Growing up with a bipolar mom
By the time she was eight, OLIVIA PALAMOUNTAIN knew her mom was not like other mothers – her story is one of love and unpredictability
‘DO YOU EVER get worried that your mommy won’t pick you up?’ I asked a classmate, with that familiar knot of afternoon panic rising in my belly. Eyeing me with suspicion, she gave a nonchalant again: only me. At eight years old, I had
Snuggling in beside her as she slept, I COULD SMELL THAT SOUR SMELL on her breath and thought of THE CANS IN THE FRIDGE
reason to worry. Whether Mommy was a no-show was a permanent panic. As the end of the day dawned I waited and watched as, one by one, my little pals were greeted by parents, chauffeurs, nannies; cars slinking off
I knew the drill. Chaperoned around the various school locations by a teacher with pity in their eyes, I was care of the school until one of my mother’s ‘colourful’ friends could be contacted to take me home.
But 35 Nevern Square was a very different sort of home, and my mommy was a different breed of mother. After-school jugs of squash. Their mommies made cakes and went shopping, they asked us questions about school and wore pearls. My mommy was often in bed – or that was where I hoped painted herself. She never baked.
As I climbed the many stairs to our bedroom – I never used my own – I couldn’t help but feel relieved. If Mom was already in bed then she might be normal again soon. Snuggling in beside her as she slept, I could smell that sour smell on her breath and thought of the cans in the fridge. Whatever they were, I hated them. Waiting patiently for her to wake up, I squeezed my eyes shut, and wondered what I would tell my dad.
Ulrika Brunnhage, my mother, was born in Sweden and moved to London after meeting my father in a stand-by queue for a chance encounter that led to a love affair and then marriage.
By all accounts a beautiful, beguiling spirit, Ulrika was born to make an impression. Fiercely passionate and highly creative, I’m told she could charm her way into – or out of – any situation. By the time she had lived an incredible life of excess. She’d lived with the infamous Marcos family in the Philippines, travelled the world by private jet and could speak seven languages. When she arrived in upper-middle class London in the 80s, it was as if an alien had landed. Outrageously glamorous, with a purring Swedish accent and little concern for convention, Ulrika was an enigma. She also suffered from bipolar disorder, an illness that remains a mystery to most and still divides expert opinion.
Bipolar disorder ( previously known as manic depression) is a mental disorder characterised by extreme shifts in mood, as levels. These oscillations are often so debilitating that it can be impossible to maintain a regular lifestyle, wreaking havoc on relationships and destroying the lives of loved ones in the process.
I don’t remember my parents as a couple, but no one could forget their divorce. Brutal and cruel, they wrangled for two years over where I would live. By this stage my father had seen it all, with one particular manic eclipse even recorded on home is in chaos. The furniture has been decimated, contents of drawers litter the the carnage. Ulrika was found in hysterics, covered in blood and bruises; I was upstairs and just three years old. Following this event, Mom was sectioned.
I know just how dirty this war was. ‘I would have tried anything to win,’ said my father. ‘I just didn’t think you would be safe with her.’ And he was probably right. But once odds, she won.
Living with a bipolar parent has, as you might imagine, its ups and downs. But even on an average day, Ulrika had plans. From the staircase) to the absurd (convinced she would make her fortune from selling electronic visors) – there was always a scheme underway.
As her perpetual sidekick, I grew dress up in sequins and parade down the
said and did was at odds with the norm and
On the way up to a manic
into town ended up with me supporting her solo through the streets as she staggered and
anything to protect her and, managing the situation like a diplomat, I invented child
Instead, it’s thought that some people are simply more predisposed to it, with severe
trauma runs deep and her death continues are always rich, and it’s thanks to Ulrika that
into the human condition, which I’d never
I DON’T REMEMBER MY PARENTS AS A COUPLE, but no one could forget their divorce
RIGHT ‘I love how my mom styled this look – the vibe is just so fresh and I can feel her incredible energy’
BELOW Ulrika’s birthday supper. ‘I can still remember the smell of her skin mixed with the burning candles’
ABOVE The writer’s mother, Ulrika Brunnhage LEFT ‘A card from my Swedish uncle, with pictures taken at our family holiday house on the island of Smögen. It’s my favourite place in the world’