|My mother had Bipolar Affective Disorder (Manic Depressive Illness
was the diagnosis at that time). Strangely, her illness began with
a severe post-partum depression at my birth. I have often wondered
if that had anything to do with the fact that, of her three children
I would be the one to go on to develop the disorder myself. She was
29 years of age when it began, and in an ironic parallel twenty nine years
later I was diagnosed.
Of course, I have no memory of those early years and must rely on what
I have been told. In 1950 there was no specific treatment for the
illness, and she was subjected to many electroshock (ECT) treatments and
heavy anti-psychotic medications. She was institutionalized for the
first six months of my life and I lived with my paternal grandmother.
Did this also help set the stage for my future lapse into Bipolar Disorder?
I have read so much about genetics trying to figure out the how and
why of my diagnosis. Why me, and not my brother or sister?
We were raised in the same environment and her illness would surely have
the same effect on them as it did on me. Or would it? Why me??….is
a common question asked by bipolars.
My mom died in 1974 due to physical reasons and never knew that I would
be afflicted with the disorder. How often I have wished she were
here to answer my questions, support and guide me. I know that more
than anyone, she would have understood.
I have vague memories through the early years when things were not "quite
right"…memories of a quiet and subdued mother who would lock herself away
for days on end, refusing to participate, or even have a meal with her
family. I remember other times having an excited, elated Mom who
was truly "supermom" and could take on the world.
As I grew older I remember more specific details and events, and it
is with regret and shame I recall my reactions. I thought she was
lazy, a hypochondriac and procrastinator who would avoid anything resembling
work or responsibility. As my sister and I, at an early age took
on more and more of the household tasks, she retreated further. Much
of the care of my brother, born 9 years after me became our responsibility
as well. "Mom, I am so sorry, if only I had been able to see clearly
with the eyes that I have now."
Being psychotic is certainly not funny, but I remember one episode that
had its humorous side. Mom had been sick for a while and finally
the doctor had talked her into going into the hospital. Being the
clean, meticulous person she was, she refused to go without bathing and
clean clothing. Dad agreed, and filled the tub for her…she went in
the bathroom and locked the door. After a few minutes, she came back
out and in a bewildered voice said "I can't have a bath, there is no room
in the tub for me." My dad went in and sure enough, there wasn't.
She had taken "EVERYTHING" that wasn't nailed down in the bathroom and
thrown it in the tub…towels, shampoo, boxes of powder…you name it!
Dad phoned for an ambulance and she was taken to hospital. Later
that night he found her wedding ring in the trash. Such a sad story,
but a true one.
Soon after my first son was born…he was about four months old at the
time, mom had another severe depressive and psychotic episode. She
had locked herself in her bedroom for days and days and was certain, absolutely
convinced that someone had killed the baby. When Dad phoned and asked
me to bring my son there so that she could see he was truly alive, I agreed…and
when I got there she came out, took him from me, went into her bedroom
and locked the door again. I was truly frightened. "She won't
hurt him?" I asked my dad. He reassured me, and I talked to her through
the locked door. After about 45 minutes, she unlocked the door and
returned him to me without comment, unharmed.
When I had my first episode and was subsequently diagnosed I had a whole
book of bad memories to browse through. I was scared, there is no
other word to describe it. I was also lucky to have a wonderful psychiatrist,
who had also treated my mother and knew her case history well. At
my very first appointment he told me that if this had been 20 years ago
I would have likely have spent the remainder of my life in an institution.
With the discovery of lithium and other medications pertinent to bipolar
disorder I was very lucky, and would most likely spend my life at home.
Time has proven him correct. I have had multiple hospitalizations
but between the severe episodes I have maintained a reasonably stable and
Note to Mom: I now realize how lucky I was to have you Mom, and
the odds that were stacked against you. If only you had had the same
modern medications and treatments that are available today, things would
have been so different for you, and for us. It is too late now to
express my love, understanding, compassion and absolute empathy.
I promise you, though, that I have become a better person through the sharing
of this illness with you.
If you have a Mom, cherish her!