This World Was Never Meant For One As Beautiful As You
Lee Ann Leach
I held my sobbing 9 year old son in my arms as we both sat on the floor in a heap of exhaustion. We had wrestled for over 3 hours. My face was bloody from scratches, dirty with carpet fuzz, stained with my own tears. His long, dark blonde hair clung to his face and neck from sweat and tears and saliva. My body ached and trembled from the exertion I had just put forth and my soul was racked with pain and confusion. “I want a new brain!” Tristan gasped through the uncontrollable crying. A few minutes before, I was straddling him, holding him pinned to the floor by his wrists. His face contorted into a child I did not recognize, his eyes rolled back into his head, his mouth spewed the foulest language that could ever come out of the drunkest of sailors, he cursed God, he cursed me, he clawed at my eyes and spit in my face, he bit into air at unknown forces. His brother, 3 years older, held his legs to the ground so that he could not kick me or his Grandmother and he sobbed and pleaded with him to stop. Now, he lay like a baby in my arms and we cried and wondered what was happening. We were scared, hurt and confused.
Then, there was the knock on the front door. Two police officers wanting to talk to me about the neighbors calling in and saying that I was abusing my child on the second floor of the apartments we were living in at the time. I let them in and explained that it was not I that was dishing out the abuse, but my son. I gave them to telephone number to his psychiatrist and therapist and told them to check it out for themselves. They made the call and confirmed that, indeed, my skinny, little, long-haired son was under psychiatric care for ADHD. The officers told Tristan that they would leave him there, but if it started again, they would have to come and take him to the psychiatric hospital and Baker Act him. He was only 9 years old…what did he know of the Baker Act?
Twenty minutes later, Tristan roared out of the bathroom with a towel rack he had ripped from the wall and began beating me over the head with it. I grabbed him and threw him on the floor, and as my 62-year-old mother came to help me wrestle him to the ground, he managed to bite her 5 times across the chest and shoulders. Blood trickled down her breasts, and we struggled on to get him to the floor and pin him in restraints. Once again, the police officers were called. This time, they didn’t give him a warning. He was placed in hand cuffs and taken off in the back of the squad car like a common criminal. We followed the squad car to the hospital, where we were locked into a holding area with a woman they had found on the street rambling and screaming. She had pissed all over herself, and was wearing the still wet clothes and she reeked of old piss. She kept trying to grab Tristan from my arms and screaming that he was her daughter. Tristan was terrified, but had already calmed down from the last “episode.” My older son, Preston, sat in a corner scared to death and humiliated, crying softly to himself for himself and for his little brother that none of us understood. After a 3 hour wait, Tristan was admitted to the Adolescent Ward of the hospital. I went home and cried for the whole 4 days he was locked up. I didn’t sleep or eat, all I did was sit and stare and wonder what I had done wrong as a mother.
This was the first time. There have been many other times since then. He has run into traffic, tried to “fly” from a 50 foot oak tree, tried to jump off of buildings, and on more than one occasion has taken knives after us and various other “implements of destruction.” I have literally lost my career as a writer and photographer, lost our wonderful home on the beach, and am so financially down that there is no sight of ever surviving again as a normal productive citizen. Mental illness has destroyed my family.
The whole problem was that Tristan was misdiagnosed by many “upstanding” doctors of psychiatry and neurology. They said he was ADHD with a rage disorder. They gave him Ritalin, they gave him Dexedrine in enormous quantities — they all want to make every problem child a hyperactive child. They want to put every kid on Ritalin, and it nearly killed my son and has ruined everything we are or ever would become. He barely weighed 60 pounds and had dark circles under his eyes. His white blood cell count dropped dangerously low and he couldn’t fight infection, he developed pneumonia from frequent asthma and allergy attacks. We gave him breathing treatments and Prednizone and then he became violent again. He ran away from home in a violent fit and I couldn’t find him. I had to call for extra help. By the time he wandered back home, there was a helicopter in the air and five police cruisers and a paramedics truck searching for him. He attacked the two police officers as he came in the door, and was thrown to the ground and handcuffed and carted off to yet another psychiatric hospital.
