NAMI Week Four

Kitt Framed by Fig Leaves
Kitt’s Story

Today was week four of NAMI Peer-to-Peer classes. In week four, we shared our personal stories. I am taking the opportunity to copy and paste my story here:

My Story

As a freshman at UCLA, I fell into a deep depression, believing that my parents, my sister, the whole world would be better off without me alive. I saw a UCLA psychologist whose cognitive therapy helped me with my suicidal thoughts. Still, my underlying mental illness remained, and I ended up quitting UCLA. Eventually I transferred to UC Berkeley. During my junior year at Berkeley, my mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and my maternal grandfather died. I was devastated.

The death of my grandfather hit me particularly hard. On my way home from his funeral while driving over the Bay Bridge, I fell into a trance state and had an out-of-body experience, which in retrospect I understand as the beginning of a manic episode. Given my history of depression, I knew if I went to a mental health professional and described my experiences, which I considered mystic, they would diagnose me with a mental illness. But I found them spiritually meaningful and did not want the meaning dismissed. I interpreted them as God calling me to the ordained ministry.

Years later, at the age of thirty I had a complete psychiatric breakdown. I was literally unable to get up out of bed and had to stop working. I turned for the first time to my medical doctor for medication, up until then I had managed my depression with psychotherapy. First my internist prescribed Prozac which overstimulated me and made me want to jump out of my skin. Then my doctor added Trazodone to take the edge off the Prozac side effects. I sought a second opinion from a psychiatrist who put me on a tricyclic antidepressant which led to manic ramping and rapid cycling. I ended up spending a week awake, thinking simultaneously at rapid speed in binary (in zeroes and ones), about chaos theory (which I had never studied), and about Christian mystics, with whom I still strongly identify. At the time, I wished that there had been a way to record my thoughts so that later I (and a computer) could decipher them and see if any made sense. The content involved topics with which I had some basic knowledge and interest, but the experience was that of channeling information beyond my comprehension.

That week of mania was my first and only full-blown psychotic episode. I wasn’t sure whether I was bipolar, for the episode was likely precipitated by the tricyclic. I was not put on a mood stabilizer. My psychiatrist prescribed a three-day regime of antipsychotics which stopped the racing thoughts in their tracks and allowed me to sleep. At that point, I simply couldn’t function on my own. I would fall asleep driving to my temporary job. When at the job, I couldn’t even read. The words were all jumbled. I appeared competent. No one could see that I, a highly educated and articulate former professional woman, COULD NOT EVEN READ A SENTENCE.

So I returned to my parents’ home. They were tremendously supportive and encouraged my recovery by giving me work to do and charging me room and board. Once I was up for it, I got outside employment, starting as a temporary file clerk. I continued my pattern of overdoing it, working long hours and neglecting myself, leading to repeated burn out and cyclical depression. As a result, my résumé which you can find on LinkedIn lists numerous short stints at various jobs and in multiple career areas.

Soon after moving back in with my parents, I met my future husband, a civil engineer who didn’t own a car, just three motorcycles and a small plane. Not your average engineer. Interesting. Complex. He even spoke Mandarin. Three years after we met, we married and later had a son. Since both my son and husband are very private, I hesitate to write much of my life as wife and mother. I can say, though, that I found being home with an infant difficult. At the same time, I found being at work, away from my son, heart-breaking. After childbirth and a pregnancy that kept me bedridden for five weeks, I returned to the workplace on a part-time basis. My job, as always, grew, consuming more and more of me, while my son needed me home with him. When I worked first two then three days a week, my sister and my husband would care for my son. By the time that my responsibilities demanded that I work four days a week until 7pm, I put my son in a loving home-based childcare setting. Every time I would leave my son at childcare, he would cry for a good one and a half hours. I visited him during my lunch hour, which meant that he we would cry again after lunch. It broke my heart. Finally I decided to quit work and stay home with him full-time.

Finally, at the age of thirty-nine, I realized that once again I was experiencing the symptoms of mania. I sought psychiatric treatment and medication for bipolar disorder, put my son in daycare where I thought he would receive better care than at home with me, and I returned to work part-time. Working part-time while struggling with cycling moods didn’t last long. Eventually I had myself voluntarily hospitalized, spent two weeks in the hospital and months in partial hospitalization. Since then, I’ve been home full-time on disability. I look much like the other mothers in the neighborhood, but life remains a precarious balancing act. I can get easily overwhelmed. My moods shift given change in weather, season, and life events.

