Blue Eyes, Curly Hair and Madness

How do you describe your madness?

hide captionHow do you describe your madness?

Source: Dawn Ashley

Lots of good stuff ran in David Lovelace's family — originality, creativity, charm. But along with those traits came the terrifying mental illness known as bipolar disorder. It claimed every member of his family except for his sister — father, brother, mother — culminating in a year when all the members of his family were committed for the disease. His memoir — Scattershot — describes all the terrifying experiences, and a few gifts, that came with the illness. We'll talk with him today, but his descriptions of what that particular experience with madness is like are so specific that it got us wondering: if you've ever suffered from a disease such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, how do you describe it to your friends?

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I have bipolar disorder, and I generally describe it like a fire.

For most people it's just a candle, and when excited it's like a bonfire.

For us manic folks, it's like walking around with nuclear bomb going off inside your head. You seem to have almost supernatural energy at your disposal. It's like heaven.

Unfortunately, when the depression comes, it's just as fierce.

The best advice is to just have a sense of humour, and find the right balance of medicines for you.

Sent by Mark | 3:16 PM | 9-4-2008

I commend you for openly discussing bipolar disease and helping to educate and lessen the stigma of brain disorders. My 25 year old son has been living with this for 8 years. It affects people in very different ways and there are just as many treatments. I think we've been tried them all. I would urge NPR to contact NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and perhaps have a representative on your show. It has been a living nightmare for me and my son but we've learned to accept the fact and live one day at a time. We celebrate the good days and weather the storms the next. Thank you for airing such an important topic. For people dealing with this, there is help and hope.

Sent by Mary DiMartino | 3:25 PM | 9-4-2008

Depression is like living in a tank of grey jello. Imagine being in the deep end of the pool and how hard it is to walk against the water. Now imagine it's filled with grey jello and trying to move. The colors you once loved are all hazy and grey, even the air that you breathe feels thick and lacking of oxygen. Music is muffled. You can't even pick up a fork, but why bother because your food tastes like grey jello. And so you try to stop drowning.

Sent by Marjorie Nye | 3:34 PM | 9-4-2008

I grew up with a bipolar sister, who was just a year older than me. My experience ranged from rollicking fun, to abject terror (as she held a knife to my throat. We grew up--she is still on a medicated roller coaster, and I am a mental health therapist (go figure). I remember when I first had her hospitalized...my feelings of guilt, and relief. I was moritified at what I'd done, and too scared to not do it. Even with my professional training, my relationship with her has been difficult at best...

Sent by Carol | 3:36 PM | 9-4-2008

Having a family member with bipolar can be overwhelming! When our son began experiencing bipolar episodes in his early 20s, we were presented with situations and decisions we never dreamed about and had no idea how to handle. We joined a NAMI support group in a nearby town and found information and family-like support that proved more helpful than anything else. It is amazing how familiar the stories begin to sound as you learn more about it and see what others are going through. I encourage anyone with bipolar themselves and especially encourage support family members to find such a group and educate themselves thoroughly! Don't try to go it alone!

Sent by Debi | 3:45 PM | 9-4-2008

To those who are afraid of losing their talents through medications. I have depression and write poetry and play jazz piano and have played by ear all my life.. I also have (had) epilepsy. 1 1/2 years ago, I had surgery to remove the offending 'broken' right temporal lobe piece causing the problem. I was concerned about losing both talents, but came out of the surgery with all my memories, talents in tact,even the perfect pitch. Today, I am free of the seizures and the depression is a lot better. I'm afraid of not taking the meds for fear of what might happen. My poetry is a lot less than before, but so are my fears. It's really important to allow your Dr. to do what's necessary to 'cure'/ control your situation. I encourage anyone with depression/chronic disease to get better through medicine.Take it! It's your life!

Sent by Kathy Mast | 4:11 PM | 9-4-2008

I was diagnosed by my exhusband with the bipolar disorder, however, I do not believe in it. I got divorced from him and I got so much better, in fact, I have not taken any medication since the day I left his home. I believe that all of these disorders have excused people from being accountable for their own actions and behavior, now days every rotten individual has some kind of hormonal imbalance. If I am a total ass to people once a month, fat, alcoholic, drug addict, etc. is because I choose to do this things. There is no hormonal excuse but the failure to hold myself responsible for my own actions and decisions. I am responsible for my happiness and health, physical and otherwise. I find that people need to stop complaining and labeling themselves so they can hide behind such lame excuses. I am compassionate for those of you who wonder, but I also found my own self respect and happiness, not to mention that I not only preach, I do as I say.

