port of harlem magazine
Theo Hodge, Jr. M.D.
On A Bipolar Journey with Mom, Part 1
Nov 04 – Nov 17, 2021

greg wright

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.”

That could be true. But you see, some bipolar people love the mania. It makes them feel all-knowing. All powerful. That’s addicting. I think my mother is hooked.

However, going cold turkey on meds is also NOT the thing to do. It can make psychosis worse.

So here I am in South Carolina again. I had been frantically calling her for days – I had no idea where she was, and I was about to file a missing person report. “History is repeating itself,” I said to myself, chuckling bitterly. “First Grandma goes missing, now Ma.”

Later, I learn she had been running around the neighborhood ranting about her missing mother. And hopping in her hulking black Ford truck, driving around and around her subdivision until the gas ran out.

Her neighbors, thank God, had called the police who transferred her to the hospital and then to a mental health facility where people already know her because she is a previous guest.

She is back on meds, but they take time to work because they have to be given to elderly patients very gradually. While I try to work remotely, she talks for hours on end to the white Amazon Echo in the kitchen, believing it is connecting her to a detective who worked on Grandma’s missing person case. She says she is in love with him, and he will be her fourth husband.

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. But she can’t – I have the key and Power of Attorney. So, I ignore her – I know her mood will change soon.
“Come on meds, kick in,” I plead alone in the guest room, my head buried in a pillow while I try to escape hearing James Brown’s “Living in America” for the 500th time.

Tomorrow we meet her psychiatrist and social worker. We must make a plan. She doesn’t want to move. She doesn’t want a home health worker to make sure she stays on meds. But things can’t keep going on like this. And they won’t.
In the Next Issue: On A Bipolar Journey With Mom, Part 2

See Also: National Alliance on Mental Illness

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