Doomed for Life
at 29!!
Doomed for Life at 29

Mood swings have been with me all my life, at least as far back as I can remember.  I remember the happy, hyper, excited times when I would stay up night after night working on "the most important project of my life".   And my face pinkens still when I recall the times as a teen that I would ride down the main drag of town with my upper body out the window, singing along with the radio at the top of my longs.

Even more, I recall the times when I became morose and depressed, withdrawing from friends and family, spending hours in my room simply "thinking" - thoughts that had no beginning or end, but circled like a panther closing in on it's prey.  At these times tears were always close to the surface and a comment, whether of support or censure, would have them streaming down my cheeks in torrents.  Yet I had no explanation for why it happened.

These periods were mostly short-lived, a week or less in duration and not so severe as to cause undue concern.  "Teenage hormones" was the cause most cited by my parents… manic depression was never considered even though my mom had it.  My small "episodes" were nothing compared to the major ones she experienced.

I was 23 when my second son was born.  His birth was followed by a depression more deep than I had ever experienced, but he had been born with a heart problem (now corrected), and the depression was easily explained.  After a couple of weeks I was able to bring him home and my mood gradually improved.

It was Autumn, 1979.  The beauty of the sunshine and splendor of the gorgeous leaves in hues of gold, red, rust and orange had passed its peak.  Dead leaves were falling everywhere to crackle and disintegrate beneath my feet as I walked.  The scurry of the chipmunks and squirrels gathering their Winter supply of food had all but ceased.  Looking around me I saw death and destruction and cried at the loss of precious life.

Each day was a struggle…first to open my eyes, then to move my body.  It was as if a solid weight had settled on me and it took super human effort to move beneath it.  I had a mission to support my young family and a good job, so every morning I made that effort, and amazingly survived the days.  The depression worsened daily, and I would cry all the way to work and all the way home, but was able to carefully mask it while there.  A few weeks later the day came when it could no longer be hidden.

I had not eaten or slept for some days.  My face was haggard and gray and I cried…copiously…all the time.  I could barely force myself to walk, so leaden were my feet.  I had been seeing a clinical psychologist who my husband had been involved with and he made a referral to a psychiatrist.  By this time I was severely depressed and needed only to be relieved of the inner pain and torment…I would have sought that help, if it was available…anywhere.  Secretly, I prayed that a psychiatrist was not what I needed (the flashbacks from my mom's suffering were ever present), but logically I was already putting 2 and 2 together.

The appointment was a week away…I did not make it that long.  My husband took me to my family doctor where I sat for a full hour crying and trying to choke out answers to questions.  He prescribed some medicine and I went home with a tiny ray of hope that it would fix everything.  It didn't.  By the time I saw the psychiatrist (the same one who had treated my mother) even speech was next to impossible.  Still, I was not expecting his words "you must be admitted to hospital immediately."  I stared blankly at him through the bleak black holes in my face thinking "you have just verified my most frightening suspicions.  You are saying I am like my mother."  I crumpled in my chair, defeated.

My memory of being in the hospital is not clear.  I have flashes of memory…of me remaining in bed, totally mute, curled in the fetal position, not recognizing even my husband and children.  I remember a special nurse, Rose, who sat on the bed next to me, hugged me to her and told me I would get better again and again.  I still was not able to eat and over the eight weeks in hospital lost 50 pounds.

Gradually, I did improve.  Eventually I returned home and two weeks later I returned to work.  Pressures of finance would not allow me the time for total recovery.  I continued to see the psychiatrist regularly and to take my medication, but never truly achieved the state of normalcy I had enjoyed before the depression started.  All was well though…I was able to carry on with my life.

It was Autumn, 1980.  Depression once again lowered its boom…this time though, I knew what it was and my doctor was aware.  Changes in medication followed, but to no avail.  My mood moved inexorably down at an even quicker pace than the last time.  One year, almost to the day after my first admission to hospital, I was admitted again, severely depressed and hopeless.  I could not live my life this way.  I despaired completely of any expectation of improvement.  I was doomed for life, and at that time I made a vow to myself that if this was the quality of life I could expect, I would not live it.

Although I had not exhibited signs of mania at this point, my psychiatrist decided on the basis of my mom's history to start me on lithium, a mood stabilizer specifically for manic depressives.  One morning a week or ten days later, when he came to my room I smiled…a genuine smile…and he grabbed me and hugged me.  I think that was the first time he had ever seen me smile.

My diagnosis at this point was Manic Depression.  In later times, the hypomania would make its presence known in countless ways.  Once started on the appropriate treatment I improved, though it took some time.  For two years I had spent Christmas in the hospital leaving 2 small boys at home without their mommy.  My guilt and regret over this alone has never left me.

I will never forget Dr Johann Schwarzl.  He was a wonderful man who was claimed by ALS some years after he began treating me.  His kind ways and answers to my questions always left me feeling that he truly understood and cared.  One day, bothered by problems with my memory I asked him "Doctor, why is it that I can not remember things the way I used to?"
I have never forgotten his reply "When you are depressed your mind is like a camera, without any film.  At the time you see and are aware of everything that happens.  Nothing is recorded though because you have no film".  I understood.

At the age of 29 I was diagnosed with Manic Depression.  At the age of 29 I was doomed for life to carry the label and the illness.  Was it really such a bad thing?

See my next article "Picking up the Pieces"      

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