Sent by Beatriz Eugenia Schnee | 4:17 PM | 9-4-2008

My 19 yr old daughter has just been diagnosed w/ bi-polar. It is a scary disease, and I am constantly in fear for her. Finding the right doctor the right medication regime and the right support is a battle. I remind her this is a chronic disease as any other chronic disease....you have to keep it controlled and get help when you can't. We speak openly about it with our friends & family, and I hope some day the same can be said for the general public.
Thanks for bringing people on the show who have also battled the bi-polar issues. Because of their publicity it makes it easier for those of us just starting this new journey.

Sent by Wanda | 5:04 PM | 9-4-2008

This is how depression feels...Try to imagine (and most people who have not experienced it can't)that you are unable to feel pleasure at all. It can be a beautiful day, you can be in a nice place doing something that's supposed to be 'fun' or meaningful, with people you care about, but all you want to do is lie down on the floor and go to sleep, or be alone so you can cry. You feel dead inside, you just can't feel good in any sense, just overwhelming sadness and hopelessness.
You can't change it by 'snapping out of it' or by 'changing your attitude' and it goes on for a long time. Everyone has to find their own way out. For some its meds, for some talk therapy or ECT or aa combination. Its different for everyone. Ask for help, because it can be life-threatening.

Sent by M.J. | 5:04 PM | 9-4-2008

I hope I will be reading more stories about the many creative and highly intelligent people who are living in balance with this condition. I find the term disease too debilitating, even if the intent in using it is to help remove some of the stigma.
Society sets rules of 'appropriate behavior'. Most people conform. Some push the limits, ; some artists and mad scientists, and they are usually tolerated. Sometimes the hyper sensitivity to events and auras sends you too manic, and fortunately medications can knock that right down. But if your social group is unwilling to tolerate outbursts you end up ostracized and marginalized.

I look forward to learning more about the genetics of this gift, how the brain connections are altered by the condition, and the drugs that help control it.
For me, I was depressed for 18 years, finally got 'happy" and was diagnosed and hospitalized at that young age. It has been sporadic for over 20 years- brought on by stressors, like earning a MS and a PhD, and then watching dreams shattered by greedy self-interests. Now I'm hoping that the anti-seziures and an occasional other drug will keep my behavior socially acceptable.
The saddest part is to be so afraid to be happy for fear of mania!

Sent by Susan B | 10:08 PM | 9-4-2008

Too often mental illness is often misunderstood as bad behavior, being "hormonal," or wanting to evade responsibility, especially by those who have never experienced it. No one would tell you to "just get over" cancer. Like any medical condition, it needs to be diagnosed and treated by professionals. I've struggled with depression since childhood, and when it hits, I can barely function, and I have considered suicide when the pain becomes overwhelming. I'm normally an energetic, hardworking, funny person, but depression knocks all of it out of me. I am doing much better now thanks to medication and an excellent support group. I highly recommend the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. I hope NPR will continue to educate listeners about mental illness, since the misinformation and harsh judgments out there make it hard for many people to get help, or even to talk about their illness.

Sent by Tracy M | 10:54 PM | 9-4-2008

I usually don't get the chance to listen to the radio during the workday, but I happened to be in the car today and caught this show. Thank you, NPR, for including Bipolar Disorder in your coverage. I have been diagnosed with it for 7 years, and was misdiagnosed for many years before that. Any time I hear a positive discussion about this illness I am happy. I am happy to just to hear the illness publicly acknowledged. The more this happens, the less people will fear it. And hopefully, more research will follow to decrease the devistating suffering this illness causes.

In addition -- I just read the previous comment by BE Schnee, and I could not disagree more. The most responsible and independent of people become afflicted with this and don't know what hit them. (myself) I had to be as accountable as I have ever had to be to get myself to the hospital and get an accurate diagnosis. That is an extremely disappointing comment...but I am glad you are well. I'll stop there.

