West Lothian poet speaks as part of Mental Health Awareness Week about her struggles with bipolar disorder
For the last five days Mental Health Awareness week has seen charities throughout the UK encourage people to have conversations about their mental health.
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The Mental Heath Foundation initiated the event 21 years ago, with the aim to help society remove stigma associated with mental health conditions by prompting individuals with lived experience to share their stories that provide help and advice for others.
This year, the Edinburgh Evening News spoke with Angela McCrimmon, a writer and mental health activist from West Lothian who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her teens and has now gone on to publish poetry that reflects her experiences living with the condition.
Angela explained that from a young age she knew something wasn’t quite right, but because she achieved good grades and took part in several extra curricular activities, a lot of her symptoms went unnoticed by school teachers.
“I didn’t understand what was happening but I knew it was more than just teenage hormones, I knew it was very extreme,” Angela said.
“I would have weeks when I couldn’t get out of my bed and my family just thought I was being a teenager. When I look back on that in my life I can see that bipolar was present then but it was written off and overlooked.
“I can remember looking at my report card and my absent days outweighed my present days but nobody challenged me on it.”
After leaving school Angela went on to work as a singer, touring the UK and being booked for international events for 15 years – something she says was very challenging.
“I absolutely did hide my mental health from agents that I dealt with. If I ever had to cancel I’d always make up a physical excuse. I wouldn’t have dreamed of telling them that it was actually my mental health. For me it was an unwritten rule that they were never to know. I wasn’t open about my mental health back then.
“Whilst I loved it, it was also the worst job for me in hindsight, because I’d get adrenaline going through me to get me on stage and get through the performance and then I’d come crashing down after it.”
Angela retired from singing in 2011 and now works as a poet and writer alongside volunteering for several mental health charities.
Her first book was published in 2016 and Angela encourages others to use creative writing as a therapeutic tool.
“I could recognise the release and the relief, I could feel it. It showed me how much I had inside me that I hadn’t been able to say. I always write as if nobody is going to read it.
“I know how much it would have helped me if I could have read something and thought, that’s exactly how I feel. I thought I want to do that for someone else.
“If you’re not ready to open up and have a conversation about it, just being able to read something and relate to it is powerful I think.
“Some people say they can’t write but everybody can. You don’t have to share your writing with anybody. Just pick up a pen and paper and write what you’re thinking.
“As long as it makes sense to you, that’s all that matters.”