story is as simple, as it is complex. As humorous, as it is painful. As
unique, as it is ordinary. The journey began long before my birth...carried
mysteriously in the genetics and history of my parents. They gifted me
with green eyes and blonde hair. A love of music, and writing. A quick
mind, and a sharp tongue. An Irish temperament. And a mental illness. My
emotional response to this life story is "as variable as my mood." And,
I guess, that phrase sums up what being bipolar means, to me. The "data"....Iím
bipolar II, rapid cycling.
my long/short 49 years, Iíve completed some of the milestones "Dick a nd
Jane" said were important. I married. The first time was a struggle; we
passed some incredibly difficult and dangerous years. He was an abusive
alcoholic and, I understand now, very mentally ill. I escaped with my life.
Later, I met my current husband, and cautiously entered into another committed
relationship. Iíve been married to this deliciously delightful man for
24 years. Iíve completed an education that includes a nursing degree and
a Masterís Degree (in Rehabilitation Counseling). Iíve worked full time,
part-time, and no time. I now have my own business (as a Reiki practitioner)
and have been blessed enough to be able to work part-time, creating my
own hours. I get up every day and interact with people, bring in a fair
income, pay my bills, and live in a house that I love. We have 3 cats,
2 dogs (no kids).
If I sat down with a psych, without being honest, and gave these details,
he/she would mark me as "normal," and wonder what I was doing in the office.
This is the slippery, seductive facade of being Bipolar II, raised by parents
who pretended that one of them wasnít an alcoholic. That one of them wasnít
horribly compromised by mental illness. That giving your children to relatives
was an accepted course of events. That having your daughters molested was
unfortunate, but nothing to be "unduly concerned" about. What I learned
about not being honest regarding mental illness and alcoholism almost cost
me my marriage, my life. So, now, when I sit down with a psych, Iím honest.
About the fact that I have mood swings. That some days, although I get
out of bed, I stay in my "jammies." Some days, when I donít have clients,
I donít shower. Or wash my hair. I get dressed just before my husband comes
home. Some days I smile, and itís legitimate. Some days, I laugh..a lot.
And the world is an incredibly bright light that I buzz around. And I shop.
Some days I smile, and itís as phony as the "leather" of my shoes. Some
days I cry and tell my husband the truth. But always, now, Ií m honest
with myself. And always, I honor myself.
The first three years were fortunately fairly balanced My father left for
Korea when I was 3 months old (returning when I was 3 years old). Without
the agitation of an alcoholic husband, my mother was fairly intact. My
siblings at home (3 sisters and a brother) took my caretaking seriously,
and provided me with a stable, consistent nurturing base. They were, most
likely, the lifeline to whatever claim to mental health I have. When my
father returned from Korea, our home quickly fell apart. My parents divorced,
my siblings began hitting variable adolescent crises, and we moved to a
small shack in the woods. But, I had a new lifeline...my grandparents,
who came to live in the house next to ours. For the next 4 years, my grandfather
would provide a semblance of stability in what had become a ruinous house
of chaos. As a young child, I was variably gregarious and silent. Connected,
then withdrawn. Though I donít remember anything about what I thought or
felt during those early years, one report in the first grade identified
that I was "quite talkative, and didnít concentrate enough". I would need
to learn to "settle down". I understand, now, that the roots of my behavior
were complex...less about being "a brat" and a "bad seed" (my motherís
description) and more about having a temperament and genetic predisposition
that would (initially) direct my responses to an incredibly chaotic home
By the third grade, after surviving abuse, abandonment and loss, I was
withdrawn, painfully shy. The fragile links of stability, so crucial in
those early years, were splintering. My brother and one sister were gone
by the time I was five, the other two sisters had married and moved out,
one eventually leaving for California with my niece and nephew, the other
for Arkansas. My grandparents had returned to the east coast. My mother
had a serious "break"during the summer of my third year (a simple phrase
to depict a horrendous time in my young life). We struggled in poverty
for several years, moving from one low-rent studio apartment to another.
My father (Iíve been told) made frequent "visits." I only remember one...his
drunken self standing in the doorway, blood running from a cut finger after
an automobile accident.
When I was eight, my parents remarried. We began years of "serious" moving...ripping
me away from my last threads of familiarity..my friends and home state.
By thirteen, I was banging my head on the wall, praying for death. At sixteen,
I decided to end my education. Mom took me to a school counselor for evaluation.
The results: I was just experiencing "normal" adolescent adjustment stress.
Hmmmm....so thatís what it was called. Looking back now, I realize how
absolutely out of control my emotions and spirit were...how quickly I was
spiraling downward into an abyss of mood swings, confusion, low self esteem
and self recrimination. We bargained. I completed high school in a fog
of misery, graduating in spite of the odds. Married early. Divorced early.
