In the spring of 2005, at 32-years-old, I faced my absolute worst fear and received a diagnosis of “high functioning” bipolar disorder type I, while experiencing a serious psychotic break. Despite a dramatic and traumatic hospital submission to a psychiatric crisis ward, I could not believe the news I had received. Prior to this, I had tortured my parents with my outlandish behaviour off and on for years.
Not being diagnosed until I was 32 came at a steep price of failed relationships, walking out of my loving parents’ home at 17-years-old, and barely even speaking with my family for several years after. Within three months of leaving home, I lost 80 pounds, dropped out of high school, and was trying to subsist on a minimum wage job, thinking there was nothing really wrong with me. I blamed my parents, accused them of emotional abuse, and took all of my angst, agitation, and frustration out on them. My mother and father were deeply wounded by my actions, and my mother would cry for days in my absence. I had little patience or use for my younger sister, and this hurt her deeply, as she had always looked up to me. My sister felt protective of my parents, as they were so hurt by me, and eventually she became very angry with me. My father was at a loss as to how to get me to come home, and how to ease his own, my mother’s, and my sister’s suffering. They just saw their generally loving and obedient daughter behaving in ways that were totally out of character, and chalked it up to normal teenage angst. I simply could not see the problem was inside of me, and truly believed my family was the cause of my emotional torture. What was working against me was the fact I was “high functioning;” I was able to hide my emotional outbursts from everyone but my parents, whom I saw as the root of all my issues.
As a young girl, my mother described me as a “sensitive child” who was emotional, my grandmother claimed I was prone to “histrionics,” and doctors claimed I was a hypochondriac. Upon reaching puberty, I was able to maintain relative stability, so my parents really never saw a problem. When I was 13, things changed quickly. I began to rebel, became confrontational and argumentative, and increasingly blamed my parents for the discomfort I was unable to articulate other than through physical symptoms such as upset stomachs, migraines, and muscular tension.
Fast forward to 2005: I had separated from my husband (now blaming him for my angst, instead of my parents), moved homes, changed jobs, and was unknowingly becoming psychotic from a manic episode induced by both a prescription of antidepressants and the huge amount of stress brought on by so much change in my life. My parents and family doctor began to realize something was seriously wrong, but it was too late. Within days of their realization, I was fired from my job, and then walked into a local coffee shop and proceeded to start screaming nonsense until the police were called. My recollection is spotty due to the nature of psychosis, but I do recall the police arriving, trying to restrain me, and me fighting them with all my might. But I’d lost considerable weight and was no match for the officers. I was handcuffed and taken to my local hospital, screaming the entire trip. The next time my parents saw me, I was strapped to a gurney in straitjacket, drooling from the large doses of Haldol (Haloperidol) I was injected with to try and break the psychotic episode. I will never forget the look on my parents’ faces when they walked into that locked room to see me in such a state. At that moment, they were so gentle, so loving, so kind, and I was relieved they had come for me. I was released into my parents’ care.
My family doctor recommended my parents leave me in hospital to be diagnosed. I was referred to a psychiatrist, and I literally threw a temper tantrum at my mother and walked out. My doctor then advised my mother to take me immediately to Emergency. Once there, I was admitted under Form 3 of the Ontario Mental Health Act, allowing me to be held involuntarily for two weeks, for observation, as I was a potential risk to myself. When I realized my parents weren’t going to be taking me home, and were going to leave me in that awful place, I again turned on them and threw them out. They were asked to leave by the clinicians in the ward, as being further upset was not good for my state. In the end, I was detained in a psychiatric crisis ward for three days. Each day my father tried to visit me, but I refused him admittance.
After three days of observation and medication, it was quickly determined that I was a very “classical” case of bipolar disorder I, and was experiencing a psychotic break. Once I acknowledged that I was ill, I was again released to my parents, and was now convinced that I really did have a problem. I left the hospital with appropriate medication and recommendations for lifestyle changes and psychotherapy. I was wracked with guilt, finally realizing what I had done, and terrified at the burden I would be to my parents and sister.
Within a few months, my parents, and a very special family friend I refer to as my “second mother,” attended an eight-week family education group at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), where they received the information they needed to provide me with the support I will need for the rest of my life. This was our turning point together. My mother and I made a deal of total honesty that has been honoured to this day. Whether I am in need or not, my parents and second mother, my sister, and my best friend are available to me without question, regardless of the issue, and they are all well equipped to listen, support, encourage, and direct me to the right tools and resources I have available to me. When I have a bad day, I always call my mom.
I know it’s hard for them to see me struggle when I am in an episode, whether it’s depression or mania. I still struggle with feeling like a burden, but I am richly blessed with five people who are equipped and happy to support me, and talk me down from my tears, anxiety, or fear. My family wants to help me the best way they can, regardless of what illness I may have. The fact that my illness is a mental illness is irrelevant to them. This has required a tremendous amount of forgiveness for all the wounds during my teenage years, but we as a family agreed in 2005 that we could not change the past, so we were going to leave it behind and move forward. I credit the education received at CAMH for giving my family the tools they would need to support me. They can’t fix it for me, they can’t make it go away, but they can help ease the suffering, and they help me make decisions when I can’t think clearly. With medication, and significant lifestyle changes that I’ve come to embrace, we support each other, and share what we learn on this journey.
Within months of my psychotic break, and with the support of my family, I realized that being diagnosed with bipolar disorder was the best thing that could ever have happened to me. It allowed me to receive the treatment I so desperately needed, and has given me the ability to have a considerably more stable, happy, and successful life. I am now 38-years-old, and the last seven years of family support, excellent medical care, lifestyle changes, experience, and education have changed the course of my entire life. They’ve allowed me stability, the means to maintain the same employment, and even the ability to have my own home.
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