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. krystal26 December 20, 2014 / 5:48 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. Recovery is certainly possible. You’ve survived so much. And thank god for family. They have played such a crucial role in your stability. My story is similar. I could not have done much of anything without my family and friends, particularly my mother. I too just moved back home a few months ago. It’s been such a godsend.

    How long have you been blogging? Have you found it therapeutic? I’ve been blogging at Manic Monique’s Meanderings for six months now and I’ve found it very helpful. I look forward to reading along on your blog 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. tearlines December 14, 2014 / 1:48 am

    I absolutely love your story, what a ride! Thank you for sharing such intimate details with us. I don’t know about you and your experiences reading about other people with bipolar disorder, but for me, every time I read someone’s story it makes me feel a little bit less alone. We are a community.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Anonymous December 7, 2014 / 7:57 pm

    In recovery from dual -diagnosis 18 years-clean and sober 19 years-bipolar your story gave me hope!!!Im touched about your take on mania-lets keep in touch!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kitt O'Malley December 7, 2014 / 9:49 pm

      Thank you. Glad to hear of your successful recovery from dual diagnosis. 18 years clean and sober is wonderful.

      Like

  4. Running Elk December 7, 2014 / 8:24 am

    It is incredible, to me, how the core elements of the “mystical experience” have so many common threads running through them. By devaluing these experiences, through stigmatising and marginalising those who have them, modern (western) society is much the poorer.

    There is only so much that applying the scientific method can achieve. After all, despite the common threads, every experience is unique, and simply defies the “box A” or “box B” approach that modern medicine (perhaps unconsciously) relies upon.

    Even the “alternative therapy” community (generally) shy away from “treating” mental illness. Fear of “making it worse”? Lack of knowledge? Maybe as indoctrinated as the rest of society?
    Yet, it is perhaps only through recognising the very essence of what it is to be human, extrapolating from that, throwing away logic, mixing in liberal doses of empathy, listening, “being there”, and being open to “what it is that this individual experience teaches the community” that we can ever get back to a place where the “mystics” are no longer subjugated by chemical means (though it certainly beats burning them or locking them away indefinitely…)

    Synchronicity dropped this onto my Facebook page a few days back – interesting comparison, and fascinating insight into a more natural (dare I say spiritual) view, which modern medicine could learn much from… What a shaman sees in a mental hospital

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s put a lot of my own journey into context.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Kitt O'Malley December 7, 2014 / 2:50 pm

      Thank you. I embrace both the mystic in me, as well as take care of my very real brain disorder. Combining a holistic approach which respects my experience, with a psychiatric approach which enables me to live and love fully, has worked. Problems come when we do not respect the spiritual, when we separate the body from the soul.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Running Elk December 8, 2014 / 12:22 pm

        Indeed. If only the western approach could be more open to that; especially the possibility that the two can augment and support each other, to the advantage of both… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Doris November 18, 2014 / 9:10 am

    Good for you telling your story. My father died of cancer and I felt into a big depression, art help me through it all, specially writing. Will pass by later I am at work thank you for following.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Kitt O'Malley November 18, 2014 / 3:43 pm

      Without a doubt grieving and loss can trigger depression. I am glad that art provided you a healthy outlet for your pain. I send my condolences to you for your loss.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Doris November 18, 2014 / 6:44 pm

        Thank you so much, and thank your for the follow here and on twitter. Have a great day!

        Liked by 2 people

    • rockyromano10 December 28, 2014 / 5:47 pm

      Doris…thank you! life..sometimes is not easy..thank you for sharing part of your story.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. mihrank November 11, 2014 / 12:17 am

    Kitt – wow – I wanted to translate your post into music melody to understand the concept, importance of your previous experience, I was unable to continue to read further. I am a very delicate and sensitive person. I just cried. However, I admire you, you are a powerful lady with strong will to shine in your life.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Kitt O'Malley November 11, 2014 / 1:11 pm

      Wow, you are indeed a sensitive soul. Mihran, I will keep you in my prayers.

