The inheritance of loss (and gain)

It’s no secret that Bipolar Disorder is genetic. It was a “surprise” that I was the first person in our family to be diagnosed as bipolar, though. I’ve long felt inadequate, intellectually, compared with my parents the Ph.D.s, but I was the one who was proactive enough about her dysfunction to make thrashing overtures toward diagnosis and treatment. Since my diagnosis and miraculous recovery of the person I’ve suspected I could be all along, I’ve been trying to nudge both my parents along toward getting themselves checked out, with little success. But I’m convinced they’re both bipolar, given what I now know, and I’ve been trying to get them to see the light.

My mom’s resistance ended dramatically, with her psychotic (but happy! oh, so happy!) episode this spring, after which she was hospitalized and diagnosed as Bipolar, and her crippling depression (lasting my whole life) at last yielded to a combination of antipsychotic and mood stabilizers. Amazing– but not really. When your depression’s affected you for so long, no anti-depressant makes a dent, and you used to have pretenatural spurts of productivity when you were in grad school (did I mention bipolar often most obviously manifests itself in the late teens and early twenties?), why wouldn’t you believe your daughter when she tells you that maybe you should see a shrink to reevaluate your depression, given your daughter’s diagnosis and resounding response? But all’s well that ends well, and now her meds seem to put her in to a receptive frame of mind, and she seems to be doing her homework, reading up and meeting with her care team regularly.

My dad’s been more stubborn. Granted, he was functional in his dysfunction for much longer than my mom was– it took him until I was 12 before his alcoholism cost him not just his job for a few weeks but also his driver’s license. At that point, he took sobriety seriously, and made up his mind to stop the self-medication he’d been indulging in since he was in graduate school (that whole teens & twenties thing again). After he became sober, his moods didn’t change minute to minute, but he was still bouncing between talkative, charming, funny, and reticent, snappy, shy, disinterested, apathetic, inactive. He wasn’t able to find a shrink he liked in the immediate aftermath of the arrest, and made do with the talk therapy at AA. And then the blood pressure meds came along. (Blood pressure meds are sometimes used in combination with antipsychotics to assist/speed the effect of an antipsychotic when someone’s in an acute episode.) He’s on a serious dose of the bp meds, and they dial down what he calls “the jiggies,” but they also make him very slow in the morning. And in the meantime, he’s still sad. And lonely. He seems resolved to believe he’s just a naturally melancholy person with too much distemper to successfully live with someone else, but I see someone whose long and deep depressive episodes aren’t being appropriately managed, and who could be a lot happier.

After having such amazing relief of my own misery, I want the same for them. I know I inherited it from them, but nobody wants to acknowledge they’re “mentally ill,” even though the failure to acknowledge it can be so disastrous. Even with the proof in front of them of the success of appropriate medication and talk therapy, though, they continued to be stubborn. My mom would always say, when I was being hyper, or in a raging, nasty, irritable mood on the downturn, “you’re just like your father.” And my dad would always say, when I’d burst into tears at the littlest thing, “you’re just like your mother.” Um, yeah. But I’m like you, too– that’s the point. Too bad you’re too blind to see it.

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