Sometimes I forget how serious an illness Bipolar Disorder is. My life has been going well the past five years. No major attacks of mania. No racing thoughts. No grandiosity. No horrible depressions. No trips to the hospital for “tune-ups.” When I was first in recovery those “tune-up” visits were a regular occurrence when the “wheels would come off the cart” and I would fall into a dark depression and the suicidal thoughts would reappear. But that was a long time ago, and as the bad past recedes the memory of the pain recedes with it. Now I tend to lessen the intense horribleness of the experience. That is until I hear the pain of someone suffering under the terror of the Bipolar Disorder. I heard this again around Thanksgiving 2009, when my friend “P” descended into hell.
“P” lives in another city. She and I became friends when I worked in this city on a project for two years and attended a bipolar support meeting every Thursday night. She was doing well then. A lively interesting intellectual whose academic career had come undone because of her bipolar disorder, “P” survived teaching foreign languages to many private clients. “P” showed me the insider aspects of the city I was living in. We had wonderful dinners together, walks around the city sights, and visits to its unknown delights. Our conversations were animated and creative. Her mind was broad, engaged many cultures, and was stimulated by the eight languages that she speaks. I valued her insights and perspective on life.
When I left the city, “P” and I remained friends. On my infrequent returns to the city I would always look her up and find out how she was doing. We engaged in long distance telephone conversations. After not hearing from “P” for almost a year, “P” called me up and told me her circumstances had changed. Never completely convinced that she was bipolar, and finding a new boyfriend who was against her taking the medications she took when I knew her in the city, “P” stopped her medication. Her mood swings began anew. She ended up in the past year hospitalized five times. I was astounded, and scared for her, but “P” was confident that her troubles were behind her and she had reached a new plateau of balance and harmony. She was going to go to Brazil to become a doctor of alternative medicine. We talked at length about her plans, which seemed well formulated and advanced. She had even purchased a ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
“P”called me again a week later and wanted to talk about her boyfriend. What about her plans to go to Brazil I asked? “Oh that,” she replied, “will still happen, but first I must resolve my relationship with my boyfriend.” “P” went on to ask my advice about this man whom she apparently loved but who had no real job. He sometimes worked as a massage therapist. He mainly hung around smoking dope and borrowing money from her. I told her I thought the boyfriend was an evil influence. He got “P” high on a regular basis. He took money from “P’s” purse, she told me. He got her to stop taking her meds. She should get rid of him, I said. “I don’t know that I can do that,” she replied.
I didn’t hear from “P” for several weeks. She called me again, this time hysterical. The boyfriend had raped her and stolen her car, she said. Everyone was out to get her. She kept repeating the accusation over and over again. I tried to calm her down and gradually, by telling her that she could go to the police and make her accusation formally if she could do it in a level frame of mind, she had a chance of making the rape charge stick. “P” calmed down. I said I would call her back the next day. I called the next day and reached “P’s” mother — “P” lives with her mother, a retired lawyer, the mother told me “P” had gone into the hospital again after an altercation with the police in front of their home, where she was yelling and screaming at the cops for not arresting her boyfriend for rape.
I could not connect with “P” at the hospital, and she was released within two days. I don’t know the circumstances of her hold or her release, but she again called me and left a message on my phone. The message was very garbled and given in a very hoarse tone of voice. I could not determine what she was saying. My wife and I left for a mini-vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday and were gone for four days. In that time “P” left three messages on my cell phone. I could not get these messages, since we were out of cell phone range in the high Sierra Mountains. When I returned I listened to the messages. They were a sad indication of increasing disorder and mania
In the first message “P” was grandly confident and full of racing thoughts. She referred to herself as the head of the Communist Party in the City and she was about to make a film about its politics. She was also busily working on her book on feminist culture in the third world, and about to take over the control of the AutoCAD drawings for the extension of the metro rail project in her city, if the conspirators against her did not stop her efforts. She would soon flee the city for South America — Cuba perhaps or Rio — but mainly she wanted to stay home and be left alone, but the neighbors were all working against her. Her boyfriend was plotting to steal more things from her house and rape her so she wasn’t safe at home. My message service cut “P’s” diatribe off at this point.
The second message from “P” was totally different. She was crying and she sounded horrible. She says the neighbors are all against her. She hadn’t sleep the previous night . She doesn’t want to go to Brazil. She just wants to stay home, but every one is ganging up on her. The voice becomes garbled, tearful, and sobbing. “P” keeps mentioning 21 loony bins, but I can’t figure out the sentences. I am unable to understand a word of what she is saying. It all trails off into tears then silence.
“P” in the final message is angry. She refers to herself as Dr. P. Gandhi, whom they will assassinate. My mother will rape me she says and put me in the loony bin. “I am going to sue my old employer for civil harassment. No! I am going to take over their firm and fire all their employees. I will fire Lena, Sue, and Neal. I will force my mother out of the house. You and your wife and your daughter can come and live in my house. I will make it your home. You can take over with me the old firm where I used to work. Then I will go to Brazil and become a doctor of medicine. Everyone will respect me! The police won’t challenge me! No more loony bins!” “P’s” voice has become shrill and loud. She is screaming into the phone. I have to hold it away from my ear. She goes on and on repeating the same story again and again. Her mother will rape her. They will assassinate her. Finally my phone message time runs out and the mad message ends. I don’t return her calls that day. I waited until next to call.
“P’s” mother answered the phone. “P” had been taken to the county mental hospital she said. As I put down the phone, I realized how lucky I am to be free from the demons of Bipolar Disorder, but how I have to be forever vigilant to against their return. I can not forget the pain for one moment that mania and depression will cause. I can not stop taking the medication that makes my recovery possible.