Seaneen Molloy

Belfast-born blogger sees her Secret Life of a Manic Depressive blog turned into a BBC radio play

Internet blogs are the new shortcut to fame and fortune. Just ask Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, who went from an online diary about stripping all the way to the Academy Awards, or west Belfast’s Seaneen Molloy, whose hard-hitting blog about bipolar disorder was snapped up by the BBC.

23-year old Molloy, from Twinbrook, was diagnosed with the psychiatric condition aged 17, and moved to London shortly after, where she has been pursuing a career as a freelance journalist. ‘I borrowed £20 for a taxi to the airport and I’m still here six years later,’ she tells CultureNorthernIreland.

‘I’d just had the rather unpleasant and dull experience of being sectioned in a mental hospital, where I was diagnosed then dumped into the bosom of the local mental health services. It was bewildering, deeply frightening and not one of those things you can bore your mates about over a pint.’

Molloy launched The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive in 2007, hoping to ‘make sense of it all’ and The Sectret Life of a Manic Depressive‘reach out’ to other sufferers. The blog caught the attention of BBC Radio 4 producer Fiona Kelcher, who began to develop a radio play starring Northern Irish actress Séainín Brennan in the lead role.

‘I love Radio 4,’ adds Molloy. ‘It’s a staple of my adulthood, so of course I was interested in the idea. However, I didn’t really think anything would come of it, so, when it was commissioned it was a huge surprise. I was scared they’d get an English actress to play me who’d been studying Gerry Adams’ speeches and trying to get the accent right, but Séainín was great.’

Molloy got involved in the play’s creative process, working closely with writer Louise Ramsden, who adapted the blog as an afternoon radio drama. ‘Louise understood that it was somewhat delicate subject material,’ comments Molloy, ‘being that it was scenes from my actual life. She took some poetic licence, but for the most part she was incredibly respectful.’

The play, which was titled Dos and Don’ts for the Mentally Interesting, aired on May 8 and was that day’s Radio Choice in The Guardian, while a review in The Times noted how Molloy ‘spared the really dark bits because when she is deeply depressed she can’t bring herself to write at all’.

Bipolar disorder – also known as manic depressive disorder – affects more than 750,000 people in the UK today, and is characterised by episodes of ‘mania’ and depression. These are usually separated by periods of ‘normal’ mood, but, in some cases, may rapidly alternate. Extreme manic episodes can sometimes lead to psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.

‘Bipolar disorder is strange in that it has a cultural stereotype,’ comments Molloy. ‘People believe we’re all tortured artists who see it as a 'gift'. I find constantly that this isn’t the case and that people out there struggle as I do.’ The blogger reveals she has had a lot of positive feedback, both from people who find her writing helpful and some which is ‘heartbreakingly sad’.

Molloy’s family has also been ‘fantastically supportive’ of the often brutally honest blog, in which she writes frankly about her four siblings (‘Only one of them is remotely normal’) and their father’s death from alcoholic liver failure in 2006. ‘My family have been very encouraging, which, given the subject matter, can’t be easy for them,’ she says.

Bolstered by the positive reception to the play, Molloy – who has no formal training as a writer – hopes to get more such work. ‘At the moment, I write for the BBC Ouch! website and One in Four magazine. I would like to write for radio, and I’d also like to write a novel as I’ve always wanted to write a lovely piece of literature.

'It can be suffocating writing almost solely about manic depression, but I’m already trying to stretch my legs and get back to writing fiction. However, I won’t be giving up blogging anytime soon. It gives me an outlet to write about a somewhat taboo subject, and it’s good to know that I’m helping others.’

Highlighting the now-defunct Baghdad Burning, written by a woman living in Iraq during the occupation, and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science as her favourite blogs, Molloy admits writing in the field can be ‘a double-edged sword’.

‘Blogging makes it easier to get your work seen and gives writers a platform to express themselves, but writing for an audience that gives you feedback constantly can lead to self-censorship, which can kill creativity. I think writers have to be careful to continue writing for themselves.’

Andrew Johnston