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 – Finding the Inner Child

For years I thought that my inner child within [1] was about ten years old.  This is about the time my parents separated for a divorce.  Like most children, I took this news personally and thought that I was personally responsible for their break-up.  I recall the Valentine’s Day after my parents separated I gave them both together a huge Valentine’s heart box filled with Russell Stover candies.  I could tell something was wrong by the look of sheer anxiety on my father’s face.   

In addition to this divorce, my inner child has been somewhat over-shadowed by being the replacement child for my older brother who died as an infant the year before I was born.  At least with my father, I always felt like the replacement child who did not quite measure up.  With my mom, this was not always so much the case.  

Today I feel that my inner child is more like 6 years old (than 10 years old) though I do not know of a specific incident that would have triggered this child within to “stop” at this age.  Perhaps my parents stopped communicating with each other when I turned 6, perhaps I experienced some childhood tragedy that I can no longer recall or name, perhaps this was the beginning of financial differences between my Mom and my Dad and all that that entails.

In any case, this six-year-old child within tends to believe in all sorts of magic just as would a child at six years of age.  She is a matchmaker at heart and seeks continually to imagine people together who might be good with each other – imaginarily or not.  She tends to see things in circular time or dream time often before they occur in linear time.  This early perception is not jarring to her mental health so long as there is not a safety component to it.  If there is a safety component to the perception, my child within seems to turn ten years old and not only feels ”unsafe” but also feels the responsibility for the “unsafe event.” 

I have spent years if not decades trying to understand this child within and her fears for safety.   I have particularly been focused on this child and her safety concerns since becoming a mother 16 years ago.   If I listen closely, it may be that this six-year-old child holds no fears only perceptions of a beautiful place and beautiful planet.  It may be that my true child within is largely guarded from feelings of unsafety, and it is more the child of ten years or the child of divorce or replacement that holds onto those feelings of responsibility and angst and anxiety.

If only I could get the ten-year-old child to listen to the six-year-old child, perhaps I could start to see and hear and experience a world in which everything is whole and in which God is truly in control.  If I am able to honor that six-year-old child fully, I may be able to let go of the ten- year-old child who forever feels responsible for any and almost every calamity that exists.  The ten-year-old feels responsibility for safety of self, safety of community, safety of nation and safety of the world, while the six-year-old appears unencumbered by these rampant safety concerns.  The six-year-old is largely concerned with whether or not people are happy and who might meet whom and what is needed in order to stay happy. 


[1]  I am aware that there are several texts that have been published that address finding the child within and healing the inner child.  I have never read any of these texts but I have worked directly with a therapist over several years in listening to and acknowledging that child.   I would assume that my therapist has read these books and has imparted their knowledge to me.  These books are not included in my Bibliography as I have never read them.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Airports Then and Now

Follows Fear of Flying post

As you may understand, for years if not decades after this event at the airport (see Fear of Flying post) , I have had an intense fear of flying.  Every time I go to the airport I feel the original anxiety of that day in February 1985.  The intercom voice announcements seem to echo off the walls and the floors in some surreal fashion.  The lack of windows to the outside leaves me feeling claustrophobic always.  In the early years, this meant I had to be escorted by family to the runway gate if I were traveling alone.  (This was before the days of post 9/11 security checks.)   Years later even if I am traveling with family, I tend to be hyper aware of safety issues at all times when I am at an airport. My thoughts become more elevated and I am prone to high anxiety.  Strangely (or logically) enough these fears largely take place at the airport itself and seldom revolve around safety issues pre-flight or mid-flight while on the plane.  I am not very fearful once I am on the airplane or in flight.  The anxiety is almost always associated with being in the airport and feeling unsafe.  Gladly, my husband is also not fond of flying, so we tend to make marathon drives for our summer and family vacations. 

As a side note on airports and airport travel, I tend to have a very hard time with changing time zones when I am flying.  When I am traveling by car or by train this is not so much the case as the time change is gradual.  Because of this time zone change difficulty, I largely avoided flying to Europe for almost thirty plus years.  Even a flight from Baltimore to San Francisco was difficult in that I would experience a three-hour time change and all the difficulties associated with that, particularly impacts on sleeping.  In the last few years, I have progressed through my fears and my sleep issues of changing time zones and have traveled to Europe twice – once was for a conference in Zurich, Switzerland in July 2012 and once was for a wedding and a conference in the United Kingdom in July 2013.  Thanks to Melatonin as prescribed by my psycho-pharmacologist, I was able to make these trips with relative ease in the area of jet lag and adjusting sleep cycles.

