Bipolar disorder led to impulse buying and a run-in with Simon Cowell
Do you really know what bipolar disorder means? Most don’t, but in coping with the condition, Robert Palmer has had a run-in with Simon Cowell, dealings with the police, tea with Ruby Wax, coped with senseless impulse buying and being a father to his incredible son. Reporter James Dunn was given a fascinating insight into his road from offender to charity worker.
ROBERT Palmer, 53, has bipolar disorder, a form of mental illness that subjects sufferers to extreme highs and almost intolerable lows.
However, in the midst of what he calls a “manic period” he can seem calm, mild-mannered and intelligent.
A proud dad to 12-year-old Morgan, he is anything but the raving lunatic associated with mental health issues in years gone by.
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However, Robert has had psychotic periods in the past and they have ended in some almost unbelievable dealings with the police.
The most recent was when he published a 2,500-word essay online, claiming that Britain’s Got Talent was rigged in 2011. The blog was read by more than a million people and resulted in him being given a police caution for a malicious communication.
Robert claimed to be a Sony Music executive and said that Simon Cowell’s, pictured below, label SyCo signed a deal to manage 12-year-old contestant Ronan Parke two years ago.
The blog, which suggested that the show was rigged in his favour, drew the attention of national media and SyCo threatened to take legal action against anyone who repeated the allegation.
Robert said that two police officers even came all the way from London to speak to him.
“I was manic when I wrote the blog but the next day, all the attention that it got made me realise what I had done and crash down into a depression.
“Two policemen came to my house from Notting Hill Police Station with my mental health case worker.
“They were thoroughly apologetic and asked me to go to Grimsby Police Station with my case worker. They interviewed me and I admitted it but they locked me up in the midst of a severe depression for five hours before they cautioned me.
“My solicitor said that I could fight it if I wanted but it would take time and money so I decided just to take it and get out of there. The whole thing was ridiculous.
“I realise now that I have more important things to worry about than Britain’s Got Talent or X Factor but then, I was totally fixated.
“The show had been on every day starting on a Saturday and by the Tuesday, it had turned me psychotic.
“I thought that I had the information implanted into my head by aliens and that Simon Cowell was trying to trap the 12-year-old boy into his web of deceit. I don’t watch X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent any more.”
Robert grew up in an age when there was very little understood about mental health issues.
In the first psychotic episode he remembers, Robert believed that he was on the run from the police and even carried out two small commercial burglaries to sustain himself. However, he never believed he had a mental disorder.
“Back then, I never thought I had mental health issues. I knew something wasn’t right but disorders were never talked about and I had no-one to compare myself to.”
Aged 22, he took a year out to recover mentally, then enrolled on a certificate of qualification in social work. Aged 24, Robert got his first job as the manager of a drop-in centre for homeless people in Great Yarmouth.
“I wanted to go into social care because I wanted to work with people who didn’t have a lot of representation. I would work very long hours and I loved what I did because it was so rewarding.
“I met numerous people with mental health issues but not once did I think ‘I’m one of you’. Most of the people I dealt with had more obvious problems such as schizophrenia, so I couldn’t relate to it.”
Robert did well in his career, rising to senior management positions in Nottingham, Skegness and eventually Grimsby where he moved in the 90s.
He met Leeah Marsh, the mother of his son, Morgan, at the Hope Street Hostel where they both worked. They moved in together in 1999, Morgan was born in 2000, but then, Robert’s mental health deteriorated.
“I spiraled down into a very deep depression. I was self harming, cutting myself and I was trained to deal with others doing the same so I knew what I was doing and what it was an indication of and I couldn’t cope with it.
“I was very insular and it was a lonely experience for Morgan’s mum which eventually got so bad that she initiated a section on me. It was because she cared, so I don’t hold it against her in any way, although it was a terrible experience.”
Robert spent some time in hospital and was diagnosed as bipolar.
Finally, he had a reason for his manic highs and lows and he is now learning to live with the disorder.
