Linda's Story

It *started out* complex. I was a military brat, born on a NW Army base. 1949. The cutting edge of the baby boomers. My mother was an emotionally fragile forty year old when she had me, her "change of life baby." Although Mom was worn out from the demands of parenting and the burden of game playing with an alcoholic husband, she was excited about having another baby to bring new energy to the home. My father, (forty three), a brisk Army drill instructor, had been traumatized almost beyond repair from 4 years in WWII. My birth brought new light when he saw me...the image of himself looking back Theyíd buried a newborn just 3 years before my birth. I was, therefore, a mixed blessing. Not planned, but filling an emptiness. For the siblings living in our home (11, 13, 15 and 17 at the time of my birth), I was the doll, the baby theyíd planned for 3 years earlier. They embraced me with open arms. (I would learn much later that I had another brother who was living with a maternal aunt in another state; I wouldnít "meet" him until my mid teens, and then not see him again until my thirties).

My 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.


 During 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 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 environment.


  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 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. thatís what it was called. Looking back now, I realize how absolutely out of control my emotions and spirit 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 7:00 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 understand.


  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

This 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 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.

Story by Linda Staples


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