My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Paranoid Thoughts and Depression

Just because I have been able to hold a good job (at times) and have married successfully and had a child in no way shape or form means I have been immune from paranoid thoughts, depressive thoughts, anxiety or mania.  My illness over the years includes acute paranoia that I have had to process or let go of and get past. 

My first episode at the West Ferry airport is a case in point.  In addition to that mania and paranoia I have believed that I could see some terrorists in the Himalayas who had two “broken arrows” pointed at the US specifically at Washington, DC.  I have felt that I could see the boot camp of these terrorists as well as know the path that got them to their hide-out and the code associated with both of the bombs at their disposal.  I have envisioned the recovery of these weapons from such a terrorist camp via a team of highly trained military personnel and their dogs. 

The day the Challenger exploded, I was in a complete state of paranoia.  I was on the train from Chicago back to my college campus and believed the conductor was signaling me to exit the train.  I got off in an unknown location and started hitch-hiking down icy back roads in the pitch black of night with snow and frozen ice all around.  At some point I ended up on Interstate 400 going North.  I believed I was conducting the cars in various colors in a symphony along the highway.  I must have been in the middle of the interstate when a trucker named Bill picked me up on the highway and took me to a nearby exit from the highway where by some turn of fate I ended up at the police station.  I remember that the Challenger had exploded and that I felt somehow responsible for this.  I kept repeating that “I have a dream….” like Martin Luther King but instead of stating it I was screaming it over and over as if it were more a nightmare that I had instead of a dream…  Thanks to the police, I ended up back at the hospital on campus.

In addition, I later came to believe that I was a master code-breaker for bombs and machines that had been constructed by the military.  I believed that I was able to isolate code line by line that had been altered by terrorists and to communicate those lines of code to the military so that the code could be disengaged.

In addition, I came to believe that HIV was becoming a food-borne illness in need of early intervention and that a nuclear meltdown had been grossly underestimated by the military establishment — that the whole electric grid was liable to go up in smoke within minutes considering the griddle like effect that the grid provides its ability to relay power between destinations within seconds. 

In the early months of the postpartum period, I believed that three men from Eastern Europe had immigrated to Canada in order to migrate from Canada to the US as Canadian citizens.  I believed that these three men were planning a “nuclear accident” somewhere in New Hampshire such that the entire watershed East of the Mississippi would be unpotable and contaminated with nuclear waste.

Almost all of my paranoid thoughts have involved feelings of unsafety.  Whether around the corner at a neighbor’s house or on the international nuclear war stage, I can get easily paranoid about human safety.    Could these issues of safety be tied to the fact that I was not safe as a six-year-old child?  Probably so – more work is needed.

This tendency toward thoughts of safety more than likely dates back to my first episode in the snow at the West Ferry airport.  When I allowed my fears about safety to be expressed, I was treated as a criminal and as someone who was unsafe.  If my fears had somehow been allowed to be conveyed to friends, family, an airport personnel or even a passer-by, perhaps the reaction to my fears might not have been so dramatic.  Even more compelling, if my fears of flying had been addressed in the airport with airport personnel in a way that they could understand, I may have been able to avoid what became years of preoccupation with fear and safety.  Instead of them seeing me as a threat to self and others, perhaps they would have been able to request I be moved directly to a hospital setting rather than being arrested and handcuffed and locked to the door of a police vehicle with flashing blue lights. 

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Rock Bottom

That said, it is not unusual for medications to become ineffective or non-therapeutic after a certain point in time.  It is also true that as a patient I have had to participate in the “laboratory rat syndrome” and try different medications by trial and error and see what works and what doesn’t.  This ‘laboratory rat syndrome” is described later in the text. 

But what is most important to convey about this time period in my life is that I made a conscious decision to be transparent to my health team including my doctor, my therapist and my family. 

