The Boy from Bothell: Bipolar Vietnam Veteran

By Gene Olson

Reviewed by Matt Stoeckel

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Olson wandered the halls at American Lake, never tired, investigating the many places to explore.  Olson began taking lithium at American Lake in 1976, just six years after it had been approved by the FDA in 1970.  He notes, “As the lithium started working its miracle, calmness, less agitation appeared.  The staff recognized this new behavior and permission was granted to leave the locked building during the day.” After a total of five months at American Lake he was discharged. He did not yet comprehend the power of lithium.  Olson writes, “Comprehension would come later.  The diagnosis was correct.  I was bipolar.  I would be bipolar the rest of my life.”

Olson soon grew tired of his life of “too much beer and sleeping with too many women,” and in his search for a genuine, lasting honest relationship he took out an ad in the Little Nickel free ad newspaper.  Soon he was to hear from Jolanta, who he would later call his “Angel from Poland.”  After speaking with her on the phone and meeting her in person he said to himself, “I’m going to get this girl and keep her!” Soon he sat on the edge of his bed and read her a poem he had just composed, called, “Will You Marry Me in May?”  When finished reading, he told Jolanta he did not need an immediate answer.  After two weeks she finally said, “Yes, I will marry you! But you have to stop drinking beer.”  They were soon married.

After having finished her residency in Poland, Jolanta still had to start over and jump through all the hoops for foreign medical students.  Jolanta and Gene had made a plan. “After she received her physician assistant license, we would have our first baby.  When she had met all the requirements qualifying her to enter a residency in internal medicine, we would have another baby.”  Before long they had a son, Gene-Paul, and by the time he was 4 they were about to have another child.  Before the birth of their next child, Gene’s father died.  Olson writes, “We never agreed on anything.  I know I disappointed him many times.  His legacy will live on with his children.  For me, his legacy was love, unconditional love.”

After having another son, George, and now living in Indianapolis, Olson writes of his thoughts in early 2000: “Sitting on the fence, I felt like lithium was a pop-up blocker, blocking all spirits, good or evil, and blocking out anything with emotions.  I had nothing spiritual, I had nothing emotional. In twenty-seven years I had cried once, when my father had died.”  After days of discussions with his wife Jolanta, they decided he would gradually reduce his daily dosage from 1200 milligrams to 300 milligrams over a period of fifteen days. The results were disastrous.

As Olson notes, “I could always feel mania approaching.  Only a bipolar knows.  For me, the fear advanced with the manic high.”  Nonetheless, he writes, “During the high, wow!  You didn’t want the mania to stop.”  He writes, “Inside the house, I knew soon I’d be flying high.  I checked my wristwatch, three o’clock.”  Immediately he found himself on the Hoosier Express, traveling from Indianapolis to Chicago.  He writes, “The train was on a trestle before entering the station.  Down below the houses were shabby, revealing Chicago’s south side poverty.”  The train then stopped at Minot, N.D., the birthplace of Olson’s mom.  From Minot the train was bound from Warsaw to Vienne.  Soon he was walking all over the sidewalks in Vienne, fascinated and charmed by its historic beauty.  He then found himself beholding the beauty of Budapest.  He watched the Danube river flow calmly around the city.  The Danube river stopped and he found himself at the mouth of the muddy Saigon River, with the river banks lined with shacks built on poles.  Bouncing back to Vancouver, Wash., their present home, his mania trip ended.  He looked at his wristwatch.  It read 3:03.  Only three minutes had passed.  It was a fast “trip.”

In his final episode, Gene’s aggressive behavior, screaming about helicopters coming from the four directions to rescue him and later yelling at the hospital security guards, “I am a Vietnam Veteran!” scared Jolanta. At the hospital he was knocked out with the powerful drug Geodon and slept for five days. Gene and his wife decided to increase his dosage of lithium from 300 milligrams to 900 milligrams.  Olson observes, “At nine-hundred milligrams, I was ‘off the fence’; feeling some emotions and able to tell the difference in dosage.  It was amazing the difference one little capsule made.”  His youngest boy said, “If only dad can stay off the Saigon River, everything will be ok.”  He replied to his son, “Don’t worry, Son, everything IS going to be ok.”

Olson’s firsthand account provides details in the life of a person beset with bipolar disorder.  Such a detailed account may offer researchers further clues and offer individuals what Olson’s desired goal is, to provide answers in their quest for peace of mind.

The Boy from Bothell: Bipolar Vietnam Veteran
By Gene Olson
Bipolar Beacon of Hope and CSN Books
Paperback, 280 pages

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APA Reference
Stoeckel, M. (2011). The Boy from Bothell: Bipolar Vietnam Veteran. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-boy-from-bothell-bipolar-vietnam-veteran-2/0008924
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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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