Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Diagnosis Bipolar

Within a few days, the psychiatrist called my parents in and told them to be relieved. In so many words, I had the “good” mental illness. Boy, were we far gone….. Bipolar Disorder was considered the good diagnosis.

All I knew of Bipolar, or manic depression as they called it decades ago, was that the Bangles sang about Manic Mondays. I always thought that song was busy and upbeat. No wonder.

I would discover that I exhibited a typical manic symptom: religiousity. Bipolars often think they are God. Bipolar mania is marked by high emotion or feeling revved up. You feel things terribly deeply when manic. Whatever emotion you are feeling, you think you are the epitome of that emotion in all the world. So my empathy or concern for others, which is a good thing in moderate doses, turned into feeling like Christ or God and loving others so much it hurt. You see incredible things when you are manic, and Bipolars want more than anything else to share what they see with others. Come down the rabbit hole with me, says Alice.

I would spend years telling myself I was not Jesus, I was not God, I was not special. Others trained me to practice this refrain. My real healing began when I started to consider that although I may not be the Second Coming, I was special and there were big plans in store for me.

The hospital doctors started medicating me right away with Lithium and Risperdal and Trazodone and I began seeing Dr. Waldrop, who was a blessing to me and my family.

I spent about a week at Norfolk Psych, which was a dungeon compared to my next stop. I was moved to Virginia Beach Psychiatric. If Norfolk Psych was about stabilization and safety, VBP was about recuperation and community.

There were nice beds and bathrooms and ice cream at VBP. We had group therapy once a day and we met with a counselor and got to take time outside every day. I was on the “walking team” at VBP. Again, if you know anything about me you know I am competitive to a fault and thrive on a team. A handful of us walked laps around the yard every day, reveling in the sun and trees and telling ourselves that training our bodies would cleanse our minds.

I spent about two weeks at VBP, a nice vacation looking back. Good food, good sleep, good drugs, good company. A young black patient asked me for a date and for my phone number and I almost gave it to him. Remember, flattery gets you far with me. I still did not know the first thing about Bipolar, but I knew I was feeling better, more like the good old Hilary.

When I returned home to my parents’ house in Norfolk after about three weeks of hospitalization, I remember seeing crocuses sprouting in the side yard. That touched me so. I felt like I had died, or danced on the brink of death, and now I was reborn, just like the annual purple harbingers of new life. It was not a coincidence that this dark descent into a medical hell for me happened in the Lenten season. February and March always feel like a death and rebirth to me.

Notice that as I skidded into physical hell in February 2000, I also got my first brief glimpse of heaven. Heaven and hell are both part of our lives…they are not exclusive. There are no absolutes, there is no black and white. Life is not heaven or hell, at least not now. We are in suspension and can taste one while living in the other.

I took my time recovering. Mom and Dad were gentle with me. I remember my doctors told me that some Bipolars only have one episode in their lives, and I was sure I would be the very best Bipolar I could be, so my first manic break would be my last.

What the doctors never really knew for sure was among stress, insomnia, and mania, which came first. That is, did stress trigger insomnia which triggered a manic break, or did latent mania trigger insomnia? I knew that I had trouble sleeping off and on since I was very young. Post-diagnosis, I also knew Bipolar was something I was born with, and my mother and I gradually recognized that the illness sent forth some warning sallies during my adolescence.


  1. Love the comment about Alice and the rabbit hole! I wish all the time that other people could experience the amazing feelings I have. I swear we bipolars feel MORE and BETTER and I want that for other people. Other times, I just wish they could understand how deep my feelings go so they would be more understanding.


  2. I think Bipolars are gifted with hyperempathy. At least for me, when I am manic, I feel an emotional connection to others and a sympathy for their fears and joys and sadness that brings me to my knees.


God, to have these guys in a room together again....