Mother’s Mania

I have spent quite a bit of time in the mental health units of a couple of Oregon hospitals. Not as a patient, mind you, and not as an employee either. I like to call it ‘patient advocate.’ My mother is 73 years old and is bipolar. She has been in the hospital multiple times, with the frequency increasing during the past decade or so. My brother and I are the chief witnesses to these events.

During my mother’s last couple of in-patient forays, the hospital staff has let me stay with her far past regular visiting hours. There aren’t enough of them, and they can see how I’m able to keep her out of their hair. So I become a quasi-staff member. Sometimes I’m mistaken for a staff member—occasionally assisting whoever my mother’s roommate happens to be; unflappable in the face of the naked man with dementia wandering through other patients’ rooms. I’m able to get away with sneaking in the good coffee and the cheeseburgers that make my mother’s hospital stay more bearable. I even know which of my winter coats has the sleeves that can accommodate a pound-box of See’s Candy.

Mania (they tell me) is incredibly seductive—at first. The rush of energy and creativity—even good memories make an appearance. Who doesn’t like the feeling of being at the top of one’s game, of bang-on clarity and awareness, of wit fueled by intellect? True confession: I find my mother a more interesting person when she’s in the early stages of mania (and I do emphasize ‘early’). I like hearing her stories of growing up in the New York City of the 1940s: of her father the civil engineer who worked on the Holland Tunnel; of her mother the secretary-typist who worked for Marsh and McClennan (long before the devastating events of 9/11/01); of vanilla cokes at the local drug store after a school day at Port Richmond High School.

Mania builds, and my mother can’t sleep. She rearranges the furniture in her apartment, and attempts major cleaning/reorganization projects. She buys all her Christmas presents regardless of the current date (she once bought everything in January). Then the paranoia arrives, and her friend Sharon, whom she has known for 30 years, has surely stolen that jacket she just bought. A call to Sharon to cuss her out. Then a 911 call to the police. They arrive and are able to locate the jacket. Sorry, Sharon!

Finally, the call comes to me — ‘Kelly, can you come to see me? I really need someone to hold my hand. I was up all night throwing up and having diarrhea. No, don’t come now…I can wait until the weekend.’ Then another call, three hours later: ‘Come now.’

Is it codependent of me to consider going, or is there legitimate need here? My mother doesn’t plan her manic episodes—they just happen. Yes, she’s on medication, but the medication doesn’t cure, it simply keeps the ship in the middle of the shipping lanes. Except for when it doesn’t, like right now.

One would think that the goal is to avoid the hospital stay. My mother has pretty decent care. Can’t they prevent these manic episodes from becoming full-blown? It would take a symphonic orchestration of medication to make that happen, I guess. “They” can’t do everything. And remember, one element of mania is denial that one has it.

My mom appears destined for yet another hospital stay, and it’s looking like I’ll be right there with her (a definite maybe). Oregon, ho!

Previously on this topic: Jessica Starr

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The Scout is up in Humboldt Redwood State Park working on a Mercedes spot. This is a photo from a place called Women’s Federation Grove.

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7 Responses to “Mother’s Mania”

  1. Miss Havisham Says:

    I would be on the phone to Scout yelling “Get me some Humboldt ganga stat!”

  2. Susan C Says:

    Hoping that the combination of the right cocktail and your presence will bring your mom some comfort and stability.

    I, for one, would love to get lost in Scout’s redwood scene.

  3. Petrea Says:

    The Redwoods are halfway to Oregon.

    I know this sounds crazy, but I’d go with you if I could.

  4. Cafe Observer Says:

    K, i sincerely feel your pain.
    It doesn’t surprise me that MD’s can’t cure bipolar depression. Traditional MD medicine is great for critical care, but just adequate treating the much more common chronic illnesses.

    Since she’s in Oregon I would take another path through ND’s by investigating naturopathic medicine. Oregon & Washington are progressive health states & I believe is covered by the states & health insurance.

    Redwoods: Since I was first saw them as a kid, I’ve never ceased to be amazed by them! I love the forest.

  5. laurie Says:

    This is such beautiful, poignant writing. I don’t have any experience with bipolar disorder, but my father had significant brain damage in the last 13 years of his life. By the very end, he was in a critical care facility that specialized in Altzheimers patients. The naked man coming in and out of the room… yeah, I know about that. It’s so awful when your parents become ill, and even harder when that illness manifests in dramatic changes in personality. For a while, my dad thought he was in his early 20s and didn’t know who I was. I was in my 20s at the time and felt completely unprepared to deal with the entire situation.

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I was very moved by your post.

  6. altadenahiker Says:

    Beautifully written. I guess that’s the best we can do with tragedy is describe it beautifully, because it’s going to happen no matter what. My mother had parkinson’s disease, beginning in her 30’s. She died at 60. Some of the medications were almost as bad as the disease, and after 20 years, they stopped working anyway.

  7. Pasadena Adjacent Says:

    Mental illness is so tricky. When I was around 15, mom fell into horrible depression and had to be hospitalized. We were told to lie about it and we did. I think it was the times. Anyhow, a part of me fears having what happened to my mom could happen to me. Heres to you and doing what you have to do.

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