It was at this time that I hit rock bottom.  As they say in many recovery programs, you don’t really ever reach sobriety or true healing until after you hit rock bottom.  This period of three to four years after my daughter’s birth is my rock bottom.  I tried several doctors.  I tried several therapists.  I tried several new types of meds.  But none of these worked. At the root of what was going on in hindsight is that I was not being honest or truthful to myself and my support team.  I would schedule doctors’ visits every three to four months as compared to once a month so as to “prove” to myself I was healthy and not in need of help.  There were times when I felt the drugs weren’t working and I stopped taking them. 

This period of sheer and utter chaos in my life finally came to a close when I decided to put my health first.  After the lengthy hospital stay, I stopped working altogether and began weekly sessions with my new therapist and monthly sessions with my new doctor.  I communicated openly to my husband James, my mother and sister Jane about my health and how I was doing.  I became transparent in my place of worship and informed my clergy of my condition.  Basically, I decided at this critical juncture in my life that I was not going to lie to myself or to any other person close to me about how I feel.  Further, I determined that I am not going to hide my condition from myself or from my support team. 

Slowly and very very slowly, after this lengthy hospitalization and move to Clozaril or Clozapine, I began to gain more stability.  This I believe is equally due to the meds, my work with my doctor, my work with my therapist and my dedication to illness transparency in my place of worship and in my family and extended family.  I do not believe the end of the rock bottom period would have occurred without any one of these four developments: meds, doctor, therapist and transparency. 

Further, the end of the rock bottom period did not occur suddenly.  There was no silver bullet toward health.  But rather, this time of reparation was marked by gradual developments in learning to express my fears for safety, learning to address these thoughts of safety before they developed into full-blown paranoia, learning how to be a mother to my child which was preceded by my developing ability to be a parent to myself.  This journey was to take not just weeks or months but years of work. 

Initially, my therapist and I met weekly to work through issues of abandonment and replacement child concerns.  But what was a complete turnaround for me was when I began to talk openly to my therapist about how I perceive the world. It was at this time that I started talking more openly about how I am drawn toward coincidences, patterns and pattern-recognition.  We talked about my fears for safety for my family, my nation and my world.   These fears continued to haunt me throughout the process of climbing out of the hole at rock bottom, but somehow just knowing that another person understood what it meant to see the world in terms of patterns was a huge relief and an even more huge release.

For the first time in my life (literally) there was a person who understood my train of thought.  I no longer felt that my thought processes were singular and inexplicable and inaccessible.  By somehow working with my therapist and my doctor on the intricacies of how my mind worked and how my feelings had been somewhat left behind in the process, the fear that had consumed me for the first three to four years of my daughter’s life was released.  Not cured however but released.

By talking about the patterns that I saw, I no longer felt isolated in my existence.   Without the isolation, the fears of safety seemed to become more and more manageable.  In those years that followed rock bottom, my therapist and I were working on releasing the fear that had been mounting for me as a person not just from the point of birth of my daughter but from a point all the way back to college days at Ivy College where I first discovered my chemical imbalance.  We talked a lot about Professor Flannigan but mostly we talked about how I was intellectually a star student but not so much in touch with my emotions.  Someone more centered in his or her emotions would have been able to tell Professor Flannigan to “go to hell.”  From here, we spent several years looking at my propensity to approach life from my head rather than from my heart.      

In addition to this work with my therapist, I developed a huge amount of trust and respect for my doctor.  We talked about the fact that for the four years’ preceding my work with him, I had not found any sort of solace in my meds.  This doctor seemed to understand that prescribing me an anti-depressant as doctors had been doing since my postpartum period was a huge problem and something to avoid.  This doctor realized that anti-depressants that had been prescribed had been catapulting me into mania off and on for four years prior. 

Perhaps in writing this book or blog, I am encountering a new aspect of the rock bottom experience.  Perhaps the chapter of my life that includes potential abuse as a six-year-old is now sitting on the desk awaiting work.  Working through these details surely will help enable my security and my feelings of security and well-being both for myself but also for my daughter and for my family in general.