For years I cranked out newspaper feature stories, unaware that my own tale of misery lurked around the bend. I wrote about a 12-year-old girl whose evil stepfather’s treatment propelled her to live under a highway bridge. I interviewed a poor elderly woman who resorted to a regular diet of canned dog food. And then the writing stopped when I fell precipitously at age 40 into the black psychotic depths of bipolar disorder.
My disease delivered me to the edge of suicide. A tension-filled kind of mania installed ever-tightening bands in my head.I could no longer think or function.
My Bipolar Backpack traces the start of my disease to kindergarten, where I was a haunted by the fact that my father was bedridden, and scared that something awful would also claim my mother, so I ran home from the playground each recess, covering the block and a half before the teacher noticed I was AWOL.
On a manic high in high school, I got straight A’s while joining almost every extracurricular activity. In college my depression became noticeable to roommates and school officials, but unfortunately doctors didn’t connect the dots. Subsequent normal demands of marriage and children brought on bipolar symptoms alternating with happy times as a family. Added into the volatile mix was husband Roger’s alcoholism.
It took four years, two hospitalizations, intense psychotherapy, and trials and failures of one prescription medication after another before my first psychiatrist got my diagnosis right, treated me with lithium carbonate, and announced that I was “symptom free.” He told me I would never be cured, but my symptoms would stay at bay if I took my meds.
I was never again able to get a newspaper job but found a cause to believe in via desert preservation in Fountain Hills, AZ and service there in elective office on the Town Council. Still later I served on a water advisory board in Reno, NV.
I hold out hope to others who find themselves in that same black bottom of bipolar illness and don’t believe life can get better. “Insist on getting psychotherapy, take your meds, and throw away the heavy bipolar backpack where you have been hiding your disease,” I tells readers. “I’ll tell you how I did it.”
I grew up in Norway, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and graduated from Northern Michigan University.
I presently live in the Portland, OR area and have two healthy sons and nine grandchildren. My husband died in 2007 after 38 years of marriage. Read more from Susan here.