Virginia is perhaps almost as well known for her mental ill heath as for her writing. The more I research the subject the more I understand the debilitating nature of the illness and realise just how much she, and Leonard, must have suffered. Mental Illness plagued Virginia on and off all her life. She suffered severe episodes at major life events; her mother’s death, her father’s death, her marriage; but she was also very vulnerable as she neared the end of writing each of her novels. So, as a novel came to its finishing stages she became exhausted and started worrying about the possible rejection of her work, whether it was good enough, whether anyone would read it and whether Leonard would like it.
Virginia suffered with extremes of mood from mania to depression and would talk non stop, making little sense. She would stay up all night and then go to bed for weeks. She had periods of not eating and became very thin. It was only because she had the support of Leonard who took care of her that meant that she avoided being institutionalised. She did however, spend considerable time in 1910, 1912 and 1913 in private nursing homes for women with ‘nervous disorders’.
Virginia wrote in her diary on April 9th 1936 and then not again until June 11th. During those two months she ‘pitched into bed’ with what she later referred to as an ‘almost catastrophic illness’. When she finally wrote again she says in her diary;
Oh but the divine joy of being mistress of my mind again
During Virginia’s lifetime her illness was known as manic depression. Today it would be known as Bipolar Disorder.