Iíd had scattered "meetings" with all of my siblings by this time...meetings
that were enough to recreate the pain of loss, without any "real" connection,
bonding. I became truly aware of how isolated Iíd been growing up.
During my early twenties, I experimented with drugs and alcohol...pot,
speed, wine, gin. I was always too afraid to put anything stronger in my
body, intuitively knowing that my chemistry was a little "off." I was the
only one in my crowd to remain "flat" on speed, to become dangerously anesthetized
by pot. To became deathly ill after "drinking binges." My mid-twenties
were a blessing of natural hypomanias, with very few depressive episodes.
My unsuspecting husband met me during these years. Neither of us had any
hint about how depressed I would become. About what path we would have
to trudge in order to regain half of the joy weíd experienced during the
first years. By my late twenties, Iíd begun the slow, plodding slide into
the first of many major depressive episodes, broken only by sporadic bursts
of hypomania. Driven by hormones and the dream of "2.5 kids", I struggled
with what would become a losing battle over infertility. If youíve made
this journey yourself, I donít have to explain...youíve been there, too.
Weíve met, glanced at each other through the blurred vision of agonized
tears. If youí ve not encountered this odyssey, no amount of verbiage could
convey the tormenting emptiness of never bearing a child of your own. Finalized
by a precipitous hysterectomy, at thirty-two, my battle against major depression
floundered and failed. The winter of Ď82 brought me to my knees. Weíd moved
to an ancient, dilapidated trailer in the middle of the woods (beautiful
in the summer, but gloomy, dark, damp and deadly cold in the winter). I
donít know which carried the heaviest burden..the screaming, searing pain
of abdominal surgery (that my body found very familiar from early childhood
experiences), or the exquisite agony of meeting, head on, the truth about
being forever childless. Iíd recently graduated from nursing school, so
I attempted to grab a semblance of "normal" living by launching into an
exhausting nursing career.
But mood swings and frail emotional responses to the most innocuous circumstances
brought confusion and consternation. Neither my husband nor I could grasp
the magnitude of our situation. During the years from Ď82-í86, I plunged
into my work, desperately seeking balance. The hypomanias helped charge
me through the demands of busy rehabilitation and home health nursing.
Through the demands of full time schooling (obtaining my bachelorís degree
in nursing) while working full time. Then, in 1986, while participating
in an advanced nurse practitioner program, my father suffered a massive
heart attack. After two grueling weeks in the hospital, he was ready to
be discharged. At 4:00 pm, on a Thursday evening, I visited him and made
plans to return the next morning, to bring him home. They called me at
pm. My father was dead. Heíd suffered another massive heart attack. My
world, quite literally, fell apart. I was swallowed up in a depression
so deep that it severed my spirit, and threatened to tear my marriage apart.
For the next several years, I plodded through the formality of living...working
and hanging on to a troubled marriage. In this blur, we traveled to other
countries, maintained relationships with friends. Went to the movies. Took
care of my mother (who was elderly and frail by now). But pleasure had
been replaced by emptiness. Life continued out of obligation.
I sought counseling and began to look at the "issues" of my life. Met with
a psychiatrist who misdiagnosed me as "depressed." Period. Iíd finally
reconnected with the sister closest to me in age. We shared our divergent
experiences of childhood and forged a relationship, based on adult love
and respect, versus shared childhood bonds. In therapy, I learned coping
skills. I met "my inner child." But no one introduced me to my genetic
make-up. No one made a connection between my motherís mental illness and
my slide into oblivion. That wouldnít come for many more years.
Finally, toward the end of 1987, I began to crawl out of the abyss. I made
what would turn out to be a life saving decision. Graduate school. I wanted
to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Help people with disabilities.
I no longer had the energy or heart for nursing. I was "used up." Exhausted.
I preferred to sit and listen. What Iím finally able to admit, is that
I was no longer up to the task of nursing. Emotionally, intellectually,
physically, or spiritually. I had to change, if I was going to survive.
Graduate school gave me the most difficult years (full time work, full
time studies). And, it brought many gifts...I met myself and became aware
that something was definitely "not right. " I was a slave to my moods.
My marriage was crumbling. I was in trouble. Suicide had never seemed so
appealing. I sat for hours, meditating...praying for cancer. To cover my
bets, I held a loaded .38 caliber pistol to my head. Almost as if controlled
by someone else, the gun was placed to my temple. I can still feel the
cool promise of the rounded barrel tip pressing against my warm skin. A
voice softer than my own, a life force driven by a spiritual source deeper
than the pleadings of my own mind, held the trigger in a locked position.
