top of page

A man who is not afraid of the sea shall surely drown, for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't. But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do also drown, but only now and then.

I read the quote above in a sea kayak book many years ago. It can be applied to many adventure sports where risk taking is high. It has been important for me, as I strongly believe in the sentiment of the quote and have kept to that whenever I am out paddling my kayak. But there is a world of difference between risk taking in adrenaline sports and risk taking due to bipolar disorder. I break many rules by going out to sea, solo and in all weathers at all times of the year. I would not recommend solo paddling in a storm but it is something that appeals to me, puts all my skills and experience to the test while stretching my physical and mental capabilities to their limits. But in  doing so, I have to also accept that there is ''limits'' and I have no problem in turning around if conditions are too much for me, going home or finding a different location has to be an option always.

A healthy fear and respect for the sea, in large waves or flat calm must be maintained always. So why do I take risks that are scorned upon, quite simply because it is in my nature. I have over forty years experience and the reason I am still alive is because I do have respect for mother nature (and perhaps lucky). Even with many years experience I will not allow myself to become complacent, nor will I claim to be an expert. As far as I am concerned when a man claims to be an expert, he falls into the above category as those who are not afraid of the sea. There are numerous others who take large risks, because of their nature and not because they have a chronic psychological disorder.

I once paddled on a particularly dangerous stretch of water in northern Norway with a friend, we had been given wrong information as to tide times and found ourselves in a very dangerous situation. We did paddle out of that situation, but we had luck on our side as well as proficient paddling skills. Apart from the danger from the tidal current, a high powered speed boat carrying tourists almost hit my friend, she did an exceptional job paddling out from that situation. A few days after after returning from another kayak trip, I mentioned I was bipolar. She asked almost immediately if that was why we had paddled through one off the strongest tidal currents in the world, Saltstraumen. I can not begin to explain how happy I was that she asked, she had given me the chance to explain that it most definitely nothing to do with being bipolar. An honest question and a question very few would ask, a question many would certainly have on their minds knowing I am bipolar and judge me without being able to defend myself. And sadly to say, there is evidence that others have connected my sickness to my risk taking and refuse to accept that I am a reasonably experienced kayaker and I do have some clue as to what I am doing.

Not been accepted in certain circles because I am bipolar is a part of life, and it no longer bothers me. But to those who like to point out my sickness in order to promote their own interests are doing no more than shifting the focus away from their own inadequacies. With many years experience, have attended many courses when I was younger and was a qualified instructor (BCU inland) at the age of 18, chosen as regional instructor (one of) in the north of Scotland at 21, many hundred trips behind me, and still I can not be credited as a reasonable paddler, only that my accomplishments are because of psychological state of mind. There is no connection, none whatsoever, but thankfully those persons are few and my kayaking will continue regardless. 

It is merely my opinion, but from experience and having read up on the experiences of other mental health sufferers, risk taking is spontaneous and self harming. It doesn't add up that a person in difficulty (health-wise) would go to the bother of organising a kayak trip in order to ''end it all.'' And even if I have got myself into difficulties at sea, I have never brought anyone along with me that isn't suitably experienced for conditions I paddle in. I would actually say that I am over cautious when it comes to paddling with others in challenging situations.

If I go out in bad weather and paddle close to land, where I have studied the weather, tides, temperatures, where I have evaluated a situation and know that I have a back up plan, where I am certain (as can be) I can roll in event of a capsize, or come to land by kayak or swim if I must. With all the correct equipment, safety back ups, extra paddles, extra telephone, (extra chocolate), and much more. As prepared as I can be for any eventuality, it will of course appear like madness to the onlooker with out knowing all of these things.

Thankfully, in recent times, the general knowledge about psychological illnesses is improving. And with each day there comes more understanding and less condemnation. More and more are people such as myself are accepted for who we are, and not for the sickness we have. Adventure sport where there is some risk involved is healthy, bipolar doesn't drive me towards risk taking, but risk taking does have a positive effect on my own mental health, as it does for all.

bottom of page