Speaking of bipolar, as we were in the last post, let me tell you another couple of stories. My sister was bipolar. She’s off limits here, but I will say that she took Depakote, a seizure medication, to moderate it. Every time she stopped taking the Depakote, she went into seizures. Because that’s what happens when you suddenly stop taking seizure medications, since your body has stopped making the chemicals that naturally prevent the condition the medication was designed to treat. And she stopped taking it a lot to use other cures, not all of them prescribed by any physician. Because that’s the hell of it. A lot of bipolar people get so fed up by the medicine game, of stopping one thing and starting another, only to find out that a third thing is what might work out, that they start self-medicating using illegal means.
When we lived in Lexington, I had a bipolar neighbor. I never told her I was bipolar, too. We had a little too much in common to make me comfortable. Possibly this was because our similarities were visible when she was taking enough Depakote to flatten a five hundred pound man while I was taking my little hundred mg of Zoloft . We were both talkers with an innate ability to accidentally dominate a conversation and the subtlety of a pair of bricks. But where I’m a friendly person, somewhat short tempered, but open to most people, my neighbor was a lonely woman who couldn’t read social cues to save herself. She was a nice lady, but she dropped by without invitation, overstayed any reasonable perception of welcome, and talked to us the whole time she was present. She encouraged us to just tell her to ‘go away’, but I could never quite do that. If our positions had been reversed, I wouldn’t have minded being told point blank to leave when I’d stayed somewhere too long. Especially if it was a choice between that and being without social outlets. But I would have picked up on the cues asking me to leave long before the person doing the asking had jumped up in the car and started reversing down the driveway. And my lips never could form the words “I think it’s time for you to go now.”
Let me emphasize: I liked this woman. We got along. But I was never as comfortable with her bipolar disorder as I pretended to be, and I felt like a total hypocrite for never telling her that we had this trait in common. Her son was later diagnosed with possible mild Asperger’s as well as probable bipolar, and I can’t help but wonder if she also suffered from Asperger’s. I never mentioned that Caroline had Asperger’s, too because, again, my neighbor and I were too much alike and yet so drastically different that I didn’t want the topic to enter into our conversations. I was absolutely certain of Caroline’s ultimate diagnosis, but we had only just started getting her occupational
therapy. We had nothing formal stating Asperger’s yet, and I didn’t want to have to talk about it with someone around whom I could not stop talking anyway .
I think the neighbor made me uncomfortable much in the same way I make other people uncomfortable. Only much more so, because it’s hard to make me uncomfortable. Easy to annoy me. Really hard to make me uncomfortable.
And I think I actually disturb others in a slightly different way. I felt awkward with the neighbor because I never knew when she might turn up or how to keep her moving along when our visit had reached a natural end. But I think people feel strange about me because I’m more intense than they expect. Most people initially perceive me as unremittingly happy. Back when I worked at Dave’s Grocery, my nickname was Perky Powell, because that job was just so damned much fun. Seriously. Every day that I came into work, there was a whole cast of characters there to play with me, and Dave and Sandy never imposed bizarre mandates on the staff. The “safe” was a box of lettuce where we stashed the money bag, without any irony or pun that I ever detected. If I could have worked there forever, it would have been a no-brainer.
But I did scare people.
The drunks and addicts didn’t faze me, even the ones capable of violence, and I’d confront them oath for oath, to the distress of my coworkers. And my tendency to answer the phone “Dave’s Highly Esteemed, Unimpeachable, and Simply Magnificent Grocery” alarmed the shit out of the local postmistress. She thought business protocols
should be observed and didn’t accept logic like, “The plywood-next-to-concrete floors suggest there won’t be many business meetings in this neck of the woods.” And that willingness to get right up in the faces of tipsy (and sober) belligerents sincerely frightened folks who cared about my safety.
And then, too once a person gets to know me, they find out that I’m not unremittingly happy. Not even close. Rather, I am, like I said before, intense. If I am having a good time, it will seem like I’m having a damned party over in my corner of the world. But if I’m not. Oh, if I’m not. My bad days affect others like so much gunfire. They seem to come without warning (unless you happen to be one of the denizens of my brain, who always know what’s going down), and they can linger for ages. Especially if I’m not on my meds. When I’m only moderately dismayed about something, it sounds like I’m deadly serious. If I’m deadly serious, then I sound like I’m rallying the masses as I froth at the mouth. And if I want to rally the masses, then it sounds like I want them to come out shooting.