Now fifty years old, as I write this blog, meet with other writers, communicate with mental health bloggers, advocates, poets, and other writers, I have overcome my self-imposed isolation. I reclaim my life. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a writer, a blogger. I live with bipolar disorder type II. I do my best. Who knows what the future has in store for me.

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36 thoughts on “NAMI Week Four

  1. Lisa August 14, 2014 / 8:01 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Kitt. I am the 20 year spouse of a bipolar and I am always seeking to better understand so that I can be the best wife possible. I appreciate your words so very, very much. ♡
    (I don’t believe your 50.) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 14, 2014 / 4:26 pm

      I will be 51 next week. You and your spouse are so important to one another. When we experience physical or brain disorders, we rely on those we love and who love us back. We balance each other out. My husband is my rock. If you knew him as I do, you might find that humorous. When we were first dating my boss described us as two thoroughbred racehorses, chomping at the bit, striving to break out of the opening gate and run at break-neck speed. But, we rein each other in when we see the other going too far, working too hard, too fast, too anxious, too depressed, too you name it — we’ve got each others’ backs. He’s not bipolar, but he’s certainly one of a kind.

      Like

      • Lisa August 15, 2014 / 7:25 am

        Yes, that is a very accurate description. I have always said that we have bipolar disorder. I won him over by sticking my nose in the air at him. LOL. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. stockdalewolfe August 14, 2014 / 7:39 am

    Interesting about the manic experiences and mystical ones. I had some of those,too, and thought I should join the convent. Thank you for sharing courageously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 14, 2014 / 4:28 pm

      I have so many jokes in my head right now, but I’m holding my tongue. I’m sure your husband is glad that you did not join the convent. Some sisters, though, lost out.

      Like

  3. Dog & Hydrant August 14, 2014 / 2:09 am

    Thank you Kitt, for sharing your story! The more I read of others’ experiences, the more I feel connected.
    I think when you talk of a spiritual aspect to your experience, it reminds me how important it is to hold on to those moments.
    I once met a Maori man with schizophrenia who experienced his voices as his tūpuna (ancestors )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Safe.Amanda August 14, 2014 / 5:18 am

      Awesome way to share your story! Written so beautifully while I am struggling to write mine to make any sort of sense! 🙂 thank you so much for sharing this!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kitt O'Malley August 14, 2014 / 4:29 pm

        You are doing a wonderful job of it on your blog. In fact, time for me to Twitter some of your pages!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 14, 2014 / 4:58 pm

      Yes, I believe that God can speak to us in illness as well as in health. Reality testing is still important, though. Does God really want me to jump off this bridge? No, probably not. Does God want me to go to this church for a while, or to attend seminary, or to do something with my life that I must figure out without a clear map? Maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. mihrank August 14, 2014 / 1:25 am

    Bravo – I am amazed by your courage telling an important story. This is highly appreciated it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 14, 2014 / 5:03 pm

      Thank you. I have no fear telling my story, but I must be careful in protecting my family, for they are not as public as I am. I’ve always been the girl who liked to get up on stage and perform.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. bipolar2what August 13, 2014 / 8:22 pm

    I had some amazing spiritual experience while I was hypomanic. I feel like satan wanted to steal those from me and make me believe they were not real. They were just a symptom of my illness. I won’t let those be stolen from me. They were so real to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 8:55 pm

      I believe that in retrospect you can take away good from your manic experiences, basically cull the wheat from the chaff.

      Like

  6. Rosh August 13, 2014 / 7:47 pm

    You tell your story very well. It is engaging and gives others of us hope to keep going. Great work Kitt. Thanks for sharing your story:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. shoe1000 August 13, 2014 / 7:46 pm

    Kitt,
    I am honored and in awe! Your courage to put “it,” out there in the world is inspiring to me. I commend you and feel privileged to have read your story.
    Warmly and with respect.
    Jim

    Liked by 1 person

  8. meredithwyatt1990 August 13, 2014 / 7:44 pm

    Bravo and good for you. I know how hard it is to tell your story. I’m still trying to get up the courage and tell mine but I know I’ll get there eventually

    Liked by 1 person

  9. JennChristie August 13, 2014 / 7:42 pm

    Wow, I commend you for your courage in sharing your story, and I’m sure many will be able to identify with things you’ve experienced! I am really encouraged with your honesty and thank you for sharing because it helps me not feel so alone in my own story.

    Liked by 1 person

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