her book, 'There's a sense of recklessness that leads to car crashes, a lack of regard for mortality, for life and for the feelings of other people. Often the damage to relationships, careers and entire worlds cannot be undone.' Intricate art form To be able to function, Rahla had to come to terms with her condition and she had to get the necessary help and medication. 'Medicating this disorder is an intricate art form, a balancing act,' she says. 'I have the greatest respect for practitioners who succeed in getting it right.' Rahla is not dulled down; she has a normal range of emotions and still experiences blinding headaches and periods of depression. She was weaned off her daily cocktail of drugs long enough to have fertility treatment that resulted not only in the arrival of the fantasy daughter she had created when she thought that motherhood was not possible, but also of two sons. The triplets, aged four, all come home during our interview: confident Gidon Greg, the firstborn; Layla Tallulah, sporting a spectacular black eye (she fell off the jungle gym in the garden) and Samuel Jacob, kitted out with plastic sword and 'tin' hat over his curls. He's King Peter of Narnia, I learn, just back from war. There is naturally some concern that the disorder might be passed on to the triplets, 'but we don't want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,' says Rahla. They all do yoga, the boys are in play therapy and everyone who deals with them is aware of the issue. If my luck in having these children holds, they will be fine.' 'No. This is an illness. It is debilitating and terrible things can happen when it's not treated.' 'Is the diagnosis ever a licence to behave badly? How do you tell the difference between a symptom of the disorder and bad temper?' 'It's difficult. It can become an excuse for self-indulgence, but I don't think it's a valid defence against violence. You can be bipolar and still have manners.' says Rahla. Rahla took a year to write her story, with the help of writing coach Anne Schuster. 'It was liberating Watertight system Any mother of triplets needs extra help, but aside from her capable staff, Rahla also needs a watertight system in case there's a meltdown. Family, friends and the children's godparents step in on bad days, and keep an eye on things when Jason is working out of town. 'I didn't want being bipolar to be a strain on my friendships.' she says. 'I had to come clean. I made myself vulnerable, but encountered only kindness. People die from this disorder if they aren't diagnosed in time, but I'm one of the lucky ones. 1 have unusual resources: my mother and a sister live close to me: my husband sticks with me through my ups and downs and provides the infrastructure that supports me. I'm fortunate to be part of a community where the women generally don't work and can give of their time. I have a circle of people committed to walking this road with me.' At the risk of giving offence, I ask: 'Is anyone ever justified in telling you to get a grip?' to write it all down honestly.' she says. 'I've become quite evangelical about demystifying bipolar disorder because of the losses in our family. If it helps anyone towards diagnosis and treatment, I'll be thrilled. 'I consider myself a deeply sane person who has patches of madness. I've accepted that I'll never come off the pills unless medical advances make it possible. When people ask if I'm worried about the side effects of all the medication I take I say "not really; when the side effect is life, I'm willing to risk it".' H •f In need of help? See bipolar.co.za or sadag.co.za, or call Sadag 's helpline on 0800 70 80 90. WIN We have three copies of A Memoir of Love and Madness to give vay. To receive d copy, SMS 'Love' and your full name, e-mail and postal addresses to 34424 by 20 October. Each SMS costs R2.