I’ve seen descriptions of bipolar that suggest people don’t seek treatment because they actually enjoy those intense highs and don’t want to give them up, no matter how bad the lows feel. I personally think that’s bullshit. At the very least, I don’t have that kind of bipolar. I guess some must. Maybe. But I hate the highs as badly as I hate the lows. They’re anxious highs, more like an adrenaline rush of terror. The way I keep my bipolar in check is by pairing it with my natural tendency to be a control freak. The bursts of excitement and anger are paired, but not inextricably so. If I can feel an approaching high, which is really more like an energy train, and just stomp on it, I can often save myself and my family from a total crash. I have less time if I start heading downward, but I can still sometimes catch the spiral and distract myself out of it. It’s mostly for the downs that I need the drugs. Because the downs are all about that anger.
Some of the anger is just a personality quirk. I have short patience and a tendency towards sarcasm. I used to suffer fools pretty well, but I’ve had a couple of life and job experiences to completely eradicate my willingness to put up with them. Some of it is frustration. Work, kids, not enough time to write, and a job that doesn’t offer me enough academic freedom each adds its own particular weight. But a lot of the anger comes from the bipolar, and once I realized what I was fighting against, I at least understood that, past a certain point, I can’t control the anger, and it’s better to direct the fury at
deserving targets before it goes off.
And bipolar is often genetic.
I don’t think Caroline has it. She probably has mild Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), though she’s never been diagnosed with that because she is, by and large, a pleaser. For that matter, I’ve never been formally diagnosed with ODD. But Sam, my sweet little boy, has a vicious mean streak that more closely resembles my sister than it does anything about me. (Yeah. You knew once I said she was off limits we would get back to her.) Sam almost certainly has some kind of bipolar. He’s got socialization problems that suggest Asperger’s. He has no idea what to do with a group of kids his own age, but does reasonably well one on one. And he can hold a solid, thoughtful conversation with nearly any adult, familiar or stranger, as long as the adult is willing to
make a few strange logical leaps when abstract questions are presented. (“Sam,
why did you put that down?” “Because I wub (love) you.”) Asperger’s can also be pretty genetic, too, and there’s a new study that says people with an older sibling with Asperger’s are more likely to have the syndrome themselves. So given Caroline’s diagnosis, we aren’t too surprised to see the traits in Sam.
But, while I had hoped my kids wouldn’t be bipolar, Sam almost certainly is. His symptoms resemble my sister’s at the same age, though it was years before hers got a name attached to it. He’s got forerunners of bipolar that probably stopped being “fore” and started being “runners” about a year ago. (If his school situation hadn’t fallen apart for reasons not related to him last year, perhaps the problems would have emerged more clearly then. But that’s another post.) And we’re just lucky that there is treatment now for kids his age. Medical treatment. Oh, we’ll be engaging in behavior therapy with him to be sure, but my son needs medication as badly as I do, if not worse.
For one thing, there’s the ODD. When he’s in the wrong mood, you can’t even compliment the kid without making him oppositional. And I remember that feeling from my own childhood. I still get it sometimes, though not nearly so ferociously. I would be arguing with my mother, finally give in and do whatever maternal thing she wanted, and feel completely insulted when she thanked me. My thought process went something like “It’s bad enough that I went and did it, do you have to throw it up in my face now, too?” I didn’t have the need to escalate a bad behavior just to see what else I could do to piss somebody off, though.
In contrast, Sam, the other day, wanted to get his teacher’s attention during snack, so he threw his crackers on the floor. The teacher said, “Looks like you have a mess to clean up.” So he waited until he had eye contact with her, stomped on the crackers and ground them in with his heel. (She was so cool. She said, “Looks like you really have a mess to clean up,” like he’d just accidentally spilled the milk or something. I like this woman, and we’re lucky to have her for a year. Assuming Sam doesn’t hurt someone so badly that he has to leave.)
When he’s frustrated with his peers, Sam hurts them, pushing, hitting, kicking, and even biting them from time to time. (I’m glad to say we seem to have the biting under control for now. He hasn’t bitten once at the new school. (Yet. Knock wood.*) Partially, it’s that he has no idea how to interact with them. Above that, he has an auditory processing disorder that we’ve recently gotten diagnosed. He can’t hear competing sounds very well, making loud rooms extremely difficult for him to function in. And most of all, he has zero impulse control, striking out at others before he even has a chance to decide about the possible consequences of his actions.
He’s facing multiple diagnoses, and I can’t wait for him to start medication. (Soon, I think.**) I hope fervently that we’re beginning the process soon enough to give the kid a life. Ninety percent of the time, he’s this sweet little boy with a loud mouth and a love for pleasing. It’s the other ten percent that scares me. And it’s that other ten percent that could very well kill him if we can’t get it under control. Because if you know about my sister, then you know how her story ended. And I won’t say anything more about that ending here, but I don’t know what I would do if it came for my son.
*Now he has. Pretty much the same day I posted this, he bit somebody. Back to where I was above