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Just as a photographer might shoot a photo through a colored lens, Wendy Williamson skillfully holds up the filter of mania and depression for her reader to peer through. With heart-wrenching honesty and humor, she shows the effects of bipolar disorder on the mind, body and soul of those who suffer from it. Publisher's Weekly says: "Williamson's prose is direct and thankfully not given to flowery language or circumspectness about her condition. The book is straightforward and the author achieves something ...
Just as a photographer might shoot a photo through a colored lens, Wendy Williamson skillfully holds up the filter of mania and depression for her reader to peer through. With heart-wrenching honesty and humor, she shows the effects of bipolar disorder on the mind, body and soul of those who suffer from it. Publisher's Weekly says: "Williamson's prose is direct and thankfully not given to flowery language or circumspectness about her condition. The book is straightforward and the author achieves something difficult in a memoir: she remembers feelings from a period of her life, while still providing distance and perspective. Williamson's analysis of the mental health field and mental health professionals is insightful without being preachy, and she presents her story with grace and humor." National Alliance on Mental Illness' The Advocate: "skillfully weaves together several levels of a young woman's life... [it] is, like its title, an assertion that a life touched by bipolar disorder is still a life with its own logic. The book does a great job at describing that logic."
She was The Enemy. The shrink at Virginia Tech whose intensity was making me uncomfortable in my chair. I remember her squinty eyes as she accused me with them. Her shiny, black hair was pulled tightly into a severe bun. I was supposed to be graduating in just six weeks, but here we were sitting with The Enemy.
My parents were seated in her office next to me, thanks to my roommate, who had alerted them to my bizarre behavior. I had no idea why we were there. I only knew her for two minutes, but I already knew two things: I did not like her and clearly, she was The Enemy.
My father was holding my Mom's hand, but not saying much. He had just finished making small talk with The Enemy about how nice her orchids were. The Enemy was trying to make eye contact with me, but I avoided her. I kept busy, looking around, reading her fancy degrees and the titles of all her books that looked horribly boring. I presumed they were about as dull as her personality. I spotted a video camera on a tripod in the corner nearby.
Her manner switched from semi-serious to acting as if she was telling my parents I was going to die. Then I heard the words I will never, ever forget.
"Your daughter has bipolar disorder," she said matter-of-factly. "She is having a hypomanic episode."
Wait, what? I went over those words again, but it did not sound good.
"I'm sorry, but could you please say that again?" My Mom gently and politely asked The Enemy to repeat the bomb she had just dropped on us.
"She has bipolar disorder." The shrink said slower this time. "She is having a hypomanic episode which could be drug-induced." The Enemy added.
My parents sat there listening as The Enemy continued talking, but I had already begun to tune out. I was staring at my Mom hoping, half expecting she would jump up out of her seat and declare this woman insane to be saying this about her daughter. Instead, my Mom just bravely fought back her tears. Why wasn't she screaming? Why wasn't I screaming? The Enemy had them in the palm of her hand. Mom was hanging on her every word. My father was quiet as usual and staring off into space.
Wait, did she just say drug-induced? What drugs was she talking about? I didn't do drugs. Well, I did smoke pot but that's not really a drug-drug. She continued talking to my parents while glancing over at me. I was not really a part of the conversation, but she included me because she had to; she was a professional, after all. I was smirking at her because I did not like her or her new terminology for me. I did not like these words she was using to describe what she thought I had based on her ten minutes of knowing me.
"Excuse me, but could you please explain to me again what is wrong with Wendy?" My Mom had such good manners, even at a time like now. I was not taking any of this seriously, although my parents sure seemed to be. I couldn't believe they were taking her every word to be true like she was God or something! My Mom waited for The Enemy's reply.
Meanwhile, I felt like I was in a dream. A bad dream. The kind where I'm in a glass box pounding on the walls, but it's soundproofed and no one can hear me.
The song "Comfortably Numb" floated in my head. "Your lips move ... but I can't hear what you're saying." I sat back and watched their lips move, but they may as well have not been speaking at all. Every now and then I'd tune in and listen, but I preferred staying in my head.
"Bipolar disorder is the newer term" the shrink explained, "although manic depression is what most people have called it in the past." Ah, bipolar disorder was the newer term. She, of course, was on the modern side of medicine. I couldn't care less. At that moment, all I knew was that I was being told my brain was defective. I had a disorder. How could this be good? I played with the zipper on my jacket.