After his last 10-day stay in this psychiatric hospital, where he was beaten by a social worker and locked in isolation rooms with no information given to me to exactly what they were doing to him, I was at the end of my rope. Then, I found a new psychiatrist that had moved into town from New York City, Dr. Amarjeet S. Dhillon. I made yet another psychiatric appointment with yet another doctor, hoping this one would give me some answers.
Dr. Dhillon was a Godsend. He was the only one who questioned my family history. I was a “love child” born out of an affair my mother had in 1960, with a man she had known for 8 years. I had spent the last 15 years trying to locate my half brothers and sisters, and had just found them, scattered across the United States. I questioned my “new” brothers and sisters about mental illness, and I was in for a great shock. Not only had I been treated for severe depressions throughout my life, but so had each one of my brothers and sisters, each one of us with varying degrees of severity and varying diagnoses. We contacted The National Institute For Mental Health (NIHM) in Baltimore, Maryland. NIHM did genetic testing on each of us, and confirmed that each of us had a genetic “flaw” that leads to Bipolar Disorder, more commonly known as Manic Depression. Each of us had lived lives not knowing what was wrong with us, but knowing for sure that there was definitely SOMETHING wrong! My sister had a son that had the same difficulties as Tristan. There was a tendency for epileptic seizures within all of us. For once, we were all released from the confusion and anguish of not knowing, from doctors that didn’t know what to do with us, from the years of being fed every antipsychotic, antidepressive, and antianxiety drug known to the new world.
Tristan was immediately taken off of the Dexedrine and Ritalin — which, by the way, is the WORST thing you can give to a person with Bipolar Disorder — and within two weeks, he was a new child. Yes, he still has his “moments.” But all of us with Bipolar Disorder have those “moments,” there is nothing we can do to control ourselves, no more than a diabetic can control their sugar levels without outside help. We just have to realize that the things we think and feel are part of the disorder and try to manage them and use taught coping skills to make our lives somewhat normal. Dr. Dhillon put Tristan on a combination of medications to control different aspects of the disorder. Tegretol (normally used for seizure disorders) to control the massive “swings” in his moods, Clonidine (normally used as a blood pressure medication) to calm him, and Zoloft, an antidepressive for the “low” swings or the depressive end of the spectrum. He has to take these medications 4 times a day, and will have to take them the rest of his life. There is no “cure”.
The normal treatment for Bipolar Disorder is Lithium with a combination of an antidepressant. Unfortunately, none of the members of my family can take Lithium, as it induces seizures and severe vomiting in all of us. But Lithium has been a miracle drug for most people with Bipolar Disorder, and virtually has turned thousands of lives around.
Structure and a calm atmosphere has made things easier for all of us. Both of my children were taken out of public schools and are now home schooled. The distractions and social stigma placed on children with disorders such as these were too much for my sons to ever be able to learn anything. The name-calling and outcasting is too much to bear when you have to deal with controlling an already over-stimulated brain. Tristan came out of the fourth grade unable to read and couldn’t write a complete sentence, but by the time I had spent 3 months home schooling him under quiet and calm surroundings, he could write a full page essay (on the Egyptian god Anubis, no less!) and was reading Robinson Crusoe on his own. His IQ has tested highly, so he’s no dummy, and he has the artistic and creative gift of drawing sketches like a master. Preston works quietly in his room with assignments I give him, and I grade them and we discuss them after he is finished. Life has slowed down at home, but we still have to “deal” with the outside world, which is another subject How can we make other people understand what it is that we live with in having Bipolar Disorder, and how can we teach people to be accepting of us and know that we are TRYING to be “normal”?
I think people need to know what it is like. I can’t tell you what goes on in Tristan’s brain, but I can relate my own inner workings to make people understand. Imagine you are riding on the fastest roller coaster in the universe. Enormous ungodly speeds; enough speed to rip the skin off of your face; you’re hurdling up and over hills and valleys, and things are flying by so fast that everything is huge blur. Then, without warning, the track of the roller coaster ends — it disappears — and you are slammed into the ground and left a puddle of mush. This would be your physical body. Now, turn this experience into your mind and emotions. There is no physical damage, but your mind is left a puddle of mush. The ride is the manic phase, the crash is the depressive phase.
