When I was a kid, everyone said my mom was brilliant, and indeed, she was. She didn't finish high school, but had my older brother instead. Once she decided she wanted to learn something, she just learned it! She had an upbeat personality. People liked her energy and witty sense of humor. She was a young mother of seven children. She also had bipolar disorder.
How Her Mental Illness Progressed
At first, she started doing strange things like running outside barefoot in her nightgown at night in the middle of winter. Her temper became worse. I told myself that most of these symptoms would have occurred in anyone because of the pressures of raising a large family on a farm.
Then, one day in a fit of temper, she tried to kill me with a carving knife. My older brother and I placed a cowbell on my door, so that if she came into my room in the middle of the night, I would know she was there, and be able to defend myself.
A Wrong Diagnosis of Schizophrenia
Our dad had her placed in a mental hospital where she stayed for some time. This was the 1960s before too much was known about various mental illnesses. The psychiatrists diagnosed our mom with schizophrenia, gave her some medication, and sent her home.
The medication made her feel funny, like she wasn't fully herself, and so she didn't take it. Another suicide attempt sent her back to the hospital. After she came home, things got progressively worse. She went back to the mental hospital, and I took over the household. At the age of twelve, I became an adult. I cooked, cleaned, took care of my brothers and sisters, and worked outside in the barns.
Finally, when my mom came home, I didn't want anything to do with her. Our dad begged for a truce between us. Bitterness, anger, and hurt filled my heart. My hatred for her became apparent to everyone.
About the same time, our parents announced that they were getting a divorce. It upset me horribly. Our mom and dad separated, and our mom moved out, taking the four youngest children with her.
Losing Hope and Faith
When I was younger, I had prayed for God to heal all of us, and make us happy again. We had been such an idyllic family! As things became worse, we stopped going to church, and I stopped praying. It seemed hopeless.
Fast-forward to 1999. My husband and I were in San Francisco when my older brother called, and said that our mom had tried to kill her husband. (Our mom had remarried one year after our parents divorced.) They took her off in a strait jacket, and placed her in mandatory detainment in the state mental hospital.
A New Diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder
While detained in the state's mental hospital, the psychiatrists diagnosed her with bipolar disorder, not schizophrenia, and placed her on the right medication for the first time in her life. It calmed the manic part of her personality, stopped the cycling between mania and depression, and she became stable.
What Did I Learn Through All Of This?
First, I learned that bipolar disorder is hereditary: a person may inherit the whole thing or inherit it in part, the fullest cycling or a lesser cycling, or one may get either the manic side or the depressed side. It was truly a revelation. It explained a lot about me, and my brothers and sisters. Knowing this, we have a much better chance of trying to control it.
Second, I learned that I do love my mother. Bipolar disorder demands that she always be the center of attention. That is part of the illness. She has all the potential to be normal when she takes her medication, and then she can be very sweet and loving.