I am a laughingstock to some people in this town.
I have bipolar disorder. Between the years of 1988 and 2006 (ages 26 to 44), I popped up manic in the streets of Buffalo six times. The episodes would last about six months, then I’d fall into the inevitable depression and disappear.
I wasn’t constantly “crazy.” Many people I interacted with never knew I was manic. I was able to function, albeit in a dysfunctional way. One symptom of mania is explosive irritation. I had moments of volatility. I was mean at times. I made enemies. I had some nutty ideas, and word spread. However, as it was with me during manias, most of the time I was kind and generous and appeared “normal.”
Once, I spent the night at the Erie County Holding Center for criminal mischief. Twice, little neighborly disputes escalated into harassment (on my part) and the police were called. I talked my way out of being arrested. Two of the officers knew I was bipolar. I tell practically everyone this when I’m manic, but when I’m normal it’s harder to reveal because of the stigma, ignorance and fear surrounding psychiatric disorders.
I gave the impression that I had it all under control. I really do think that. I couldn’t see that having the police called on me was a hint that all is not well. Normally, I’m a law-abiding citizen.
Once, I went to my primary care physician while manic. She recognized it and ran from the room. I never saw her again.
Once, I was working as a secretary. My boss, who is a doctor, knew I was bipolar, but when I started exhibiting symptoms she thought I was showing my “true colors.” It never occurred to her that I was sick. She fired me.
The reasons I wasn’t properly medicated or hospitalized during manias for such a long time are complicated. Ultimately, it’s my fault that I didn’t make sure proper steps were taken when I became manic. I swear I tried. Over the years, I went to multiple doctors and took copious amounts of pills. Lithium didn’t work for me, nor did other pills. Thank God, in 2007, I finally found the combination of drugs that keep me stable. Unfortunately, they weren’t invented until I was in my 40s.
The last thing I want when I’m manic is to be hospitalized. But when I’m depressed or normal, I’m horrified that I wasn’t. And I have to suffer the shame and embarrassment over things I did and said.
I’m writing a memoir because, ironically, having a mental illness made my life “interesting” enough to write about. I feel it’s important to share the lessons I couldn’t have learned any other way. One was experiencing first-hand how mentally ill people are treated by family, friends, strangers and medical and psychiatric professionals.
People didn’t know what to do, so they did nothing – except avoid me. It kind of feels like nobody cared enough to find out if there was something they could do.
There is something they could have done. They could have called Crisis Services (831-4400). The agency would have sent an ambulance to pick me up and take me to a psychiatric ward to be evaluated. It’s anonymous, so I wouldn’t even have known who called.
It’s been hard getting over my past mistakes and my regrets about the years I wasted. I don’t want to waste any more time.
Please help mentally ill people when they can’t help themselves.