Sent by Anjali | 11:11 PM | 9-4-2008

Everyone's experience is different, but to discount that what one who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and other disorders such as borderline personality disorder (which i have both) and what our experience is compared to say yours Beatriz is not one in the same. I do take responsibility for my own actions. i have been working on myself since i started noticing the deep dark depression that clouded my vision for ALL of my twenties. i had to do this with only the support of my mother, but financially, i had no one to lean on but myself. i put myself through college and grad school while enduring this mucky existence. luckily i had that. for the last 5 years i have been trying to get the BPD under control....which means i have been taking a DBT class 4 times, a total of 4 years and constantly go to therapy to learn new tools to deal with the crazy emotional imbalance i live with day in and day out. it has recked my personal life. i am a talented designer, but i suffer severe setbacks. even though i give it my best...it tends to get the best of me. its a lonely and painful illness. i am now 40, and i am sad that my 20's and 30's when everyone was enjoying youth i was suffering deeply. i do not experience the excessive highs that a bipolar I diagnosis does. i actually have bipolar II which is only a recent diagnosis and i went improperly diagnosed for 15 years. i finally found a medication that minimized the depression and for the first time, my thinking is not clouded. i fear the day that it may stop being effective. i am scared. my mother died. i have lost my best friends and its hard for me to want to continue because it is so much work EVERY SINGLE MOMENT of my daily life....and i still fail miserably with all the effort i put forth to actually change. and i have changed...but not without huge amounts of effort and responsibility taken on my part...its exhausting, but i do think in some cases i have improved dramatically and in others...well. i have a ways to go if i ever get to experience a "normal" emotional existence while on this earth. it is not an excuse...cause if it were...i would be out of the dark.

Sent by denise | 1:51 AM | 9-5-2008

Wow. I have stuggled all of my life with a rollercoaster of emotional highs and deep lows. I came to distrust myself, to fear that others would find out what I knew about myself. How I alternately loved and hated being in my own head and body. I wore masks that hid my true self and my nature, exhausting myself by trying to be what others wanted to see. It nearly destroyed me, nearly took my wife and children, my job and more than once my very life. I have turned a corner, helped by my wife, who despite not feeling as depply about me as before and alienating my family. The drugs work, the counselling works, the coping strategies work, the life changes work, the exercise, the writing, the poetry, the singing, the work, they all work. And yet, I feel that my true self is still hidden beneath the layers of all these things that help me to be normal. And sometimes I miss it. I understand what David says, I embrace, and love my illness.

Sent by Ivor McCormack | 9:10 AM | 9-5-2008

All I can say is wow. I have an older sister who is bipolar. We have struggled with it and her for almost 20 years now. The whole system of trying to hospitalize a sick loved one is awful. We have had to do it many times when my sister went off her meds. We unfortunately had to wait numerous times till she hit bottom..homeless, ranting, kneeling and praying every few feet. The frustration of some health care "professional" making a uninformed judgement on your loved one denying hospitalizations is one of the things that desperately needs to change. As your story states, when the patient understands what is going on they pull out every tiny bit of focus they have to pull themselves just enough together to seem just not sick enough to hospitalize.
And with each time my sister goes off her med's and hits bottom the longer her recovery and the more damage has been done to her brain. The whole thing is just so sad.

Sent by Lori | 9:54 AM | 9-5-2008

I commend everyone on this particular chat for talking about their experiences. I am a 23 year old with Bipolar and in a response to Ms. Schnee, you have no idea what it feels like because you are probably NOT Bipolar. Having Bipolar disorder is not an excuse to keep someone from being held accountable for their own actions, because there is absolutely NO way to control it on your own. Manic episodes are some of the most horrible moments one can have. It's a feeling of just being trapped and there is no way out of it. You want to be able to control it, and you know it, but you can't do it. Just like the analogy with grey jell-o (which was a great analogy), you are bogged down. Nothing tastes good, nothing feels good, all you want to do is sleep or stay awake, anxiously performing tasks or duties that are entirely irrelevant and broken. So, Ms. Schnee, get off your high horse and realize that this disorder is not a joke.

Sent by Marti Anderson | 12:03 PM | 9-5-2008

Being a psychiatrist, I'm glad that people are opening up more about how it feels to be bipolar, its one thing to treat the disease and one thing to see it from a patients perspective...
I think the more the illness is talked about, the more the awareness people have about the reality of the illness the more we can all do to prevent and treat it. Its not an easy journey to live through and unfortunately unlike a simple infection that can be treated with a specific drug for a specific time, it takes multiple trials before people can find the right drug for themselves, and even after that take the rist of being inflicted with certan side effects. Hats off to thoes of you who have had the strength to share u'r experiences.

