Bipolar- My window to dementia
When I first went to the psychiatric hospital over thirty years ago I was not looking for long term benefits to reap from my mental illness. Instead I was looking for a way to come to terms with the traumatic experience. I was fixated on day to day survival and trying to make some sense of the madness. Little did I know that my grand curse would, in time, would yield many blessings.
Humility, compassion, increased faith, many wonderful friends, an attitude of gratitude and others are the benefits that my suffer with bipolar provided me. But there is one blessing, that for the moment, looms largest. That is my bipolar illness is a window to dementia.
Dementia is a horrible illness. My wife Sylvia suffers from it. Like the onset of mental illness there are signs that dementia is coming but they are hard to pick up on. In hindsight the first thing that my wife exhibited was a serious loss of memory. She was working in child care taking care of a little boy. Sometimes she would call me on the phone not remembering how to return to work after going to the park. A couple of times I left work to go help her.
Sylvia’s ailment really manifested when I went to the psychiatric hospital about four years ago. I wasn’t around to witness her problems so it really didn’t sink in. However as the dementia progressed there was no denying the reality. She want trough a very terrible stage where she was awfully confused. Sylvia was attempting to get back to Grenada, where she grew up. Not by taking an airplane but by walking there! The only thing that would satisfy her would be rides in the car as we looked for her home of Grenada. We’d drive for hours, sometimes over a hundred miles a day, just to keep her calm. Fortunately she didn’t dare venture out at night.
During this time we had many a run in with the police. As time progressed the police got acquainted with our situation, so I wouldn’t have to go through a long process in explaining what was going on. The months of wandering were without a doubt the hardest times of my life. It got to a point where Sylvia couldn’t even use her phone anymore to tell me where she was. I would ride up and down the streets looking for her. It is a miracle nothing bad happened to her.
Sylvia resisted seeing both a neurologist and a psychiatrist. She was hospitalized once for about a week. Eventually she was persuaded to see the necessary doctors. The medicine from the psychiatrist worked well in calming Sylvia down. Fortunately, this eliminated Sylvia’s desire to wander. In fact now she doesn’t want to leave the house as all.
So how did me having a mental illness help?
First of all I can have compassion for Sylvia understanding the ins and outs of her illness. Many people who don’t know mental illnesses first hand don’t appreciate the reality and severity of the ailment. I never doubted for a second that what Sylvia was going through was real.
Secondly I could appreciate her denial and refusal to see doctors in her circumstance. I too went through that phase. Accepting a psychological disorder is an extremely difficult thing.
Finally I have the appreciation that Sylvia cannot help the way that she is. That is when she acted out in various ways it really wasn’t her fault at all. Her excuse of having dementia wasn’t some ambiguous concept. Rather it was a reality that I had to deal with for thirty years.
I can’t go as far as to say that I am glad that I suffer from bipolar. That would be the biggest lie of my life. Rather I can say that I have been blessed because of my bipolar illness. I thank God for the insights so I can care for my wife better. Perhaps one day your suffering and anguish will help you in a real, concrete way as well.