How I Became Bipolar (NOT)

by Patricia Clark (2001)

In 1982 I lived on Guam (a small Pacific Island territory of the U.S.), where I had been taken by my U.S. serviceman (Navy) spouse. He then filed for divorce. I had a job there, and knew I was practically unemployable. So I was afraid to quit the job and leave for the U.S. mainland, thinking I might never get another job if I gave up the one I had (nearly true, as it turns out).

I had two children, 3 and 6 years old, and it was up to me to raise them and provide for them. I was 38 years old. I had an income of $8,000 per year and an $80,000 mortgage on the house he left us with. I had to maintain babysitters in order to work (they are notorious for quitting with no notice), and pay them. He would pay the mortgage for up to three years while I tried to get rid of the house or increase my income.

About a year into this I started having extreme problems coping. I drove both children to a sitter halfway across the island in the morning, where one caught a bus to gifted and talented preschool (not available in our area). I then drove the other child back to our neighborhood and dropped her at school, then went to work for 8 hours. This was a demanding photojournalist job where I drove all over the place, took photos, presented information setups like Armed Forces Day exhibits, interviewed people (pure hell for a person who was autistic and didn't know it). Then I would go pick up child 2 at her sitter's after work, drive halfway across the island to pick up the smaller child, return home, cook dinner, do laundry and dishes, do all the regular stuff, and sleep if there was any time left. In the meantime I was playing the organ at church, since no one else knew how, and doing some other things because I need to do something I am interested in as well as what I have to do, or I go nuts.

Anyhow, at some point I was vacuuming the house, which was hot (on Guam) and I have never done heat very well. The little wheels were seizing up in the tropical humidity, and it was an expensive and very good vacuum cleaner, and I knew I could never afford another like it without a husband. I gave it a yank and it fell over instead of coming to me. I just went nuts. I screamed and threw my glasses against the wall. They didn't break, so I threw them again. I threw the vacuum cleaner's body out the door into the driveway. I really lost it, crying and shouting and all. The worst was that I couldn't seem to stop. I really wanted to trash the entire house and run screaming out into the jungle and never come back.

Things had always been really hard for me, and I had no clue in my autistic fog that I was under extreme stress, raising my kids without any family backup, 9000 miles from where I grew up, or any time off, etc. I felt that I was either a failure as a person for not controlling myself better, or else insane. So I went to the health care place assigned to me under my workplace health insurance and told them the circumstances. I said I had lost it while vacuuming, felt that this was not normal, and was turning myself in. They interviewed me a couple of times and announced that I was bipolar and had to take medicine for the rest of my life. So I took it for 13 years, terrified that I would end up instititutionalized for insanity, having no idea what was going on, or that my behavior was actually normal for a person in my circumstances.

Anyway, one of the points here is that I always considered myself "normal," and had no insight into "normal" people suffering in ways that I felt I suffered (they seemed calm, so how could I justify being upset by the requirements of my own life, which actually had no comparison in amount of difficulty). I only measured myself against the outward appearances of others, always felt lacking, and my only activity in the way of helping myself was to tell myself I did not measure up and I had better try harder and complain less.

So, that's how I became "bipolar"

Copyright © 2001 Patricia E. Clark