I am very thankful that my psycho-pharmacologist as an MD was open to prescribing a relatively non-traditional form of medicine for jet lag.  This option worked beautifully for me and has given me hope that overseas travel is no longer a huge worry or huge hurdle to overcome.  In general, I am very blessed to have care givers for my bipolar illness who bridge traditional medicines and their prescription with alternative medicines such as Melatonin. 

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Fear of Flying

Note – several names and places have been changed throughout this text in order to keep my story somewhat private. Thanks for understanding that need. I hope you will tell me what most interests you from my story so I can focus on that moving forward.

Although I had had no prior fear of flying, my first episode of bipolar illness was in a tiny airport near my Ivy League college (hereafter known as Ivy College).  While I was waiting for the plane to get ready to taxi off the runway and take me to my first interview for a job after college in advertising, I was consumed by runaway thoughts.  My thoughts were anywhere but on my interview for an Account Executive position at Chicago Avenue Advertisers.  I had no specific directions for my fears but I took out some papers I was working on for my undergraduate thesis at Ivy College and was writing and writing furiously in and around the margins of the pages of the papers I previously had written.  The thoughts seemed to co-mingle with the characters in the fiction as well as characters or people I knew in real life.  The writing was fast and furious until I finally heard the flight that I was to take to Chicago on the puddle-jumper called.

For some reason I did not feel safe in myself enough to board the plane once the flight was called and I came to the conclusion that the plane was going to crash.  I did not communicate this fear with anyone.  Instead I determined that I did not want to get on a plane that was going to crash, so I got my suitcase together and asked the airplane attendant if I could check my bags on the plane but not board the plane myself.  For some unknown reason, the contents of my suitcase were of paramount importance.  I recall a navy suit that I had packed and feeling like that suit should reach a friend who I was going to see in Chicago.   The label on the suit became extremely important at the time – it was an Evan Picone double-breasted navy wool suit.  The airport personnel immediately got suspicious and asked me why I was putting my suitcase on the plan and asked me to move away from the plane with them.  When I refused, the safety patrol man exerted more force and tried to get me to go with him.  In my fears, I turned to run down the runway away from the scene of the fears and ran completely down the airport runway up into a stand of pines, one shoe flying off in the process and resting in the snowy runway.  I recall exactly what I was wearing – a plaid pleated wool skirt in muted tones, a long sleeve silk blouse and a double breasted woolen gray or taupe sweater.  I don’t recall a coat or over-coat.   The safety patrolmen at the airport followed me into the woods with snow all around and made a chair with their arms for me to sit on.  I was in some stage of delirium and thought they were providing me some sort of throne to safety. 

Instead the next thing I knew I was being handcuffed to the backseat of a patrol car with the patrol lights flashing blue and white and was being escorted to the police station down the road.  When I arrived at the police station I kept telling the police that I was a Senior and straight A student at Ivy College and they must have made some mistake.  On the walls there were pictures of wanted criminals – I kept trying to figure out what the pictures meant.  There were three pictures:  a young woman who I thought looked like Ayn Rand, a man with a long beard who looked in my state to be like a long-haired Jesus and one other picture of a youngish man whose face I cannot recall.  What I do recall is feeling like a criminal and being treated like a criminal until a kind policeman named Michael started to ask me questions.  Once I started to talk with Michael I began to calm down.

After what felt like days of swirling and runaway thoughts and a myriad of questions, the police finally called my family and called the school clinic and I was escorted there.  Soon after, several of my college roommates arrived to be with me while the admission process continued.  After talking briefly with the clinic staff, I was transferred to the local hospital’s Psychiatric Unit. 

Within the next few hours my parents arrived in town and tried to begin to make sense of what had happened.  I recall my parents visiting me in the hospital mostly my Dad whose anxiety I could sense was through the roof.  Within a couple of days, we made arrangements to go back home to Augusta, Georgia.  I unenrolled from classes and moved back home to live with my parents for the spring and summer of 1985.  No one was sure yet if this was a temporary reaction to stress as a Senior and as a Senior thesis writer or the beginning of a lifelong behavioral health diagnosis and challenge.