When I am “manic,” there is NOTHING I can’t do. I am the sexiest woman in the world, I am the smartest, the most beautiful, I can do no wrong, I am perfection. Everything, and I mean everything, is enhanced 700 times what is normal. Colors are 700 times brighter, sounds are 700 times more clear, tastes are 700 times better, the sensations on my skin are 700 times more sensitive, my emotions are 700 times deeper. I love to an excess, I hate to an excess, I am jealous, angry, hurt, bitter, everything to an excess — it is overwhelming! Orgasms are screaming orgasms, I can’t get enough to eat, I can’t talk enough, I can’t read enough, I can’t get enough information fast enough. My thoughts race around in my head too fast to get them down on paper, too fast to relate them to anyone else, they come and go so quickly I get frustrated and begin screaming at myself and anyone else around me. The thoughts crash and bang in my head, and I can’t sleep. I can lay down and try to relax and get some sleep, but it doesn’t come. My brain will not quit working. This goes on for days, and I become exhausted and irritable. I want to sleep, but my body and mind won’t stop. I want off of the roller coaster, because I know the track is going to end soon and I will crash. Everything is moving so fast that nothing gets done. I can’t go to work because I will probably ram into someone out of frustration while driving there. I am too tired and confused to even know what it is I am supposed to do at work, because there is so much else going on in my brain that I need to take care of. I need to buy milk for my kids; so they won’t run out of milk, I buy 6 gallons, way in excess of what we really need. Everything is to an excess. Then, in the middle of laughing hysterically at a rather mundane joke heard on TV, the track ends, and I hit the ground…
Depression. There is no hope. My whole vision is distorted with a grey cloud-like sheet. Everything is dark, and I like it that way. My physical appearance changes – my skin turns grey and my eyes sink back in my head, there are deep black circles under them. My friends can tell by just looking at me that I am in a depressive state. My body feels like lead, I can’t move and I don’t want to move. All I want to do is sleep. In my dreams, the world is normal and I can float and not be bothered. I sleep for 18-20 hours at a time. I get up only to go to the bathroom and maybe to get some food. I can only feel doom at my life. I know I am sick, and that this disorder is what is making me be unproductive and useless. I feel as if I am a waste of space. I am called all the things that no one ever wants to be called by other people. Unreliable, irresponsible, undependable, dishonest, arrogant, rude, obsessive… I’ve heard these things so many times I begin to believe them. I dwell on these things and beat myself up and it deepens the sadness and self-loathing. I know I am not these things when the roller coaster isn’t swirling around in my head, but it comes too often and has made me into everything I desperately try not to be. There is no reason for the depression, it just comes and hangs over me like a death ghost. I don’t want to live when I know people are saying and thinking these derogatory things about me, when they don’t understand that I am trying my hardest to be what society expects me to be. I understand why people do not want to be near me or to be associated with me, because I don’t want to know this person that I am either. The struggle is ongoing and forever.
These thoughts are the reason there are so many suicides among those suffering with Bipolar Disorder. The mortality rate among Bipolar people is astronomical, mostly suicides and accidental deaths from believing that we have more power than humanly possible and attempt to “fly” off of buildings, run with the traffic on busy highways, or other things that have no reasonable “sane” explanation. Thank God for medication that brings us “down to earth.”
The medical bills are unending and very, very expensive. Psychiatrists are not cheap. The medication is expensive, the testing and blood work required is expensive. When you are unproductive and can’t work because you are immobilized by the disorder, where is the insurance and income needed to pay for all you need to survive? There is none. So many people who suffer from this disorder simply do not survive. They are the people you see on the streets living in cardboard boxes and panhandling; they are the people arrested and put in jail for shoplifting a package of bologna because they are hungry; they are the people without appropriate medical care that commit unspeakable crimes to other people because they are on a manic swing and they cannot afford the medication needed to help them to be sane. I am not saying that every criminal or street person suffers from Bipolar Disorder, but our prisons and street corners are full of people that either do not know or understand that they have the disorder or, they DO know and can’t afford to get help. Our government needs to appropriate more funds into mental health care, research, and getting people like myself and my family appropriate medical care rather than spending the billions of dollars they spend on building prisons. The prisons would be virtually unnecessary if they would address the mental illness issues pressing our society today.
