Dave’s Story: Living with Bipolar Disorder
Dave, a 68-year-old Texan, has battled bipolar disorder for more than two decades. He raised a family and owned a successful business. He is now retired and spends his time reaching out to others with mental illnesses.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I had my first episode of bipolar illness in 1979. I was visiting my parents in Texas and started talking constantly. I couldn’t sleep. I ended up in the emergency room with a diagnosis of manic-depression. I stayed with my parents for about a month and didn’t discuss the illness. When I returned home to Illinois, I flushed the pills down the toilet.
During the next two years, I did pretty well, even though I kept having mood swings. Then in 1981 after being promoted to vice president of the company, I started to unravel. I was traveling to a conference with several associates and made a fool of myself on the airplane. I became loud and shoulder-blocked a copilot. When I reached the hotel, I came unglued again, sitting on the floor, drinking scotch and refusing to let anyone in the room. The paramedics came, put me in a straight jacket and took me away on a stretcher. It was humiliating. At the hospital, I stayed locked in a quiet room for three days. I remember praying a lot. I gained a lot of humility during those three days.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
I dismissed the first doctor’s diagnosis. When I got home, I went to my general practitioner, who referred me to a psychiatrist. But I didn’t want therapy. I denied my illness. By the time I needed help again, I was an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital, where I received counseling and drugs.
I became manic and depressed again after surgery for cancer in 1986 and after back surgery in 1991. In 1993, I became extremely depressed. The antidepressant medications couldn’t pull me up. I seriously considered suicide and admitted myself to the hospital. The doctors gave me so many medications; I had a manic episode. Eventually, the doctors were able to stabilize me.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?