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Life Interrupted
By Ingrid Silvian

(Page 1 of 2)

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 to her treatment 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.

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