Sent by pam | 2:46 PM | 9-5-2008

My brother, my son and I all suffer from BiPolar Disorder and we have all been hospitalized for it. It was absolutely unreal seeing my son go through the up and the down so quickly and violently! My brother committed suicide in 2001. My daughter is an RN in a psychiatric hospital, so she deals with people like us every day. I commend David Lovelace for sharing his story with us. Thank you.

Sent by Penny | 5:01 PM | 9-5-2008

David Lovelace and his family may have bipolar disorder and he may have written a book that someone published but he is obviously not qualified to be giving medical advice over a national radio program. He clearly was not well informed about the current generation of antipsychotics when discussing the subject with the caller who said he did not respond well to lithium. This call was also disturbing in that the caller claimed he was controlling his disease with diet and by channeling his mania into his work and Lovelace cavalierly went along with that. Legitimate mania is an unbalanced mental state that impairs functionality and cannot simply be channeled into productive work. This also helps reinforce the destructive stereotype that the problems faced by someone with bipolar disorder are the result of volition and can be fixed by force of will. It is a biological disease. Yes, diet can help tremendously and bipolar disorder is a spectrum disorder but one of the primary traps in non-compliance with medication and many, many people get into trouble by being convinced by people like Lovelace that they do not need their medication and can control their disease with other methods alone. Lovelace was also very disturbing on this count as well when discussing mania and creativity and talking about reducing medication to strike a balance.

Sent by J.Z. | 5:41 PM | 9-5-2008

YES YES YES YES YES. I listened to David Lovelace's interview regarding his book "Scattershot: A Bipolar Family Portrait" and for the first time in MY life I heard what I have been feeling - outside of a clinical setting.

Thank you David Lovelace. You have done a fine job describing ME and MY family. I do not have the courage that you have shown in writing your book. However, I am so glad to know I really am NOT in a vacuum. My family is covered with the blanket of mental illness.

I was finally diagnosed as bipolar about sixteen months ago. I am in my late 40's and I have spent my life living my mental illness. Every move I have made, every decision, every action, all of my life has been controlled by my illness. Not anymore.

I feel as though I am waking up. I am becoming a totally new person. I am becoming who I really am, now that my bipolar illness is being brought under control with the combination of medication, therapy and group support.

Thank you, David Lovelace, and thank you, NPR. ANd thank you Robbie - you sent me the link to listen to the radio interview.

Sent by Belle | 9:11 AM | 9-6-2008

UGH!! That's how I feel...I look at my life, where its been and where it is now and I just feel a strech of UGH! going on down from one endless horizon to the other. If I try to think rationally, I know I have so much in my life to be thankful for, but the way I feel...I feel empty and hollow and so unable to change. I feel I am just waiting for my real life to begin, but after almost 40 years I doubt it ever will. I take meds and have been in therapy for years, but nothing changes.

Sent by NR | 1:28 PM | 9-6-2008

Thanks for your story. Several people, including my mate, heard it and came away with more respect for my condition
and its consequences.If they heard it on NPR-it must be true!
I was formally diagnosed with Bipolar 1 more than 20 years ago, though I believe
I had it long before that. It took me many years to learn how to cope with it. During those years had a very successful career as a corporate attorney but ended up fired by my firm for fear of malpractice, was never hospitalized but made some really bad behavior choices, had some excellent relationships & friendships which I destroyed,gained and lost 100 lbs 3 times and generally-fit the pattern precisely.
I'm lucky(??) that my manic states last longer and are far higher than my depressions. I'm fairly stable, have good meds, a reliable doctor, a family and friends who sort of understand and a full and satisfying life.
The essential elements for coping with this disease (esp 1 & 2-)are:
1)STAY ON YOUR MEDS-and if they don't work, keep trying new ones and combos until they do. There are literally dozens of different kinds and combos and something will work.
2)Exercise vigorously every single day
3)Don't make big decisions or interact with people when you are up or down-save it for stable times
4)Do stuff which requires complexity and concentration-play an instrument or bridge, write prose or poetry,do puzzles.
5)No alcohol or drugs
6)[this is the shrink's no-no]Allow yourself some slack-the joys of hypomania are a tradeoff for all the
rest of it.
And good luck. We are so lucky that this is a truly treatable, though incurable,disease.

