Journey to Recovery

I am 60 years old and was just recently diagnosed with bipolar 2, although I have been having episodes since I was in my teens. Back then, I just called them my ‘crazy times.’ I first sought therapy when I was 21 years old. Although my therapist put her heart and soul into helping me, I drifted in to cocaine abuse, and further and further away from my family and friends. I lost my 20’s and most of my 30’s.

Then I became pregnant at age 35. Something inside me told me this was my only chance to be a mom. I announced my intention to keep the baby to my family’s horror and joined a support group. I never used cocaine again and the baby was born healthy. I was a good mom. Dedicated, completely in love and clean. He was joined by a sister and brother and I married their father.

For many years I was episode free. But when my younger brother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, committed suicide I fell. Back then, the episodes were years apart and almost livable. I went to nursing school and entered a career as a RN nurse manager. But the episodes got closer together, longer in duration and more intense. My kids knew sometimes I was weird. They said of the episodes, “Mom’s just in a thing.”

My kids grew up, I divorced and continued to raise my kids while my mental illness grew unbearable. I was somehow able to work as an RN, support my family but more and more ‘things’ happened. I was diagnosed with recurrent severe depression and anxiety. I think I tried every antidepressant and anti-psychotic ever made, but medications failed me. My psychiatrist was at his wits end to help me.

My kids are grown now. All in their 20’s and good people with big hearts. They have watched me rise and fall so many times. Hiding in bed or pacing and moaning with anxiety. Unable to concentrate, unable to cook, pay bills or see friends or family. And then one day I would walk out and say “Hello, I’m back.” and everyone would sigh in relief.

But last summer I gave up. I was having episodes every two or three months, lasting six to eight weeks. I turned to alcohol in a big way. My children took my keys and my money, but I was too sneaky. I stole their cars or walked–wobbled– up the street to the store. The more I drank, the more pitiful I became. The more ashamed, sick, sad and sorry. Two stints of impatient care and medication changes changed nothing. A DUI and reckless driving arrest at noon on a Sunday, a trip to jail in handcuffs, loss of my job and still the episodes continued. I wrote suicide notes to my daughter.

Today, I live in a cozy little apartment, having sold my house. I see my therapist every other week, bless his heart. I no longer work as a nurse. The state of Oregon’s background check labels me as a risk to vulnerable persons, and I agree. It’s not safe. My family and close friends all know. No more hiding Mom in the back bedroom. Eight people have a key to my apartment. I have a dog.

Today I am going to my first NAMI support group. I feel hope. I feel content for the first time in many years. I will always be afraid of the next ‘thing’ and will always carry the ugly memories, but my children have accepted that I am mentally ill. Embraced it even, I think. They talk about my illness in terms of ‘we.’

“We will deal with it,” and “We will find ways to keep you safe or from hurting anybody else.” Not “Get over it,” “Snap out of it,” or “You deal with it.”

I’m hoping today I might meet someone who understands. And hope feels good.

Source, July 2015