Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness. People with bipolar disorder habitually exhibit extreme, intense, and disturbing emotional states known as mood episodes. Extreme happiness or excitement (mania) and melancholy (depression) are typical symptoms of mood episodes. Fear and paranoia are also symptoms of this disease, and my Mother experienced chronic episodes of paranoia, the worst coming when I was seventeen years old.
It was 1989 and I was in grade eleven. My sisters and I found ourselves living in Camdenton, Missouri, USA with our Mother and her then boyfriend. By this point I had attended thirteen different elementary schools and three high schools. During my Mother’s mania episodes she would have these grandiose ideas of adventure - taking us along on the journey with no thought to the dire consequences that could befall us. The unspeakable trauma my Mother suffered as a child left her forever seeking safety and reconciliation, and she drew us into these battles over and over.
This one night in particular continues to haunt me, and I can recall it as if it were yesterday. It was the dead of night, and my sisters and I were all asleep. Mom’s boyfriend was out of town for work. As usual my Mother was drinking after dinner and well into the night. She came to my room waking me from sleep, and whispering with intensity that she needed my help to "keep us all safe". She said we were in danger.
This had happened in the past and so I was very used to her paranoia. I got out of bed, threw on some track pants and a sweatshirt because in the past, I would go outside and walk around the house to provide comfort to my mother and restore her feelings of well-being and assurance that no one was outside. I closed my bedroom door where my sister Jennifer slept, and I checked on Teresa, who were sleeping soundly and closed her bedroom door.
As I walked into the living room, I froze. I felt the blood drain from my face. Mom was sitting on the couch, drunk, and she was trying to load a gun. Her boyfriend had one in the house, as this was common in the area we lived in now. I stood there silently as my whole body started to shake uncontrollably with adrenaline. My mind was racing with what to do next. And I reminded myself to breathe. We were living in the middle of nowhere, with no support and no help.
I was alone.
Somehow I convinced my Mother to hand me the gun and the bullets, and to trust me to keep her safe. That night has forever marked me though. When I think of this episode and many others in my past, my heart breaks for my Mother. It must have been very difficult for her to live in a constant state of terror and turmoil. It is a devastating emotional state. This is part of what drove my Mother to drink and do drugs - she was always constantly reaching for something to try and forget the trauma. She was numbing her pain.
“We were living in the middle of nowhere, with no support, no help, I was alone.”
This statement is all too familiar to those of us that try to navigate the uncharted waters, weather the storms, and master the unrestrained seas, of loving someone with an Mental Illness. This is why we have created this forum to help others recognize the signs, to help your loved ones, and to also help you. It is important you reach out and get the help and support you need to sustain yourself.
Later, much later, close to twenty years after this incident, my Mother finally got the help she needed. With a combination of the right medication and psychotherapy to manage her illness, she finally was able to live a life of recovery. It is possible, but it cannot be done alone. It requires the help and support of the individual, family, friends, and mental health professionals working together towards a common goal and having the resilience to go through the peaks and valleys of mental illness.