Sent by sh | 3:13 PM | 9-6-2008

I was very glad to hear a cogent discussion of the bipolar experience. On September 3, the day before this broadcast, there was an article in the Palo Alto Daily News Health Matters section entitled "Empathy slow to replace stigma of mental illness". I was pleased to see bipolar disorder in the news for two days in a row. It was particularly reassuring to read this interview by L J Anderson with Stephen Hinshaw. I believe that you neglected to explore the topic of the power of stigma over the lives of people with bipolar disorder. I lost my position as a PhD candidate in neuropharmacology by a biased professor, Steven Childers, who told me that"People with bipolar disorder do not succeed in science" after I had been "outed" by a laboratory colleague. My career was ruined. Although I searched for work in the biomedical sciences for the subsequent 3 years, I was unable to find a position. Indeed, I did not succeed in science, despite my excellent credentials. More often than not, I was the employer's "second choice" because they said that I did not have precisely the skills that they were looking for and that they wanted someone who could perform the necessary laboratory work without any training whatsoever. I tried reapplying to graduate school. I applied to Hahnemann University medical school at the laboratory of Eitan Friedman studying lithium who said that he "would do anything" to get me into his laboratory. The pharmacology department chair wanted me to fly out the following week. Right before I bought the tickets I called the department chair. He said, uh, you have a spotty job record, you got an MS in 4 years....common for people with bipolar disorder. So much for that. And so much for the guy who said he'd do anything for me. And I wanted to study lithium! You would think that I might be bipolar or something. I still miss my science.

Sent by Sheryl | 11:25 PM | 9-6-2008

Some of the above have painted Bi-Polar Disorder as a frightening and debilitating illness, and it certainly can be. However as in the show from September 4, 2008, there are many of us that are quite successful in life. Especially once we have been properly managed, medically, by a Psychiatrist, to control the Mania (ups) and Depression (downs) of our disorder. Usually this is done with a class of medicines called Mood Stabilizers (however some are double classed as Anti-Psychotics-not that Bi-Polar Disorder is the same as Psychosis-just that these medications can be used in both illnesses). While an Anti-Depressant medication by itself can sometimes be detrimental for those of us with Bi-Polar Disorder (causing either Mania or something called "Rapid Cycling" (Mood bouncing up and down fast-from Depression to Mania then back down to Depression and repeating quickly) there are cases, an Anti-Depressant medication may be necessary in addition to the Mood Stabilizer, as in my situation.
Once our Mood is stabilized, as can often be accomplished, as long as we keep taking our medication, we may go years without any significant problem from our illness or may only need occasional tinkering of our medication by our doctor to adjust dosing. Staying on our medication can sometimes be the challenge. Once stabilized, there is a feeling that, "Maybe I don't really need these medicines." Or that, "I want to feel the Mania again-because sometimes it can feel like a "high" of sorts," or because I'm needing medication adjustment due to being challenged with a period of serious Depression and want to get out of it fast-days, not weeks or longer. This is where insight and education are most important. To understand these thoughts and that they seem to me to actually be a part of my illness, is one of my hurdles. I must always bring to the surface of my consciousness that if I want to have what I have, I need to keep doing what I'm doing, if I go back to what I was doing before (not following the treatment regimen given to me by my doctor), I'm going to start getting what I got, which was mostly misery from my illness. Today I choose freedom from my illness, free to live, free to love and free to seek happiness, the same as everyone else.
Thanks for the great show, to your guests and those who have written on the Blog!

Sent by L.H. | 4:45 PM | 9-7-2008

I am a teacher of students with learning disabilities and emotional disturbances. One of my students (at the age of 9) was diagnosed with bi-polar and has had difficulty mantaining personal relations at school, sleeps through half of all his time in school and easily prone to fights when challenged. He is an extremely bright student but has no desire to challenge himself to learn new concepts in math or participate in class lessons. It has been extremely frustrating not to be able to have any break throughs as a teacher. I do not think medication is the answer but I do not know what real alternatives exist besides counseling which is of some limited value. Any ideas!

