Warning: This post is probably going to offend someone’s middle class or Christian sensibilities. But it’s a tale that needs to be told.
Easter Monday was a public holiday, just like the day before. In Italy this means all the shops and services are closed and assorted relatives have the day off work. It was a blazing hot day and I didn’t want to go to Venice.
I ate the huge continental breakfast gladly, and decided I couldn’t sit on an Italian train all day. It would be totally different if they had air conditioning, toilets, buffet cars or even tables or trays where you sat, but they didn’t, and they took long stops at each station.
Having nixed the idea of continuing to travel, I instead planned my return journey. At this point I had to accept that it was impossible to see EVERYWHERE in Europe on a 5/10 day Interrail ticket (five days of travel valid for 10 days), and I only had 2 days left on my ticket thanks to the cock up in Paris.
I would like to make it clear at this point that overnight since my last post, I am absolutely certain on reflection that I’d flipped over into hypomania (I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder for another 7 years) and some of the things I did that day were actually shameful. I’d like to say out of character but all I can say is this was what I got like when I was hypomanic. I did stuff I wouldn’t normally think of and, until about 7 years ago, kleptomania used to hit me pretty hard. I am sharing this because this is the side of bipolar disorder that nobody likes to admit to (NO, we are NOT all criminals or bad people and if that’s what you take from this article then you were never really going to understand bipolar).
Impatient to get around town, I wanted to hire a bike for the day but decided I didn’t like the idea that everything was opposite on the continent (for the record, 3 months earlier I’d been hit by a car whilst cycling, injuring my hand badly, and I was only just getting my confidence again). On top of that, I hadn’t brought any trousers with me, and cycling in a dress is not my thing.
I went out on foot and saw the Roman Theatre and Museum, or more specifically, the Amphitheatre. I wandered round in historical paradise, and I particularly liked the glass floor that had been put over a Roman mosaic floor. The collection of oil lamps was also delightful. I found loads of broken shards of pottery just lying on the ground, the ground was absolutely littered with them, so, despite being in a museum, I am ashamed to say I pocketed one. It was definitely Roman. That’s right, I robbed a museum of a Roman artefact for no better reason than that they didn’t seem to want it.
The worst part is, these same bits of pottery shard could probably have been found on the ground around Verona in any area that hadn’t suffered urbanization. There was absolutely no reason for me to risk getting a criminal record over it. Then I had to work out how to leave the museum and whether anyone actually saw me.
Leaving the museum, I was stopped at the entrance by a police officer who hadn’t been there before. If you’re used to our tame British bobbies, Italian police look pretty scary because they all have guns.
He spoke to me in Italian and searched me. The hardest thing about being stopped by the police when you’ve clearly been up to no good is trying to keep a passive face that doesn’t give away that you were doing anything. And shutting the hell up.
Regardless of whether you have a guilty conscience about something (which when you’re bipolar is often the dominant emotion actually, because it makes you do plenty of things to feel guilty about) there’s always a good chance that they’re actually looking for something else. In my case, I think my bizarre movement and rapid speech, coupled with an inability to comprehend plain Italian, made him think I was on drugs. After his search turned up nothing, he shone a light in my eyes, then let me go. If I’d spoken any Italian, I might have had a clue what they’d stopped me for but I don’t think the pottery was the thing, I don’t think they even saw me take it.
As I left the museum, and walked back into the main town, I felt strange, like I had to try really hard to act normal (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever come home drunk and tried to convince your parents that you’re fine), and I was expecting to get called back any moment. The tales of shoplifters from adolescent Mizz and Sugar magazines, where they always got caught by “a hand on the shoulder” that turned out to be a security guard, were running wild in my imagination and all I wanted to do was get away. After this debacle was over, I reflected (not for the first time) that the trouble with stealing is that, even if you regret it immediately afterwards and decide you didn’t want to do it, it’s just as hard to not get caught putting something back as it is to take it in the first place; you risk more by trying to do the right thing after a momentary lapse of judgement. As an eleven year old (the only time I ever went seriously off the rails – a story for another time), I actually got banned from a sweet shop for changing my mind and NOT stealing something, deciding to do the right thing and returning the item to a shelf. ARRGH.
Why did I do it? I don’t know. Bipolar made me do it. The uncomfortable truth is that bipolar very rarely makes me do anything I didn’t want to do in the first place, it just makes me do things that otherwise I recognize I SHOULDN’T do, and when I’m in my right mind I follow the rules laid out by society. Mostly I guess I did it because I felt sorry for the unwanted artefact and also I wanted to prove that I could do it. Part of my problem is that there are so many things that I work out how to do (in theory) but never really think of putting them into practice. I think it’s a result of also having PTSD. When I’m in a building, I always work out every possible escape route in case of entrapment. When I’m walking home late at night and think there’s something lurking in the shadows, I go through every possible means of disabling someone. When I’m in the mood to cycle or skate, I plan out routes to cycle round the world. I don’t ever do these things (usually) but the bipolar disorder can make my ideas about HOW to do something flip over into actually doing it. A little bit of this is a good thing in the world, it drives progress and pushes people to climb Everest, send a rocket to the moon and such. But when it becomes a destructive force it’s dangerous.
This (and I will remind you that this was eight years ago) was the last time I stole anything, and after this whole Interrail journey, the kleptomania seemed to subside into an occasional trespassomania (is that a word? The strong urge to work out how to get into and out of places you’re not really supposed to go. I’ve got into university buildings, got onto rooves, an ice rink, countless parks and the grounds of several national monuments in England and Scotland. Every time, I just wanted to see what was inside, and to see whether I could do it).
The very last time I ever did anything remotely similar? Three years ago, I went to Urban Outfitters looking for a pair of jelly shoes (spoiler alert, I didn’t steal anything). At the time, JuJu jellies were a total rarity. They had decided through the bizarre retail laws of not selling things that people actually want, that they’d taken them off the shelves (but I didn’t know this). Wandering round, I saw a staircase next to the changing room, and due to the design of the shop I thought it was part of the retail floor. I am SURE there wasn’t a “staff only” sign, and I found myself at the top of a lot of stairs. I did pass a CCTV control area, which gave me a clue I shouldn’t be there, but I continued anyway. At the very top of the stairs, before a locked door, there was a huge cardboard box. It was like six by four feet. For some reason I opened it and inside, it was filled to the brim with JuJu jelly shoes. I searched for my size and found two pairs, which I took straight downstairs with and took to the till. I had the misfortune of the manager serving me. She demanded to know where I’d found them, telling me they shouldn’t be out any more. I said I’d found them near the changing rooms (half true) and when one pair scanned at £20, I even had the audacity to point out that they both had a £10 sticker on them!! I paid for my shoes and I actually still have one of the pairs (the other pair got very well worn out, until one of the straps broke). So I guess what I’m saying is I don’t steal from places any more and I regret robbing a museum.
Rewinding back to 2008, the rest of the day in Verona was a continuation on the theme of mediocre bioplar antics in the form of excessive shopping and nuisance making. I climbed on things, over fences, stepped out in front of traffic and jaywalked. I bought a dress at the Verona outdoor market. I bought a little bell because they’re universally useful. I bought a few other things too. I wanted to buy more things but somehow I got bored looking. My focus was distinctly lacking. I wandered around Verona and photographed the streets instead, climbing on or in anything I could. I remember walking on the top of a high wall on one side of a bridge, to the horror of several bystanders (and the ennui of the locals). I went back to McDonalds where the very thin woman was still behind the counter. Had she gone home in between? It made me a little disappointed that she didn’t remember me (this is more of what bipolar does… as if she’d remember when she serves 600-1000 people in a shift).