      Like

  7. FinickyFeet November 10, 2014 / 11:36 pm

    Wow, Kit. This is such a powerful post. I’ve just begun a blog, still figuring out how it works, and it literally took me a month to write my About Me page. I struggled with wanting to be honest in saying, yes, I had a hellacious nervous breakdown/severe depressive episode. I think I was called catatonic, sitting hours in my car unable to get into the house. Or staring for hours at a television that wasn’t turned on. I admire your authenticity here. Kudos to you. Thank you for your support in visiting my page, too. I felt like I had to make it funny. But the reality of walking on the edge all the time is really pretty unsettling.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Kitt O'Malley November 11, 2014 / 1:08 pm

      Thank you for the compliment. FinickyFeet, you just wrote an excellent and honest About Me. You could copy and paste the text of your comment, adding some of your signature wit. I am glad that you are doing better, not catatonic, writing, using the very excellent coping mechanism of humor. But, yes, walking on the edge, fearing falling off again, is indeed unsettling. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. God bless.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Bipolar mom November 6, 2014 / 7:14 am

    Hi Kitt. I had to like your this page. Just like the many who have commented, i too relate. I’m bipolar type 1, and have lost so much of my life due to this illness. Am I trying to reclaim my life? Maybe. Do I regret a lot of the things I’ve done? Yes and No. This illness has also been an enabler for me to build inspire people (people who are not bipolar). In the interim, I’m a closet bipolar, but want to come out when I publish my memoir. Is that selfish or silly?

    I love writing, I love poetry. And due to this illness, and me being so sensitive, I have decided to stay at home- being a stay at home mom to 3 beautiful boys.

    I look forward to reading your posts. They give me something to aspire to, let me know that i’ll be ok. I’m too scared to set goals for now.

    Big hugs!

    Yvette

    http://southafricanbipolarmom.wordpress.com/
    http://www.yvecorner.wordpress.com (all my poetry on here- including my normal me identity)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Kitt O'Malley November 6, 2014 / 7:58 am

      Thank you so much, Yvette. You are not selfish, nor are you silly, for remaining a closet bipolar. We have the right to decide what of ourselves, of our inner life, we share and what we keep private. It is important that you take care of yourself, and, of course, your sons. I look forward to reading your posts. Thank you and God bless.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Karen Jimmy October 16, 2014 / 8:33 pm

    I’m so encouraged by your story, Kitt. I can relate to so much of it, too- it’s almost uncanny how familiar it “feels”. I wish I could give you and hug. I guess “Thankyou” will have to suffice 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kitt O'Malley October 17, 2014 / 5:21 pm

      We can cyber hug (((hugs))) 🙂
      Amazing how half cross the world, we can have so much in common.
      Humans have more in common than not.
      Mothers, more so.
      Mothers with bipolar, even more so.
      Mothers of deep faith with bipolar…
      Well, you get the idea.

      Like

  10. pbforsyth October 5, 2014 / 1:09 am

    Hello Kitt,

    I’ve only just discovered your blog, but found I could relate. I have bipolar too and have just started to be more open about it. I am trying to turn my life around by undertaking a photography course in London. I am raising awareness of the condition with a campaign starting on Tuesday (coincides with Bipolar Awareness Day in the UK), whilst also starting an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise the necessary funds to get me on the course.

    I have just started a blog called totallyinvogue.com as I want to be a fashion photographer! It’s hard being honest about the condition but I think it’s the right thing to do. I have given an interview to the local media about my experiences which is scary!

    Glad to have found you.
    Philip

    Liked by 3 people

    • Kitt O'Malley October 5, 2014 / 2:04 pm

      Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a thoughtful and informative comment. I will take a look at your site and at information about Bipolar Awareness Day in the UK. I love to share great content on Twitter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pbforsyth October 6, 2014 / 12:05 am

        Kitt, I wanted to say a big thank you for your supportive email. That means a lot to me. I’m also grateful for you following me and for sharing on Twitter. This is a real help in spreading my message! I look forward to reading your blog posts and learning more about your journey.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kitt O'Malley October 6, 2014 / 12:46 pm

          Tell your story on your blog. People enjoy getting to know artist’s background and offering support and encouragement.

          Like

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. 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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