My mother is an amazing woman. She raised two sons alone, helping one get into the U.S. Naval Academy and the other into the University of Maryland. She worked her way up at the U.S. Postal Service, starting from sorting mail during the graveyard shift to becoming a U.S. Postmaster, all while serving some weekends in the Army Reserve.
But what most people don’t know is all her life my mother has lived with bipolar disorder, a mental disorder marked by alternating, intense periods of depression and manic elation. What causes bipolar disorder is unknown. It could be genetics, environment, a brain chemical imbalance or all of the above. What makes it worse are traumatic events. And she has had plenty of those.
But the traumatic straw that broke the camel’s back was the bizarre disappearance of her mother in 2000. We never learned what happened to Grandma and my mother retired to her hometown in South Carolina to try to learn what happened.
You see, like many people who are bipolar and in a manic phase, my mother thinks she can solve all the world’s problems including becoming detective Sherlock Holmes. But now, as she nears her 78th birthday, she is spinning out of control. When my mother is manic, she now becomes psychotic and detached from reality, the trip fueled by around the clock cups of coffee and chain-smoking slim lady cigarettes. This psychosis is common among people who are bipolar as they age – it becomes harder for them to keep it together mentally.
She orders Alexa to play songs by James Brown and Barbra Streisand morning, noon and night. One minute she is loving, the next second she curses me out and orders me to leave.
In the past decade I have had to come to South Carolina to rescue my mother four times, once kicking a vagrant hustler out of her house days before he planned to marry her and get control of her bank accounts and everything else.
Now, I’m on my fifth such journey, the second in three months. She had been taking medication to control the disease and they had worked so well. But then she abruptly stopped. “I don’t feel like myself when I use them,” she tells me. “I feel like a robot, all sleepy.”