|Doomed for Life at 29
Mood swings have been with me all my life, at least as
far back as I can remember. I remember the happy, hyper, excited
times when I would stay up night after night working on "the most important
project of my life". And my face pinkens still when I recall
the times as a teen that I would ride down the main drag of town with my
upper body out the window, singing along with the radio at the top of my
Even more, I recall the times when I became morose and
depressed, withdrawing from friends and family, spending hours in my room
simply "thinking" - thoughts that had no beginning or end, but circled
like a panther closing in on it's prey. At these times tears were
always close to the surface and a comment, whether of support or censure,
would have them streaming down my cheeks in torrents. Yet I had no
explanation for why it happened.
These periods were mostly short-lived, a week or less
in duration and not so severe as to cause undue concern. "Teenage
hormones" was the cause most cited by my parents… manic depression was
never considered even though my mom had it. My small "episodes" were
nothing compared to the major ones she experienced.
I was 23 when my second son was born. His birth
was followed by a depression more deep than I had ever experienced, but
he had been born with a heart problem (now corrected), and the depression
was easily explained. After a couple of weeks I was able to bring
him home and my mood gradually improved.
It was Autumn, 1979. The beauty of the sunshine
and splendor of the gorgeous leaves in hues of gold, red, rust and orange
had passed its peak. Dead leaves were falling everywhere to crackle
and disintegrate beneath my feet as I walked. The scurry of the chipmunks
and squirrels gathering their Winter supply of food had all but ceased.
Looking around me I saw death and destruction and cried at the loss of
Each day was a struggle…first to open my eyes, then to
move my body. It was as if a solid weight had settled on me and it
took super human effort to move beneath it. I had a mission to support
my young family and a good job, so every morning I made that effort, and
amazingly survived the days. The depression worsened daily, and I
would cry all the way to work and all the way home, but was able to carefully
mask it while there. A few weeks later the day came when it could
no longer be hidden.
I had not eaten or slept for some days. My face
was haggard and gray and I cried…copiously…all the time. I could
barely force myself to walk, so leaden were my feet. I had been seeing
a clinical psychologist who my husband had been involved with and he made
a referral to a psychiatrist. By this time I was severely depressed
and needed only to be relieved of the inner pain and torment…I would have
sought that help, if it was available…anywhere. Secretly, I prayed
that a psychiatrist was not what I needed (the flashbacks from my mom's
suffering were ever present), but logically I was already putting 2 and
The appointment was a week away…I did not make it that
long. My husband took me to my family doctor where I sat for a full
hour crying and trying to choke out answers to questions. He prescribed
some medicine and I went home with a tiny ray of hope that it would fix
everything. It didn't. By the time I saw the psychiatrist (the
same one who had treated my mother) even speech was next to impossible.
Still, I was not expecting his words "you must be admitted to hospital
immediately." I stared blankly at him through the bleak black holes
in my face thinking "you have just verified my most frightening suspicions.
You are saying I am like my mother." I crumpled in my chair, defeated.
My memory of being in the hospital is not clear.
I have flashes of memory…of me remaining in bed, totally mute, curled in
the fetal position, not recognizing even my husband and children.
I remember a special nurse, Rose, who sat on the bed next to me, hugged
me to her and told me I would get better again and again. I still
was not able to eat and over the eight weeks in hospital lost 50 pounds.
Gradually, I did improve. Eventually I returned
home and two weeks later I returned to work. Pressures of finance
would not allow me the time for total recovery. I continued to see
the psychiatrist regularly and to take my medication, but never truly achieved
the state of normalcy I had enjoyed before the depression started.
All was well though…I was able to carry on with my life.
It was Autumn, 1980. Depression once again lowered
its boom…this time though, I knew what it was and my doctor was aware.
Changes in medication followed, but to no avail. My mood moved inexorably
down at an even quicker pace than the last time. One year, almost
to the day after my first admission to hospital, I was admitted again,
severely depressed and hopeless. I could not live my life this way.
I despaired completely of any expectation of improvement. I was doomed
for life, and at that time I made a vow to myself that if this was the
quality of life I could expect, I would not live it.
Although I had not exhibited signs of mania at this point,
my psychiatrist decided on the basis of my mom's history to start me on
lithium, a mood stabilizer specifically for manic depressives. One
morning a week or ten days later, when he came to my room I smiled…a genuine
smile…and he grabbed me and hugged me. I think that was the first
time he had ever seen me smile.
My diagnosis at this point was Manic Depression.
In later times, the hypomania would make its presence known in countless
ways. Once started on the appropriate treatment I improved, though
it took some time. For two years I had spent Christmas in the hospital
leaving 2 small boys at home without their mommy. My guilt and regret
over this alone has never left me.
I will never forget Dr Johann Schwarzl. He was a
wonderful man who was claimed by ALS some years after he began treating
me. His kind ways and answers to my questions always left me feeling
that he truly understood and cared. One day, bothered by problems
with my memory I asked him "Doctor, why is it that I can not remember things
the way I used to?"
I have never forgotten his reply "When you are depressed
your mind is like a camera, without any film. At the time you see
and are aware of everything that happens. Nothing is recorded though
because you have no film". I understood.
At the age of 29 I was diagnosed with Manic Depression.
At the age of 29 I was doomed for life to carry the label and the illness.
Was it really such a bad thing?
See my next article "Picking up the Pieces"
Return to Table of