I live every day with the grinding fear that my son will be one of the ones that ends up in prison for committing crimes he does not understand that he has committed or living in a cardboard box on a street corner, when I am not here to take care of him. This is a reality I live with every day. To combat the fear, I have to spend enormous amounts of time talking to, teaching, and making my children understand what the disorder is and how they can survive when I am not here to take care of them, teaching them the importance of taking their medication on time and to not forget to take it, counseling them on dealing with other people they will encounter in their lives that are too ignorant to educate themselves on the realities of mental illness.
Mental illness is feared and shoved under a rug in our society when it should be discussed and taught to everyone so that the mentally ill will not be feared or ignored. We do not fear people with diabetes, epilepsy, or other genetic disorders…why do we fear people with genetically passed down mental illnesses that can be TREATED and dealt with if given the right circumstances? Why do we as a society want to ignore that it exists? Why do we let these people go untreated and without proper medical care when we have organizations such as the American Diabetes Association that openly discusses its peoples’ problems and can without fear of reproach ask for donations and contributions to help those with diabetes? It is because our society is living in the dark ages as far as mental health is concerned and we are all still AFRAID!
On the brighter side of living with the disorder, I also teach my sons that we are in good company as far as history and the arts are concerned. I tell them often that some of the most renowned and famous people suffered with Bipolar Disorder as they do, and have left our world with the beautiful things that only they could give us. I tell them that I honestly believe that when God “blesses” us with the “disease of the mind,” that He looks upon us as his paint palette to bring beauty into an otherwise grey and “normal” existence. People like Vincent Van Gogh (listen to Don MacLean’s song “Vincent”, a loving tribute to the beauty of Bipolar Disorder),Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill (who referred to his disorder as “The Black Dog”), Abraham Lincoln, Rimbaud, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Burns, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Percy Bysshe Shelly, and John Keats all suffered from Bipolar Disorder.
Modern day entertainers are openly discussing their disorders for people to learn that it just might be a beautiful thing to have Bipolar Disorder — people such as Patti Duke Astin (who works diligently to promote mental health awareness, and has even gone before a Congressional Hearing to educate the politicians on the need of mental health research and funding), Carrie Fisher, Tim Burton, Francis Ford Coppolla, Ray Davies, Kristy McNichol, Gordon Sumner (or as most of the world knows him, “Sting”), Brian Wilson, Courtney Love, Axl Rose, and yes, even Kurt Cobain — we are a beautiful people who can experience things in this world that everyone else just ignores. The heightened state of mania allows us to experience colors at their brightest and sounds at their sweetest. The depths of depression can allow us to bring to the average person the words, pictures, and sounds that express ultimate sadness. We are given the gift to see and express what “normal” people only experience momentarily. We give you the songs, poems, paintings, literature, and things of beauty that you do not have time to express because you are too busy being normal. While we rush about trying to get these thoughts on paper, canvas, and into song, the normal people of the world take their leisure time to read, look at, and hear what we “crazies” are doing when they are being normal. We are the entertainment of the normal. We see the beauty in the grain of the wood more clearly, we hear the sounds more clearly and in sweeter accord, we envision the picture on our sick minds more radiantly – we are the ones that create the great works of art in our illness.
Bipolar Disorder can be looked upon as a detriment to society, or it can be appreciated for its beauty. Society can use it for the betterment of the arts and music, or it can make it the scourge that it has been made for centuries. It is up to us, as society, to choose how we view mental illness and how we will deal with its complexities and the hurdles that have to be overcome to make it and the people that suffer with it a benefit in our world rather than a problem to sweep under the carpet. I am hoping that future generations will take the time to learn what there is to know, so that when my son is grown, he will be appreciated for the beautiful and magical person that he is rather than a sore on society’s backside. Maybe then, the world will be a more pleasant place to live in, for the sane AND the “insane”.