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Life Interrupted

By Ingrid Silvian

 

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.