Bipolar Disorder: There is No Fix-it-and-Forget-it Cure

God will NEVER leave you!

…continued from Friday.

Whilst Pedro sped towards California to pick up Sarah, I headed home the long way to indulge in a little phototherapy. I welcomed the alone time and the opportunity to stop whenever I wanted to snap photos of the beautiful spring flowers or get out and hike around looking for birds.

I planned on spending Friday night along the way, and then making a leisurely detour down to Tucson to look for a rare bird on Mt. Lemmon. Pedro called Saturday night and shocked me by asking, “When will you be home, we got here about an hour ago.”

He explained that he and Sarah had started talking about her application process at Walla Walla, and that he had told her, “If you’re not ready to go back to school, you can always come home.” For some reason, she didn’t think she had the option to return home.

We would discover over the following weeks that Sarah remembered some of what we said during her manic cycle, but not all of it—and usually in chunks. Before she left Puerto Rico, Pedro had told her that she couldn’t live at home IF she continued to make crazy decisions. So she remembered the first part, but not the condition.

Tears of relief sprouted when I heard about Sarah’s decision. While I applauded her desire to return to school, I worried that she couldn’t cut it quite yet. And so we settled in to the new normal, hoping that life would offer a season without stress.

We didn't understand the inner and outer workings of #bipolardisorder. Click To Tweet

We didn’t understand the inner nor outer workings of bipolar disorder, though. Sure, I had read a good book, and I knew the importance of taking one’s medication faithfully, seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis and having a willingness to let prospective employers know about one’s diagnosis.

Both Pedro and I had a ‘fix it and forget it’ expectation. But we didn’t understand the cycle of mania. One the one hand, we loved that Sarah no longer operated under a dark cloud of depression. On the other hand, we couldn’t understand the giddy girl who had taken her place. She had left home in February an energetic college student and returned an excitable junior high girl.

Sarah’s social life consisted of spending hours on end chatting with friends in Portuguese on WhatsApp and other social media applications. She spent a lot of time in her room giggling and laughing out loud over funny things that her friends had said. Most of her friends were under the age of 18. She decided to volunteer at the school for the remainder of the school year, so at least her days had some structure—but with her nose constantly buried in her phone, I’m not sure how much actual work she performed.

After two weeks at home, the tension had neared the snapping point between the three of us. I invited Sarah on a weekend mother-daughter getaway to Tucson to hike and look for birds. I anticipated spending quality time with her, chatting about her life, her hopes and aspirations, and building some new memories to refuel our love banks.

Instead, she spent every moment not answering a direct question from me by chatting to her friends on social media and occasionally engaging me in a game of guessing how old her aforementioned friends might be by showing me their photos. I missed my young adult daughter.

We did stop along the way to take photos of a cool bridge at the bottom of a deep canyon and to eat a quick picnic supper. Afterwards, we kept driving to our hotel. The next morning, we woke up early and drove to a new birding spot—Sarah hiked a half a mile or so with me, than wanted to return to the car. After about an hour, I went back to the car, and experienced a moment of panic when I couldn’t find her.

Eventually, I noticed that she had left a note on the windshield saying that she’d gone to a nearby nature center to listen to a lecture. I joined her, and we spent an hour listening to the state of honeybees in the United States. Afterwards, we drove to a lake and once again, Sarah hiked with me a little before returning to the car.

The next morning, I had plans to visit several places bright and early. After leaving the hotel, Sarah realized she had left her phone charger. She called the hotel to make sure they had it, and we drove 20 miles out of our way to retrieve it. Things went downhill from there. Twice more we stopped at parks to hike and look for birds—and both times she only went a short distance before she would return to the car to chat with her friends on line.

The second time, she asked for the keys because her phone battery needed recharging. I kept hiking for another hour, hoping to find a rare bird that someone had reported in the area. Rain and worry turned me back before I found the bird. When I returned, the car wouldn’t start—by keeping her phone plugged in the entire time, Sarah had managed to drain the battery on the Prius. I childishly slammed a few doors and spoke sharply as I explained to Sarah that she had unwittingly drained the core battery—the one you’re not supposed to drain—by her insatiable need to use her phone.

Fortunately, we had roadside assistance and even though it was a Sunday, someone came and got us on the road again. By the time we arrived home, I felt grumpy and in a funk. My weekend away had turned out nothing like I expected. Instead of wanting to climb mountains and enjoy adventures like the Sarah of old, she contented herself with a quick stroll and hours of engagement on social media.

I missed my daughter, yet at the same time felt a deep sense of gratitude that she had returned. I just didn’t know what to do or how to act around her. She snapped and snarled, groused and grumped and couldn’t seem to perform even the simplest tasks without gentle (and not-so-gentle) reminders from me on how to perform them and when to perform them. I hate coming home to a dirty kitchen—but Sarah couldn’t seem to understand that when I asked her clean up after herself, I meant AT THAT MOMENT, not at five or six in the evening.

We had a couple of heart-to-heart chats about her behavior and how it affected other people in the family. Her forgetfulness and inattention both frustrated and scared me. She drove back from Flagstaff after an appointment with her psychiatrist and ended up driving almost 90 miles past Holbrook. When she finally realized she had gone too far, her car had almost run out of fuel with no gas stations within 20 miles.

One evening I went to the girls’ dorm to give a worship talk on self-harm. I felt unqualified to speak on the topic—but Laura had struggled with it as a teenager, so I had read several books with sound advice on what to do when your child became ensnared in self-harm. Most of all, I wanted the girls to know that Jesus had not only died for their sins, he had suffered so that they would know that he could identify with them. He bled for us, so we can take comfort in that knowledge rather than listening to the devil’s lies that we have to harm ourselves in order to feel relief from our pain.

The next day, I discovered that Sarah had cut her arm up in a moment of pain and remorse.

…to be continued.

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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