Sent by steve b. | 10:31 PM | 9-7-2008

My mother had bi-polar disorder (undiagnosed , but now apparent to me), I have most likely had it all of my life but was not diagnosed until in my early tewnties and my younger daughter has also had it all of her life although not diagnosed until in her middle teens though hospitalized off and on for a couple of years at that time. in many ways all three of us functioned well - my mother and I married, had children, went to college (me through a Masters program) My younger daughter has a stable relationship and has just started grad school at near 30. I have been involved in community peace and justice work, community organizing and service work for about 40 years.
Nonetheless bi-polar disorder has tended to be an extreme stress in all of our lives, disrupting relationships, leading to suicidal issues and attempts and interfering with our lives in a variety of ways.
I personally run manic just a little abopve what might be a "normal" mood base line. I think and talk ra[pidly and am one of the most intense and passionate person I know. Fortunately what I estimate as about 80% of what i say seems to make sense to others when they can hear fast enough.
My mania is extremely med resistent. My psychiatrist and I continue to search for a medication or medications that will at least allow me more hours of sleep and possibley pull my mania down. many meds are just too sedating and he agrees with me that the opposite of mania is not being unconcious!
I have only had one or two depressive episodes in my life and I am 60 now.
My daughter had extremely rapid cycling mood swings and manic psychosis, struggled with telationships off and on and was suicidal and multi-hospitalized thropugh her teens. She had meds just stop working (another problem I had)and finally stabilized on Clozaril at 18. Clozaril basically gave her her life back. But she still sometimes struggles with feeling suicidal.'

Sometimes I have considered writing a generational memior with the title Mom Won't you Push Me on My Mood Swing suggested by my daughter.
Sorry i missed the NPR broadcast but I will listen via the computer link sometime in the next couple of days...

Sent by Sally Fronsman-Cecil | 3:03 PM | 9-8-2008

My older brother developed bi-polar disorder in his early teens. It wasn't diagnosed til his 40's and he's now 56. I've always been my brother's keeper. Much of my childhood was spent watching my mother try to talk my teenaged brother down off the proverbially ledge. The huge highs when everything was wonderful. Then the inevitable huge lows when everything fell apart. She took him to the psychiatrist but as many of you know it was/is often misdiagnosed, especially back in the early 70;s. Neither our father nor our stepfather was much help. They just thought he should "buck up" and get over it. They still do. I was my brother's safety net. I watched his money, took him to the hospital, cleaned up his messes. I just couldn't do it by myself any more. I started to see how our relationship was centered around me taking care of him, and him manipulating me. Lying to me about his drug use, his debts, his spending sprees, about nearly everything. I had to get free; my health was suffering. I wanted my life back. A therapist, I think, has convinced my brother he isn't really bi-polar. My younger brother says he's off his meds and it's likely true because his life seems to be spiraling out of control. He isn't talking to me or my father any more. And no one else is stepping in. I really don't know what to do. My entire life has been connected to my brother and his illness. My mother's time totally consumed with caring for him. She's been gone 12 year and for several years before she died, she'd backed off. Helpless too to fix it, to cope with it, to somehow make it okay without being swallowed up herself. I worry about my brother and I don't know if I can be there for him and it makes me really sad.

Sent by Mariane | 6:45 PM | 9-8-2008

I identify completely with this dialog- I was diagnosed with bi-polar 20 years ago and deal with it on a daily basis. I do find that people who do not have the disorder (I've been this way for so long I find it hard to call it a disorder- just seems like life to me) have difficulty understanding me. It's like the whole world is either wonderful or I'm in what I call the "ditch"- that ain't a good place to be. Depression is the definition of hell to me- complete disconnection from life....a black hole of sorts. The thing that baffles me all the time is how there is no rhyme or reason to have a change in mood....you never know what you'll get from day to day so you have to be extremely vigilant and on your toes on exactly what dosage you need to take, whether you need something to lift you or maybe something to calm you - different every single day and even hour. Balance is the key and it's never ending. I understand suicide (I'm also a healthcare professional and have worked in palliative care for many years) when your terminal but I also understand suicide when you can't get any relief in your mind. I'm very intelligent like most bi-polars (my mother was brilliant and crazy as a bed bug- untreated) and I think that makes it even worse....you're mentally insane at times and know it full well. I have a friend who recently committed suicide. I understand, she needed relief from the brilliant madness and the never ending vigilance of constant balance. I do not condone suicide...I chose to live, I have to live for my children but...because I live with this disorder every day of my life...I understand the brilliant madness all too well and those that need relief from it. Unfortunately, we live in a society that does not accept us as we need to be...free to be as we are and rest when others think we should be working...it's hard. I'm grateful I'm able to type these words and for my brilliance but weighted by the lack of balance at times.

