Posted by: hypomanic | March 10, 2009

A profile by Marianne Halavage of bipolar author Victor J Kennedy.

“Mad” at the University of Westminster
by Marianne Halavage, freelance journalist

Around fourteen years ago Victor J Kennedy was Jesus reincarnated. Now he is eating a chicken toasty and drinking a latte in a London café. His loose black outdoor jacket and grey shirt cover a figure that has filled out by a stone or two in those years. His ruffled-spiked brown hair is now specked with white. His handshake is steady and there are smile-lines around his azure eyes.

After surveying the table for a second or two, he sits, all the while making friendly maybe nervous chit-chat in a mild-northern accent. You cannot tell he has been hospitalized five times, once under the Mental Health Act. You cannot tell he is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Victor feels there is enough distance only now to tell the tale of his descent into “madness”. His first book “Hypomanic, Mad in England” begins in ecstasy-fuelled 1992. Aged 20, Victor leaves home in rural West Yorkshire for the “golden streets” of London to study Graphic Information Design at the University of Westminster.

On his walkman are the Prodigy’s manic electro beats. The Ministry of Sound and the pubs and clubs near his bedsit in Harrow are his hangouts. Fuelled by ProPlus and mugs of coffee, the class representative works through nights to ensure he wins top marks on every assignment.

He also parties hard. He smokes Nepalese resin on a trip to Amsterdam, passes out drunk during sex on a snooker table with a girl who is not his girlfriend. Is it any wonder that he spirals into anxiety then paranoia and starts to think of himself as the Second Coming?

“I have a great aunt who people said wasn’t right,” says Victor. “She spent lots of time in her room on her own in Bradford. That could be where mine came from, through my grandfather then through my mother.”

He thinks his mental illness genes were activated by his lifestyle and his relationships at university. “My childhood didn’t really prepare me for university. I came from a local village where we knew everyone on our street and there was never any malice or fallouts or Machiavellian type behaviour.”

Though he no longer blames his flatmates and friends, he thinks they could have done more to help when his behaviour turned odd. But he understands why they did not: “Part of my naivety was to think that people wouldn’t have a problem if I burped in their face after a pint. But they do. I didn’t let people get a word in. I was seriously pissing people off.”

Now, Victor is planning his second book “Stigma” which will talk about the darker aspects of living with an incurable disorder, and show how to cope and manage the illness.

Victor has been sacked, suffered abuse on the football pitch and refused work because of his mental illness. One prospective employer told him: “You’re not right in the head. I’m really sorry I can’t employ someone like that.”

Victor thinks people should talk and not let problems fester, like he did. The university could have done more too. On the Harrow campus there were just these “crappy posters in helvetica.” The posters should have been huge and bright and plastered everywhere saying: “I’m having strange thoughts about someone on the illustration course. I think they’re trying to kill me. If this is you, get help here.”

Victor broke down on the 19th of February 1995 and though he always feels a “slight melancholy” around the anniversary, he claims victory over “the biggest battle” of his life.

A senior creative in a prominent advertising agency, he says he is good at his job because he has talent not because he has bipolar. “I’ve met as many talented bipolars as I have uncreative ones,” he says. “Maybe it gives you the energy to persevere for longer with something but it doesn’t mean you’ll be any better with a brush.”

He has set up a happy home with his wife and young daughter. But there is a black cloud overhead in the form of Lithium, which he takes to stabilize his moods: “I might lose my liver or a kidney by the time I’m in my late forties. “But stop taking lithium and be a bit crazy and lose my job and not have a wife and a daughter? My decision is life now adversity later.”

Psychotherapy and meditation have taught Victor to be more self-aware and switch off parts of his mind. He also monitors his moods with computer software – since his is a cyclical illness.

Because of his illness Victor’s mantra has become “Be prepared. Do not leave things to chance”. Maybe this is also because he is a self-confessed trainspotter. He keeps receipts for everything and writes a diary – has done since university.

Victor speaks slowly and deliberately, meandering around the question. But somehow he gets back to it – like in life. “The brightest dawn follows the darkest nights,” he writes in Hypomanic. And it seems Victor’s brightest dawn has followed his darkest night.

As for the future, there could be a film about the book but he’ll believe it when he sees it. Being content and well balanced is more important. “I just want to be like normal Joe. I have a mortgage and a good job. I’m going to ride it out and watch my daughter grow.”

There is a 60 second video book trailer available to watch at hypomanic.co.uk
Or watch a YouTube version of the Hypomanic video book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkQbVibNH0o
To follow me on Twitter: @victorjkennedy

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