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 did not 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.
Kitt O’Malley is a mother and wife who lives with bipolar disorder type II. She is licensed in California as a Marriage and Family Therapist. She has a bachelors in legal studies from UC Berkeley, a masters in psychology from New College of California, and has attended Fuller Theological Seminary. Her career path has included working as a legal assistant, psychotherapist, and commercial real estate professional. Obviously, she can’t stick to one thing for very long.
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Of course I recommend reading this story – it’s mine!