Thursday, July 13, 2006

What I'm Learning about Bipolar

The following information was found on several sites including the Mayo Clinic and National Institute of Mental Health.

Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings from overly "high" and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression. Symptoms of bipolar are severe; they are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through.

In the book An Unquiet Mind Kay Redfield Jamison says "Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide."

When the depression started again at the end of March, we realized there was a pattern to what Tim was experiencing that took a year to repeat. We know he was depressed during the summer of 2004 and then experienced an up swing towards the end of August that carried him through till the end of March, 2005. A friend shared when the change occurred last spring that it was like his brain was suffering from brain sludge and couldn't process when writing a paper or studying for an exam like he could the previous 2 1/1 years they had studied together. In her book Kay Redfield Jamison describes this period in her life at the beginning of her illness, "Then the bottom began to fall out of my life and mind. My thinking, far from being clearer than crystal, was tortuous. I would read the same passage over and over again only to realize that I had no memory at all for what I just had read. Each book or poem I picked up was the same way. Incomprehensible. Nothing made sense. I could not begin to follow the material presented in my classes, and I would find myself staring out the window with no idea of what was going on around me. It was very frightening." The pattern as it repeated this year was much more severe than last. I could sense Tim spinning faster and faster last fall and mentioned to him that his boundless energy would come to an end and to be prepared for it. He dismissed my idea then, but about a month later, at the beginning of December when writing asking for prayer, he agreed that there was some truth to my statement. He wrote, "Having gone through a thoroughly depressing summer, this fall is somewhat of a manic period for me. One that simply must slow at some point. Now don't get over-alarmed. I am sleeping fine. Eating well. Relating well with everyone. But my mind is running on over-drive. I am thinking much faster than usual... especially when I'm on drugs...i.e. caffeine:).
The Lord has allowed me to put some amazing thought together (though I know that everything seems move profound during a manic period)." He goes on to describe several ideas he has for essays he wants to write and that he has the entire outlines in his head. He closes this way: "Ok, so don't go over-board with this e-mail... I am doing fine. According to everyone I talk to I've never been doing better. ... Lastly, I have found only one thing to slow my mind: singing worship music. Singing and meditating on worship music have been the only way to slow down and focus on one thing for an extended period of time. Not even prayer slows me."
We noticed when Tim was home for Thanksgiving and had a friend over for dinner, he talked about himself and told story after story about himself and didn't include his friend in the conversation like he usually would. This wasn't the Tim we knew and when he came home at Christmas he was even more bizarre. He came in at 7:30 AM Christmas Eve morning and hadn't slept for a day or two. He got a couple of hours sleep and then Joe woke him up without thinking and he was talking so crazy. I immediately thought of schizophrenia since there was someone in the familiy who had this. Sal came home early from work and talked with Tim and he seemed to settle down and then there was dinner and church and Christmas morning and going to relatives for dinner. Sal asked Tim to stay home with Todd since he still wasn't himself while we went to the relatives' house. When we got home we watched the Ravens game and then as I was headed up to bed, Tim asked if we could talk. Andrew and Joe joined me since Sal had to work the next day and it was now almost 11PM. Tim was angry with me and after asking me to explain why I was so upset by his behavior Christmas Eve told me that he couldn't understand why I was over reacting. The discussion went back and forth with Tim displaying anger from time to time. This was something we'd never seen in Tim and it was very hard to comprehend what was going on. Had he contained his sinful heart so long and now sin was just flowing everywhere or what? Around 2 AM Joe, our 17 year old began to share after Tim and Andrew were on the verge of physically fighting with each other. Joe began sharing what the youth pastor, Matt Smith had been teaching the high school kids about conflict during the fall. Joe was able to take the information he had learned and apply it perfectly to the situation. We could see Tim deflate right before our eyes. When Joe finished, Tim suggested we all pray and we went around the table and all prayed and headed for bed around 3AM.

Tim slept most of the next day and then went to dinner with two friends from camp. They invited him back to camp where they hung out for most of the night talking and shooting baskets. They saw the changes in Tim and addressed their concerns with him throughout the night. They shared evidences of God's grace and also sin. Tim was able to receive what they had to say and repent and confess what had gone on at home. He stayed at camp, slept, and then met with Mr. Paul the next afternoon. Mr. Paul also addressed Tim's behavior and had a great impact on him. Tim wrote a detailed letter to Joe, Andrew, and me apologizing for his behavior. After that he seemed to be more like himself for the rest of Christmas week. We tried to get him to stay home for the month of January, offering to pay him what he would earn at the Y and what he would have to pay someone to do his kitchen duty each night in the dorm, but he felt he needed to fulfill his responsibilities. He came home in January and twice in March and went to the beach with us at Easter and each time seemed tired so we didn't try to have any heavy duty discussions with him. When he left to go back to school Easter Sunday, he apologized for being withdrawn during the vacation week. We encouraged him that it was OK and wasn't anything like last summer. We knew he had a lot on him and thought that once school was behind him, we'd have time to talk things through. We trusted that God would bring him through this time because we'd seen how God has brought us through so much. In April I'd told Tim that I thought there was definitely a pattern of Bipolar and that after graduation we needed to get to the bottom of what was going on. I had no idea of how severe Bipolar can be.

Here are some of the facts we've learned about Bipolar:
*it typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood
*about 5.7 million American adults or 2.6% of the population 18 or older have it in any given year
*it's a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person's life
*10% of people with Bipolar commit suicide
*suicide is often the first clear sign of Bipolar
*only 12% of identical twins will both have Bipolar which indicates to me that environment plays a big roll in it's onset

Well, I think I know why I've put off writing so long. There's so much to share. I'll try to write just a little every couple of days or so. I would like those who knew and loved Tim to have some understanding of what led him to end his life. I hope people will remember the wonderful young man that he was and how he blessed others. It was a privilege to have him for 26 years. He truly loved the Lord and wanted to live a life that pointed people to Christ.


Blogger Tim's friend said...

thanks, Sandy, for sharing. ~S

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. Please remember our offer to get together. You can e-mail me We would love to hear from you. You are in our prayers and we think of you everyday.
Donna Bishop

3:11 PM  
Blogger Zoanna said...

Sandy, my dear and precious friend,

You're all in my thoughts and prayers every single day. Your pain, your loss, your suffering may seem so senseless at times, but I really believe God will use Tim's illness and death to bring light and healing to many believers. Far too many of us have believed that mental illness and Christianity are mutually exclusive. We haven't seen it as another disease that has grabbed frail humanity like a boa constrictor trying to squeeze the life out of us. In our darkest moments mental illness makes us forget God and all His benefits. That's when we need others the most but seek them the least. I'm sorry you have to research this painful topic from personal experience. But your studiousness and compassion together are evidence to me that God is gracing you for the benefit of His church. Thank you!!! I love you very much.

6:03 PM  

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