NOTE: I have been sitting on this blog post for a while because I have been afraid it would be seen as unprofessional. However, I just heard from a friend that a member of my book club got drunk at her daughter’s wedding and was so ashamed she went to her garage,closed the door, got into her car, and killed herself. She left behind, husband, children and grandchildren. I am SURE they would have forgiven her.
“Everyone has a Mother, and they all die.” I saw this short story title in a book I was reading “Believer, Beware.” It made me catch my breath. You see, my own mother died recently and it shocked me. It shocked me because she died but also because she chose to die. My mother starved herself to death.
I was raised by my paternal grandparents so I did not find out until I was a junior in high school that my mother was manic-depressive or bipolar.
Bipolar depression, the illness dujour, is a very serious one. But like all illnesses it has different degrees, from mild swings of depression and mania to wild full-blown psychotic episodes. My mother’s illness seemed to run the gamut. Looking back through her papers I think she began to show symptoms as an early teen. But back then not much was know and her behavior was written off as a thyroid condition. So she was not diagnosed until much later.
Many people who have bipolar illness are quite brilliant. People such as, Beethoven, Hemingway, Churchhill. When my mother was high, crazy things could happen. She might give away all her possessions and move to the Isle of Guernsey, become an innkeeper of a Scottish castle, have a fling with a Brazilian airline pilot. That is one of the reasons some people with bipolar illness don’t want to take their medicine. They don’t like feeling flat; they miss the ability to get an extraordinary amount of things done.
The depressive side of the illness is never far away- Being ashamed of impulsive and inappropriate behavior committed while “high”, the inability to form long and lasting friendships, the feelings of loneliness and alienation from other people.
My mother had secrets, secrets she was too ashamed to confess. I believe that is what really killed her. I was pretty angry with her. I do understand that is part of the grieving process. The point I am trying to make is that we are all human. And being human makes us frail, fallible creatures. I think it is quite self-centered to believe that you are the only one to have done stupid, terrible things.
My mother did not like being labeled mentally ill; it made her ashamed, and she also did not like growing old. Not being able to climb the hills of Scotland hurt her deeply. But I have to believe that it was her illness that made her give up. It takes one hell of a will to starve your self to death.
I was embarrassed to have a mentally ill mother. I was ashamed. I am sorry for that. I wish I had better understood the illness. I wish she was still here.
We all feel sad and depressed at times, we all need people to talk to. It may be a friend or a professional. A professional helped me when my Grandmother died and again when my Mother died. It helped.
In our society there is still a stigma about needing help. We need to change that. Do you think it is a sign of weakness to seek professional mental health treatment? Would it cause you not to hire someone who you know had?
What resources do you know out there?