However, Robert is still prone to manic incidents, such as the Britain’s Got Talent debacle – and some senseless spending sprees.
The most outrageous include spending £5,000 on eight new laptops from PC World and £700 on a freezer-full of minced beef.
Robert said: “I have been on some pretty wild spending sprees but I regularly go on smaller ones when I’m manic.
“Right now I have more than 70 bottles of coke in my kitchen, even though I almost never drink it, and enough wine to start a small shop, even though I very rarely drink. I just laugh about it now.
“I try to limit the impact the spending sprees have on my finances.
“One day, my credit card company wrote to me saying that they had increased my limit to £20,000.
“I phoned them to inform them that I suffer from bipolar and told them about some of the spending sprees I had been on in the past. They listened well and quickly put my limit back down to £2,000.”
Despite the numerous amusing anecdotes that Robert has because of his illness, he admits that there is a much more serious side, highlighting that bipolar is not as simple as feeling happy or sad.
Robert said: “When I feel low, it is like being emotionally numb. I have no motivation or desire and just want to sleep all the time.
“It is not the same as being sad or miserable, it is much deeper than that. Sometimes I can mask it and put a happy face on but deep down I am falling apart.
“When I am manic, all I want to do is stay awake. I have written computer programs and software which have been published and featured in various magazines.”
After being diagnosed as bipolar, Robert and Leeah split.
However, the pair remain firm friends and still find common ground with their son, Morgan.
Robert now runs a website for parents living with mental illness and even won a competition to go to tea with mental health campaigner Ruby Wax in May, 2012.
He also spoke about what it is like to be a dad with bipolar.
“Being a good parent is very important to both me and Morgan’s mother.
“I don’t blame her for splitting with me, I would have done the same, and she still checks up on me every day. I think that we are both mature enough to know that Morgan is much more important than any differences we may have had – but neither of us are bitter.
“I try to stay focused, as I know that my behaviour can easily affect him. I don’t want him to be ridiculed at school with other kids saying ‘your dad’s a nutter’ and I know that if I went into hospital it would be very disruptive.”
Morgan, 12, suffers from ADHD and has an amazing story himself.
As a primary school child he was on the verge of being permanently excluded for bad behaviour but since being prescribed Ritalin, he has turned his life around and has recently been given an award for attainment by school Tollbar Academy.
And he doesn’t see his father’s illness as a problem.
He said: “I’m glad that my dad is open and honest with me about it because, in my opinion, if parents hide it, children could easily feel like they had done something wrong on a day when their mum or dad felt sad.
“I can tell when he is up or down by the way he speaks and I just try to help him out where I can. I wouldn’t want things to be any different because the bipolar makes him who he is and if he didn’t have it, then he wouldn’t be the dad I know.”
Leeah, 36, runs a care home for people with mental illnesses and lives around the corner. She is now happily re-married but is still a close friend of Robert’s and was equally as complimentary about his skills as a father.
“Robert and Morgan have this incredible bond – they both have these slight issues but live their lives in spite of them. “They call each other Bipolar Man and ADHD Kid and that sums up their attitude to the conditions that they live with, they see themselves more like super heroes. Despite things being slightly more difficult for them, they will still achieve.
“Even though things didn’t work out with Robert and me, we loved each other enough to have a child and consider ourselves very lucky to have had an incredible son like Morgan as the result of us being together.
“Robert gets along well with my husband and, as a family, I think we have a great relationship. It’s not conventional but it works for us.
“Robert may have bipolar but never once have I felt Morgan is at all at risk and he would always put Morgan first. On days when others might not get up, Robert would drag himself out of bed because he knows Morgan needs to get to school. I speak to Robert every day and if I feel that he is not doing so well, I am there to pick things up.
“It is not your usual family unit but I think we are very lucky to have what we have. We were always open about Robert’s illness and it’s something that Morgan has embraced. There are complications which mean it isn’t as easy for us than some other families but I consider us quite lucky.”