I was stuck on this term she mentioned, this manic depression. Since I'd never heard of bipolar disorder, the Jimi Hendrix song, "Manic Depression" came to mind and was the extent of my knowledge on the subject. What were the words to that? "Manic depression's touching my soul. I want what I want but I just don't know ..." I kept going with the words then reluctantly tuned back into the nightmare ...
I looked at my parents and then back at The Enemy. They were still talking, but it felt like I was a spectator at a tennis match, one with a long volley. I kept alternating sides, watching their mouths move on either side of the desk. I was going through the motions so they'd think I was paying attention. Geez, they looked so serious. This was not good. No, this was not good at all.
"I would like to videotape you," the shrink said, her eyes squinting again, like she was accusing me of something. "It really helps to show you how manic you are ..."
"Absolutely not!" I shot back. They all turned to look at me. I would not be some lab rat for her stupid research. Sensing she wasn't going to get anywhere, she backed off. Without skipping a beat, The Enemy switched gears.
"I have diagnosed and treated over one thousand students here at Virginia Tech." She declared. Wow, that's a lot of sick people, I thought. I held onto that large number, though, and when I thought of how many other people were diagnosed with something, it made me feel slightly better that I was one of many at my school.
"I diagnose most students a few weeks or months before graduation. It's very common." She continued. "You are lucky. Not all universities have a psychiatrist on staff."
Did she say lucky? I was trying to figure out how I was lucky. For her to be convincing me that I was mentally ill and now lucky to have her, well that was pushing it. It was too much to digest in one session. Scratch that. It was too much to digest at all.
Then she asked about the videotaping again. Are you kidding me? What about the word no didn't she understand? I wished she would take her camera, tripod, orchids, fucking degrees and march it all on back to Cornell where she came from. Why had she even come to Tech anyway? Her stupid research, no doubt. I kept popping in and out of what she was saying, which was basically a monologue directed at my parents about how sick I was. Focusing for me was not going well. Then again, none of this was going well.
Bipolar disorder ... it sounded so serious. Like I had lost a limb or had cancer or something. She did say that since I have bipolar, I had a very high IQ (finally some good news!) That's the only good thing I had to hold on to. Fabulous, I'm fucked up but at least I'm smart. Well, I guess it was better than hearing you're fucked up and dumb.
The shrink sprung into action giving my parents a list of what I was and was not to do, effective immediately. I was told to give them my debit card, which I protested, of course. As I reluctantly handed it over to my Mom, I thought I had at least $10 left in my account. (As it turned out, I was actually overdrawn by hundreds!)
"We'll put her on a few medications which should help her mania. Lithium is a good mood stabilizer for that. She'll need a tranquilizer too, so she can sleep. Then we'll add...."
Medications? As in plural? Mood stabilizer? Wait! Did she say ... tranquilizer? I was getting really nervous that she was going to just drug me up and that would be the end of me. I was slowly adding everything up and not liking the total.
"You need to eat properly." The Enemy looked right at me, my parents followed. Was it me or was she scowling at me? I scowled back. My parents were looking at me sternly as The Enemy went through each item on her how-to-ruin-my-life-now checklist.
"What? I'm eating." My Mom's eyes looked so sad now. They were all red. "Well, okay I'm not eating a lot. But I mean, I am eating."
"Those bruises on your arm are from malnutrition." The Enemy said. She made me sound like I was a child from a third world country. Everyone looked down at my bruised arms, including me. Where did those come from?
I was subscribing to the theory that people could go without food for thirty days. I had read it or heard it somewhere. Hadn't Jesus gone for thirty days without food? Didn't it say that in the Bible? I was trying to do a mini-fasting thing, thinking it would cleanse my soul.
"The medication will help you sleep."
"What? I sleep!"
"Wendy, the car crash?" My Mom reminded me, obviously perturbed. The Enemy looked interested and leaned forward like she wanted details. I wasn't sharing any.
"It was an accident. That was one night." What we all knew (except The Enemy, of course) was that I had fallen asleep at the wheel less than a mile from campus on my way back from Richmond one weekend. I had to get back to Tech for aerobics and it seemed a perfectly plausible explanation for driving without any sleep to get there in time for my 8:00 am class. I couldn't miss one more aerobics class or I might fail and not graduate. That was the "clean" version. The one I might even have told The Enemy.
