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Book springs from darkness of depression

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Literary life: Frank Morgan says writing was his salvation, as he battled depression and a bipolar disorder (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Frank Morgan felt very much alone when he moved to Bermuda. He wasn’t working and he didn’t know anyone except his wife, whose days were filled with her reinsurance job. Writing proved his salvation.

Mr Morgan poured all his loneliness into the fantasy novel he’d been working on since 2008, The Last Will and Testament of the Pirate John Blackjohn.

“Overnight, I lost my friends and family,” the 38 year old said. “It was very hard.

“There is a ton of isolationism in the book. In the real world, the book is about Scotland, but in the magical realm parts, it is definitely Bermuda in disguise.”

The book follows an amateur historian, Stewart Henry Scott, who discovers an old book which he transcribes.

The story was inspired by the life of Francis Stewart Scott, a Scottish nobleman accused of using sorcery to kill King James IV in 1589.

“As he transcribes this mysterious book, strange and magical things happen to him,” Mr Morgan said.

The Last Will and Testament of the Pirate John Blackjohn came out on Amazon last month; the author is thrilled to see it is selling. He began writing it in his final year of law school as an escape from his studies.

“I really didn’t enjoy law school,” he said. “I signed up to do a master’s [degree] in it for one of the worst reasons, I couldn’t think of anything else to study.”

He graduated in 2009 and was unable to find a job.

Added to that, he had bipolar disorder, a brain disorder characterised by crippling depression and anxiety, with alternating periods of high-energy mania.

“It was the recession and the recession really hit the legal profession hard,” he said. “It was a very dark time for me. When you have depression, it’s like you see everything through a dirty lens. I started writing a book as an escape from this situation I was in. I never quit. This book was my lifeline. I didn’t much like the way the world was at that time, so I wrote it to be the way I wanted it to be.

“I think I started the book in a manic phase. A lot of creative people are thought to be bipolar because mania gives you the confidence to launch body and soul into something.

“Nine times out of ten, it is something absurd and you end up feeling ridiculous. Occasionally, it is something of value.”

Over the years, he’s started businesses, websites and even a legal partnership while in a manic phase. “I think the book is the first of these ventures to work out,” he said.

Mr Morgan found out he had bipolar disorder in August.

“I always knew there was something different about me,” he said. “I’ve battled depression and anxiety for years. I’ve been to different psychiatrists over the years, but nothing worked.”

A psychiatrist in New York suggested he could be bipolar. Mr Morgan then “picked up the thread” with Grant Farquhar, a consultant psychiatrist at Solstice, a holistic wellness centre in Hamilton.

“He concurs, my symptoms are consistent with mild bipolar disorder,” he said, adding that his wasn’t a severe case.

“There are definitely people who are more severely bipolar than I am.”

Dr Farquhar prescribed medication; Mr Morgan also exercises regularly to help manage the symptoms.

He said in the United States 2.8 per cent of the population have bipolar disorder.

“I would imagine it would be roughly the same for Bermuda,” Mr Morgan said. “That would mean there are 2,000 Bermuda residents on the bipolar spectrum.”

The disorder expresses differently in different people, he said.

“A person can be bipolar and never manic,” he said. “It can only express itself as depression, yet it is bipolar disorder.

“A person can have severe mania where they believe they are a fictional character or someone from history. That has never happened to me.”

He doesn’t know if bipolar disorder runs in his family.

“What I will say is that anxiety, creativity and depression run very strongly in my family,” he said. “My father is an independent documentary film guy.”

The disorder didn’t always make it easy for him to write.

“With depression, there is this incredible inertia,” he said. “Ordinary tasks seem frightening and overwhelming.

“I’d stop, and then it was so daunting to find the laptop and start editing again. But every time I overcame that, I would be embraced back into my creation, and felt better for it.”

Part of the reason it took him as long as it did to finish the book is because he is an obsessive editor.

“But I got better as time went on and then the process went faster towards the end.”

His advice to would-be authors: “Stop on a hill and pop the clutch. Even if the engine doesn’t turn over, let it roll. It’s a journey.

“There is no destination. If you think in terms of when you’ll finish the book, the answer is never.”

Look for The Last Will and Testament of The Pirate John Blackjohn on Amazon. For more on Frank Morgan visit www.morganpublishers.com

Book cover: The Last Will and Testament of the Pirate John Blackjohn (Photograph supplied)