Sent by MW | 7:06 PM | 9-9-2008

I caught part of the broadcast interview and read the excerpt on the website. It really resonated with my experiences. My husband and I dated in high school, but broke up at our parents' insistence that we date people of our own religion. I married someone else and divorced after 13 years. My high school sweetheart and I then got back together. I knew when we renewed our relationship that he had been diagnosed with Manic-Depressive Disorder (as it was called then) in the meantime. He had been able to get a BA in math from UC Berkeley, and an MS and PhD in mathematics from UC DAvis, taking so long that he had to reapply. He worked successfully as a senior scientist and computer programmer for a government contractor for a number of years. He occasionally got manic at work, but was fortunate that one of the officers of the company was also bipolar. When my husband started to act up at work, the other man would call my husband's brother-in-law and tell him that it was time to come and get him. When he was stabilized again, my husband was welcomed back at work.

After about 15 years of being pretty stable on lithium, the lithium began to damage his kidneys, so he had to try other medications. Eventually, his kidneys gave out and he went on dialysis. He then went back on lithium, but it became more and more difficult to find a regimen that would keep him stable, so he had many breakthrough episodes. The longest time we had without a hospitalization was four years and they were wonderful! Except when he was first diagnosed, he was always very medication compliant, but still had those episodes. (After 17 years on dialysis, heart prolems, etc., his general health deteriorated and he died recently. At the time of his death he was taking five mood stabilizers [including anticovulsants and antipsychotics] and he was not quite stable.) Not every one can be relieved of their symptoms through medication.

The excerpt from Scattershot described so accurately the difficulty of trying to manage the illness and the rest of the family and the rest of one's life. The long hours spent in the ER. The difficulty getting someone admitted to the hospital when he is holding it together. (Each time my husband walked behind the familiar locked door to the psychiatric unit, his behavior immediately deteriorated.) The difficulty of keeping from being involuntarily hospitalized myself because of acting crazy and angry because they wouldn't hospitalize my husband. The worry when he's wandering the streets, at least once because he signed himself out of the hospital and the staff didn't notify me and wouldn't even tell me when I asked. The embarrassment by his behavior in public. This excerpt did not mention that insurance coverage for "mental" illnesses is totally inadequate, leading to medical expenses of around $30,000 every year.

The laws in California make it too difficult to get someone hospitalized against his will and are very strict about privacy. They are trying to correct the abuses of the past, but sick people are put in very dangerous situations when they are not hospitalized. He liked to push my buttons when he was manic. One of his favorites was to refuse to give me the car keys or when I was driving us on the freeway he would unlock the door repeatedly and then opened it several times. I could make a long list of behaviors that endangered him (and/or others) physically, that threatened his living situation, that nearly ruined him financially.

I am a mental health professional, a clinical social worker, so I understand what is going on, but it doesn't make the pain and worry any less. I haven't always been the most patient and understanding with his behaviors.

I don't know what it felt like for my husband to be manic or depressed except for very brief descriptions. I know I was much more concerned and attentive to the manic episodes than to the depressive ones because the lows didn't affect me nearly so much. I expect that to someone experiencing it the manias are easier to take than the depressions because of the bleakness so well described by other writers on this blog. I preferred the depressions because I could ignore them. The manias could be devastating. When he was young the manias were fun for both of us, but they gradually shifted to "disphoric" manias where his mind still sped and his thoughts were irrational, but he was very irritable and mean.

Often even close family members who know better, get impatient with their relative for not controlling his behavior or doing what needs to be done. But, please, unless you've been there yourself or have a very close friend or family member who is affected, don't trivialize the pain, heartache, and suffering of those who live with major mental illnesses. There is another condition is called Malingering - and Bipolar Disorder is NOT it.

Sent by Danna Schilling | 11:35 PM | 9-11-2008

I wanted to make a difference so I left Corporate America and began working for a not for profit agency that primarily deals with the housing and supportive services for those with a mental illness. I never dreamed that this choice would enable me to become a resource to friends and more recently family members. I admire those that struggle every day with their illness in an effort to gain stability in their life and pleased to see more and more people are discussing their illness and demanding that their voice be heard and respected. These open discussions will help develop new treatments and medications. I would like to thank the writers in your comment section for openly sharing their story, they help to make the journey from darkness into light that much easier.

Sent by Joanna | 9:29 AM | 9-16-2008

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