A survivor and thriver of manic depression
Web-only article from "Families" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2(3)
One might think that after 3 "nervous breakdowns" it's time to give up. Well, the first one occurred when I was 22 and the next, not until I was forty and the third a year later. For over a decade, I refused to take any medication as I was raised to believe that vitamins, good food and a positive attitude would solve all things.
When my first manic episode occurred, I blamed it on the lack of sleep and overworking lifestyle that I was living: managing a store, teaching dance, biking back and forth from West Van to North Van, modeling and going out with a man thirty years my senior. I became anorexic and unable to sleep.
Soon, paranoia set in. Staying with friends in Shaunessy, I went across the street and insisted that a friend of mine lived there. The residents called the police who, in turn, realized that I was mentally ill when I told them I could make the rain fall and called the ambulance. I remember when they gave me a sedative needle in the hospital, I extended my arm and thought I was sacrificing myself for the greater good of the world — in my head, I was Moses; I was powerful and omnipotent. Three months at UBC hospital and several medications later, they settled on Lithium and let me go home. Six months out of the hospital, I quit the Lithium and was relatively fine for 20 years. However, I went through ups and downs, just not as intensely. The next two breakdowns occurred as the stressors in my life culminated with the manic behavior reappearing. I became overwhelmed and stressed to the point of not being able to slow down and assess what was really occurring.
My husband and I have been together since 1985 and he has been there for all of the ups and downs. He even nicknamed me his "perennial" because a pattern emerged as the years went by of my being "up" in the spring and summer and "down" in the fall and winter, just like perennial flowers. A great deal of therapy and soul searching and other stages of someone in mourning led me to finally begin to take medication. I still take a variety of vitamins and eat well, but there are certain factors in my genetic make up that have given me a propensity towards this illness of bipolar disorder. So here I am today, healthy and well but wary. I check in with my doctor monthly and take nothing for granted. I feel blessed to be able to come out the other side, yet again, and carry on with work and creative endeavours.
Signs I watch for: rapid speech, lack of sleep, too many appointments in my day-timer, irritability for extended periods of time, and overly extroverted behavior for starters. I write poetry, garden, sew, and work part time currently. With twin boys nearing seventeen and a husband who has stood by me even though it has been very difficult, I am very fortunate. We continue to quietly monitor my moods and maintain our love for each other although my life has been a challenge for all four of us.
Science is making headway into understanding the chemical imbalances, genetic factors and environmental influences that cause some of us to struggle with insanity and depression. Once we can admit and accept our "illness" we are then able to discover what is needed to move beyond "just surviving" to actually having a quality of life that respects our uniqueness. When it seems you just can't get through the next day and suicide seems to be a way out of the misery, please try to consider how others love you and would miss you terribly. Whether you are bipolar (prone to depression and mania), unipolar (depression only), schizophrenic, or whatever the diagnosis may be, you are not alone. Being kind to oneself and seeking assistance is very helpful and connecting with others through support groups can broaden your perspective on how others are dealing with it. I am grateful for the compassion extended to me by groups like the Mood Disorders Association of BC and wish to encourage others to seek help and never give up.
About the author
Tara lives in Mission, BC