I got a postcard from the Oregon State Hospital yesterday. It was a recruitment for prospective mental health nurses, but I had to laugh because when I picked up the card, my first thought was “do they want me as a nurse or as a patient”? Oh, the things that cross my mind sometimes…!
Which brings me to tonight’s topic: a young man of my acquaintance who is as bipolar as they make ’em. He is a tormented, artistic soul who struggles with drastic mood swings, hypersexuality, erratic behavior, and alcohol abuse. He is unable to stick with any one course of action longer than a jumping bean can stay in one place, and absolutely everything about him is extreme, from his clothing to his obsessions to his spending habits.
Nonetheless, he somehow managed to fool a VA shrink into diagnosing him only with PTSD and depression……both of which he undoubtedly has, because of his experiences as an infantryman in Iraq and the character of his own mental landscape. But he decided to go back into the service after he tried civilian life for a short time and found it wanting, and he figured out a way to subdue his manic side enough to make himself acceptable to the National Guard. (Besides, he was diagnosed by the VA….what can I say?)
Did I mention that he met a woman with two kids on the Internet only one day after breaking up with another girl who—like every other he’s dated—was “The One”? Yep, and a month after that he married her and got her pregnant. She’s an OK sort, and she does care about him; but now they’re six months into the marriage and I’m shocked that he’s made it this far….most of his relationships have lasted about as long as the “Happy Birthday” song.
But there’s trouble in Paradise….he’s about to be kicked out of the Guard because he has a bad ankle injury from a Stryker accident that never healed and which has flared up again, and he hasn’t been able to find a private-sector job since he left the Army. (Well, he did get one job, but he quit after a single shift because, and I quote, “my back hurt and I missed my wife and kids too much”.) And not to be snide, but I’ve heard that both the missus and her mother have him so—pardon the expression—pussy-whipped that catering to their wants and needs is a full-time job in itself.
What’s really sad is that his mother, who’s bipolar herself, cannot convince him to stop this charade and go get diagnosed correctly. She’s had to learn the hard way that ignoring this illness has serious consequences, and as her friend, I know that all she wants is to save him a few decades of misery. Yet even though she’s the only one in his family with even a CLUE about what he’s going through, he usually brushes off her concerns with pretty words about taking her advice, and then promptly goes off and does the exact opposite.
She’s at her wits’ end. To stand by helplessly and watch a much-loved child hurl himself repeatedly against a stone wall is surely one of the hardest things a mother can ever endure. It also makes her feel terribly guilty, as if she’d asked for her son to have this illness. And despite knowing that it wasn’t her fault, she tells me she is ashamed because his predisposition toward developing the disorder was passed on through her genes, long before anyone knew that either of them had it.
I feel bad for them both. That young man could have such an incredible life if only he cared enough about himself to seek proper diagnosis and treatment. He needs to accept and even embrace his bipolarity, because only then will he be able to accept himself as the funny, loving, sensitive, creative man he really is.
It’s sad to see so much potential wasted, to be sure. But it’s sadder still for a mother to have to keep her son at arm’s length because she can’t allow herself to be vulnerable to his recklessness and his lies and his rejection, lest they trigger her own illness again.