The other day my good friend, CH, asked me how my parents reacted to my manic-depression diagnosis. Excellent question, and I know some of you have already heard a part of this story. Nevertheless, here is the answer:
After the psychiatrist confirmed my psychologist’s diagnosis, I wanted to use his phone to call my dad. The doctor wouldn’t let me to privacy reasons, so I drove around until I found a pay phone. (I didn’t believe in cell phones.) I called my dad at work. “Daddy, I have bipolar.” He responded, “This is J. W.” I told him again. I started to cry. I asked him to call my mom. The whole time I was on the phone there was this guy in a dark red truck ogling me. When I got off the phone he asked if he could give me a ride. I almost spit on him, but all I did was give him a dirty look. I knew even then I wouldn’t ever forget him.
My parents rushed home from work, threw some clothing in the car and drove to my house three hours away. By that time I was in the hospital. My eighteen month old was with B. I had secured breastfeeding rights for her, so my parents brought her every morning and every night to nurse. My dad would cry the whole time we were together. I kissed him and tried to soothe him but I couldn’t really do it. I was the cause for his grief. So long as I stayed in the hospital, I could not assuage it.
I think a lot of my dad’s sorrow came from guilt about his family of origin. My uncle had schizophrenia. He died in a mental health facility for disabled veterans. Their mother probably had some sort of mental illness as well. My dad had escaped it, but I hadn’t. I learned later my father was also afraid because of the other patients. Many of them were fresh after a suicide attempt, so they were drugged even further out of their minds. Perhaps I was not as sparkly as I was when I came in, but I wasn’t suicidal any more. At least not that suicidal.
He talked to my therapist once and asked her how did it get so far without him knowing? That question is one I have asked myself many times. Why didn’t they figure it out? I knew I was different than everyone else at a very young age. (We’re talking early elementary school). I started asking for counseling in the seventh grade but my mom told me I didn’t need it. My parents must have thought that I was just quirky and slightly crazy. My severe mood swings were dismissed as part of my personality. I was great fun high, and was mean, spiteful and unthankful when I was low.
My mom is usually more emotionally reserved than my dad, and this instance was no different. She likes to take care of things, and she did. Not only was she caring for my toddler daughter, but she did things like scrub the carpet to get the sizeable stains out of it. She brought me my new clothes to wear in the hospital. (I had gone on a shopping spree the Friday before. I bought a vacuum and about about $1,000 of clothes. In retrospect she had the option of returning them, they still had their tags and I had a receipt. She didn’t, so I got to look cute while most everyone else looked like hell.)
I will always be thankful for them for coming to see me every morning and every night and bringing Small. My thankfulness extendes to their attitude: They were excited to see me and wanted to be there. There was no resentment that the visits were inconvenient or too long. They wanted to stay as long as they could to spend time with me and to let me spend time with their granddaughter.
I got out of the hospital and resumed living, only with doctors or therapist appointments three times a week and a handful of drugs morning and night. Life was difficult. Only B saw the grueling pace I was working at. No one else could fathom it. I wanted my parents to know, and to understand, though. For a while there, if they were around when it was time, I’d sort my pills in to pill boxes in front of them. I wanted to show them how serious this illness can be. I have a lot of bottles of pills. Most recently I’ve added an anti-nausea drug because my B-100 pill makes me throw up several times a month. That brings my prescription bottles up to a grand total of seven. This is not counting the vitamins. I asked the pharmacy tech if I had more prescriptions than any other customer and she said, “for a young person, yes.” They even know me by name.
But back to my parents. My mom lives with us four days a week. I know part of the reason is that she wants to keep her eye on me. She and my dad are getting a grip on all this means. Bipolar can be fatal and I feel like, even if I have long stretches of stability, The way I see it I am always going be on the brink of a episode. A mood swing can be triggered by just about anything, it’s just a matter of how the symptoms present themselves. Sometimes I’ll be elated and deflated, up and down, in a day’s time. Sometimes I’ll sleep until 10 (we’re normally awake at 6:30). Sometimes I’ll buy everything in the mall that is my size. Sometimes no symptoms will present themselves, and my new goal is to try to at least look like I’ve got it together the way I used to when I worked full time. If I work hard I won’t do most of those things most of the time, but, aside from death, I can guarantee that no episode will be my last.
I do want to be well. I rarely miss a dose of my medicine, no matter how unpleasant it to do so. I am on a diet that helps regulate my mood and I make an effort to exercise. (Not enough of an effort, if you ask B, and he is right.) I try to do little things, like go to bed at the same time every night and follow doctor’s orders. I’ve stopped overeating, for the most part, and started dieting and losing weight. All these little things contribute to a centered life and a healthy brain. I think my parents know that I usually am doing my best and working my hardest, and they do a lot to help us along.
So there is my answer. My parents were grieved, but strong and generous in their response to finding out about my illness. It is hard to ask for more.