I didní t realize then that my life would have a much larger purpose. That
there was, indeed, a place for me in this world. How simple it all seems
now. No matter how great the pain, the purpose of life, revealed in such
minute moments that theyíre missed if one doesnít pay attention, is absolute.
The moment I make eye contact with one person beyond my own mirror, Iíve
negated my right to cross the boundary of faith that I will remain. I realize,
now, how sacred my presence is. How sacred all of us are.
As I hit the winter of 1990, my spring graduation date whispered a promise.
Mysteriously, I sank into another gripping depression. But now, I was experienced
enough, educated enough, to know that I was ill (though I still had no
idea how ill). Recognizing that medications might help, I met with two
different psychiatrists, searching for competence. Fortunately, the second
one was a wise physician who would briefly pass through my life. And change
it forever. Very quickly, he recognized and diagnosed bipolar II disorder.
I started a regime of medication trials, finally settling on Wellbutrin.
This helped my mood swings remain at a tolerable level. The hypomanias
were an enticing temptation of hope, and the depressive episodes were less
severe. It now seemed possible to cope with the confusing blend of emotions.
My husband and I had met with a counselor and had learned to talk. To express
our love for each other, again. Our marriage developed a depth that felt
far beyond what Iíd ever hoped for. I continued my therapy and "worked"
through more repressed rage and confusion. But even with the diagnosis
and medications, neither my therapist nor I recognized the significance
of this genetic anomaly. I secured a good paying job as a VRC. We made
plans to build a real house. Though precarious, my moods were balanced
enough that I thought Iíd passed the tests.
In the summer of 1990, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. This event
brought many changes to the family structure. One brother visited briefly,
then disappeared forever; my oldest brother visited, and reestablished
himself as an important person in my life. But I was the only one who lived
close to Mom. Her illness brought an increased intensity to our relationship.
Vulnerable and emotionally fragile (covered masterfully with the outrageous
voice and energy of a righteous narcissist), my mother collapsed rapidly.
Easily. To her, impending death was a relief. She became very needy. Our
relationship, always bittersweet and tumultuous, ground to a slow crawl.
Neither of us had the energy to soothe over all the wounds weíd inflicted
on each other. It seemed too late to heal. Too late to connect. She dwindled
for a year, pulled into herself and created a wall that forever placed
me on the outside of her heart. She died days before my birthday. I said
my final good bye to her the same day I turned 42. The most complex, painful
relationship of my life had ended. It would take me another 5 years to
Again, the years took on a "blurred" screen. I left work as a vocational
rehabilitation counselor..again too overwhelmed by the requirements of
a more than full time, demanding career. I returned to home health ..pressed
my way through more years of full time nursing and social work. Last year,
I finally stopped pretending that what I experience is "the blues." I confronted
the truth. I have a significant mental illness. Itís called bipolar II
disorder. It is life threatening. And, it is life enhancing.
Finally, in the fall of 1997, I made a move that would improve the quality
of my life beyond my wildest dreams. I sat down with my husband and said
I could no longer force myself to work full time. Iíd become educated as
a Reiki practitioner, with Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch. I was good
at it. But my moods, and coping, allowed only enough energy for part-time
work. Period. Could he live with this? Yes. He built me a beautiful office
near our home. I thought Iíd had it mastered.
Then, this past winter, my husband sustained a fairly severe work injury.
One dog broke her leg. Another dog got "chewed up" by a neighborís dog.
Another dog, old and feeble, had to be "euthanized." Finances became scarce
and tenuous. I again entered into a deep depressive episode. I found the
gun again. And, I realized, for the first time, how absolutely chemical
this was. Resumed Wellbutrin enough to function. And began the search for
a psychiatrist that I could work with
story ends in the middle. Iím practicing a holistic lifestyle..attending
to a more natural rhythm of living. I embrace the importance of exercise,
diet, sleep. The richness of my work. Reach out and accept the love and
support of my friends, family, colleagues. I stay connected with my higher
power. Every day. Take my meds. I read. And write. Endeavor to learn more
about this disorder every day. Iím writing an autobiography..to put this
all in one place. To help others with bipolar II.
Several things in my life are richer now. Iíve grieved and put to rest
the loss of relationship with my other siblings (one sister died six months
before my mother, another sister is hopelessly lost to the ravages of unaccepted/untreated
mental illness; one brother just "disappeared"). I have forgiven my parents.
I have a relationship that is solid with my sister closest in age (who
lives nearby) and my oldest brother (who unfortunately lives in another
state). Iíve connected with my nieces and nephew, helping to maintain a
sense of continuity in a family broken apart by chaos. And I bless my life.
My husband. And, this disorder that has brought so much intensity and spirit.
by Linda Staples