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 in my fifties, as I write this blog and volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, I communicate with mental health advocates, bloggers, poets, and writers. I have overcome my self-imposed isolation. I reclaim my life. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a mental health advocate, a writer, a blogger. I live with bipolar disorder. I do my best. Who knows what the future has in store for me?

153 thoughts on “My Story

  1. Sherrey Meyer September 5, 2014 / 7:54 pm

    Kitt, thank you for stopping by my blog and reading an interview with a young woman author who has published her memoir. When I came to your blog, I first read your “about” page but was tempated to read “My Story” primarily because I have a stepdaughter who is bipolar. Although she is now 40 years old and living on the eastern coastline and we are in the Pacific NW, my concerns for her are heart driven. You have opened my eyes to a few things I have never considered in her situation. Your blog is a true ministry. Your writing will help many in ways you may never know. Blessings on your work.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Kitt O'Malley September 6, 2014 / 12:33 pm

      Thank you so much for reading my story, for having compassion and a desire to better understand your step-daughter, and for validating my work as a ministry. I just checked out your blog. You, too, are performing a healing ministry. Writing can be quite powerful. When I was a practicing psychotherapist many years ago, I used to give my adolescent clients journals. Those who were literate, I would give lined journals. For those whose literacy was not their strong point, I would give unlined journals so that they could draw. God bless you.

      By the way, my mom grew up in Renton, WA, and my husband in Eugene, OR. I have a lot of family and memories in the Pacific NW. I also lived in Cambridge, MA and Valley Forge, PA (granted, not coastal) as a child. I’ve moved a lot over my life time.

      Like

  2. Jason Insalaco August 9, 2014 / 5:30 pm

    Hi Kit, I live with a dual diagnosis with bipolar disorder 1 and addiction to drugs and alcohol. I’ve been in recovery since 1995. I have 19 years clean and sober. I have experienced a lot of similarities with my manias. I been stable and productive for the last 10 years. I’m married with two children. I live a blessed life. It’s all seems funny how in mania many people have religious or spiritual experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 9, 2014 / 7:37 pm

      Yes, mania can feel like a mystical experience. But being healthy is more important than feeling euphoric. I am so glad to hear that you have achieved stability and are blessed with a spouse and two children. Congratulations on your 19 years of sobriety. Well done.

      Like

  3. anonymousonetoo August 6, 2014 / 8:39 am

    I have also had many, many mystic experiences and I thought you might be interested in reading two of them that I’ve written. I am also bipolar (schizo-affective they call it) and a Christian with a history of PTSD from child abuse and a attack/rape. I am also alcoholic (sober 34 years) and addicted to sugar/flour products. Right now I am in the middle of freeing myself from the sugar/flour junk. Anyway, here are the links to two of these mystic experiences.
    http://climbthewell.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/the-peace-of-god-can-be-found-inside-the-spaces/
    http://climbthewell.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/testimony-part-1/

    Like

    • Kitt O'Malley August 6, 2014 / 9:53 am

      Thank you. I will read of your mystic experiences right now.

      Like

  4. Christina August 5, 2014 / 7:22 pm

    Hi Kitt. Your story inspires me! I am just beginning my journey of leaving my teaching job of 17 years so I am far from making peace with my disability. I fought like hell to maintain my job but I couldn’t even do it on a part-time basis. I used all of my medical leave.

    I am also an over-achiever and it is so difficult to accept the limitations of mental illness after I’ve succeeded all these years. I hope that better opportunities arise out of my job loss and your story gives me hope. Who knows what the future holds for me!

    Like

    • Kitt O'Malley August 6, 2014 / 11:05 am

      I wish you the best. Honestly, I am still struggling in many ways. But you are right, who knows that the future hold in store.

      Like

  5. Denise Hisey July 24, 2014 / 8:17 pm

    Hi Kitt,
    Thank you for stopping by recently. I’ve been reading some of your posts, and am heartened to ‘meet’ one more person stepping out and speaking up about mental illness. It’s past time for society to admit mental illness affects everyone.
    Your journey sounds very difficult, yet your strength prevails.

    Like

    • Kitt O'Malley July 24, 2014 / 9:46 pm

      Thank you so much for your support. I hope that in writing, I help to support others and to destigmatize mental illness.

      Like

    • Kitt O'Malley July 24, 2014 / 9:43 pm

      Thank you for your prayers. I actually live my life pretty well. My blog is my ministry. Through writing, I provide support to others and advocate to destigmatize mental illness.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Kitt O'Malley July 7, 2014 / 2:53 pm

      I sent you a poem that I had posted on my site on June 17, 2014. You can reblog freely from my site.

      Like

  6. Author Catherine Townsend-Lyon July 3, 2014 / 9:16 pm

    Hello Kitt,
    Thanks for visiting my recovery blog! I to suffer Bipolar manic depression and Agoraphobia with panic. Thanks for being another voice out here Raising Awareness! I blog about my experiences with addiction & recovery, mental illness, and childhood sex abuse & trauma. So happy to meet you. I’m now following 🙂

    Author Cat Lyon 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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