I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help
is the title of a book I read before I understood that
the inability of my daughter’s recognition of her
bipolar illness had much more to do with the resistance
of hertreatment for it than anything else.
I went down this road with her
for all the many years it took, with 42 hospitalizations
in three states, mostly involuntary. We fought the demon
of anosognosia together, the term used to describe
the illness as a double whammy of stigma turned inward,
as it was in Linda’s case. After all, who wants to
be labeled mentally ill?
This cruel, neurobiological
no-fault brain disease was relentless in the cyclical
course it took. The ups of her mania were as
bad as the downs of her paralyzing depression. As
for me, this was caregiving at its most critical stage
for Linda’s crisis states, during which I had to
concentrate mostly on keeping her safe—safe from
herself, safe from others, safe from self-neglect, safe
from victimization during episodes of a reality she had
lost, and a fear of what she heard that no one else
could hear. At such times, her medications could
never be found, nor could she account for them.
I could always tell by talking
with Linda when she took a downward spiral. She
lived in a subsidized housing apartment by herself. One
day, she called and said abruptly, “Mom, can you
bring me something to eat? I’m hungry.” “Linda, can’t
you drive down to the store and get yourself something
to fix?” I tried calming her down. “No, I can’t;
my car won’t start,” she said flatly. As she had often
used her car as an excuse not to leave her apartment, I
knew that at this point she was too afraid to go
anywhere at all.
A psychiatrist once told me to
imagine myself in a dangerous and fearful situation and
magnifying the feeling by 100 times to understand what
Linda was going through when she was in crisis.
How then, could I turn my back on her as her mother, the
only family member she still had in her life? For me,
this often called for switching gears to tough love in
order to communicate with Linda.
I drove over to her apartment
house and she let me in, staring at me with that
all-too-familiar look of suspicion and panic. “I’m
freezing,” she declared, when she saw me looking at her
wrapped in a winter coat in mid-July. Her window
blinds were all closed and the air conditioner was off.
I knew the tell-tale signs only too well.
“Linda, how about if we go for a
little ride together to the Crisis Intake Center?
Let’s just go in my car,” I tried to convince her. “Oh
no, I’m not going anywhere, and you’re staying right
here with me, Mother,” (no longer Mom), her
eyes following my every move.
I knew that a 911 call was
imminent now, but she guarded the phone to prevent me
from getting near it. We both felt trapped, only in very
different ways. We just sat there, until finally, her
phone rang. She let it ring while I kept urging
her to pick it up. When she finally did, I knew
this was my only chance for a dash out the door. But
when I got up, she dropped the phone and ran after me,
catching up with me just as I locked myself in behind
the wheel of my car, and Linda yelling and screaming
like an abandoned child. This couldn’t be my
daughter, I thought, when I had to leave her there as I
drove off to the corner store where I called 911.
She needed help right now, and
fast. The 911 operator at the other end understood
and said, “We’ll have a dispatcher there in a few
minutes; are you all right?” “Yes, please hurry.”
My heart pounded. I left and slowly drove
back to Linda’s apartment house, away far enough so she
couldn’t see me.
I waited about five minutes when
a saw a cruiser entering the parking lot. I knew
my presence now would only make things worse, and they
were much better equipped to handle her than I was.
I waited a few minutes, and soon all three of them,
Linda in the middle with two officers on each side of
her, came out and entered the cruiser.
Those were the days of a
caregiver’s worst nightmares, but for now, Linda was out
of harm’s way once more. And tomorrow would be
another day. Linda still has ups and downs, but she has
become more accepting of her illness; maturing and
realizing that she must take her medications to stay out
of hospitals and live a stable life. For me, hope
was all I had along the rocky way from which both
of us learned that recovery is possible.