What I was leaving out however, were the not-so-pretty details of that night. I was up all night because I had gotten wasted with a guy I just met in Richmond who was twice my age. With no sleep, I attempted to drive back to Tech. My parents knew that was the real reason for my car accident. Without knowing all those details, they knew. At least, my Mom knew. She always knew my truths. Dammit!
I didn't want to sleep a lot. I mean, I had too many things to do! Now they were going to drug me to get me to sleep? There went all my ideas that come to me at night. And they always came to me at night. Now I wouldn't be awake to write them down. Great. Just fucking great. I was still on the sleep and medication thing when the next bomb was dropped by, you guessed it: The Enemy.
"You can't drink. Absolutely no alcohol or drugs!" The Enemy was shaking her head. What? I couldn't fathom graduating without partying. Plus, Halloween was coming up. I even had my costume ready. I was going to be Inga from Sveden. I had my sister's dirndl from her job at the German restaurant all ready to go.
"But I'm graduating in six weeks. I'm a graduating senior. We party. Are you serious? No drinking at all?"
The Enemy shook her head. "No alcohol or drugs. And you need to be in ..."
I was still digesting those words, choking on them really, when I got nailed with:
"... the hospital."
Wait. What? Did she say hospital? I was still back on the no drinking thing. The word hospital hadn't sunk in yet. Hospitals were for people who are dying or having surgery. Was she for real? I was weeks away from the finish line! I would be getting my diploma in six fucking weeks and this bitch wants to yank me out and throw me in the hospital?
This was serious; there was no dodging it now. The "H" word was on the table. Nothing up to that point had come close or fully gotten my attention yet. She had it now. I shot a look at my parents.
"Here are your choices," The Enemy said. "You can take a medical leave, be hospitalized, and come back next semester." I couldn't believe it. She was so casual, like we were talking about changing a course or rescheduling an exam.
"No way." I kept shaking my head no. This going into the hospital idea was not acceptable. Nope. Would not work for me.
"Or," she continued, "you can take the harder route and stay in school. Take the medication and be watched around the clock by your family and friends."
I knew I couldn't withdraw from the semester this close to graduation with my diploma at stake. How would I feel about coming back? Would I come back? How would it look if I just disappeared? Plus, everyone in my major would know something was wrong with me. I didn't think I could come back when all my friends were graduating. Who would I even live with? I was hoping for a third option but it quickly dawned on me that it was only curtain A or B.
"If I leave, I'm not coming back." My diploma was the only ace in my hand. My parents looked at me and each other and they knew I meant business. It was all they needed to hear. We had to come up with a solution that didn't involve dropping out and going into the hospital. Our solution was not what she recommended. I stayed.
How the hell did I get here?
I'm A Hokie
I had decided I wanted to go to hotel school. Let me back up a bit. My parents' friends suggested it to me at their dinner party one night. It sounded like something I might be good at, seeing as I was passing around a plate of hors d' oeuvres. They said hospitality management involved hotels and restaurants and travel. It sounded exciting ... like an adventure!
"You have the right personality for it!" They said enthusiastically, as the couples dunked their shrimps into the cocktail sauce.
"Okay." I shrugged, feeling kind of awkward. I looked down at the tray I was passing, shrimp tails everywhere, trying to figure out if I really just chose my college major this way.
It did sound kind of fun and surely it must be less academic pressure than most other majors. I didn't want too strenuous a major to ensure I'd get my diploma (or "my ticket to play the game" as my parents called it).
Out of those college guide books, my Mom picked out Virginia Tech because it was in the category of: "Best Education for the Least Money." I was concerned that my Mom was bargain hunting for my education. Slightly worrisome.
"Just apply. For me. Please? Humor your Mother." My Mom was not one to ask much of me or demand anything.
"Alright Mom. I'll apply." I did apply, but I had no intention of actually going there at the time. I was strictly appeasing her.
Although I was planning on going to another school, I got in late spring and ultimately decided to go to Virginia Tech. As it turns out, Virginia Tech did have one of the top schools for my major. Nervousness set in and I wondered: how was I going to make it through four years of rigorous academics? I had developed virtually no study skills in high school. (I did study hard in Spanish because our teacher was an ex-nun from Peru who scared the shit out of us.) I was well aware that I was in for a wake-up call in college. I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to balance academics with drinking. Little did I know, the scales were already tipped against me.
Academics were the last thing on my mind as we made our way through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I marveled at how spectacular they were against the bright blue sky. Engulfed in the beauty of the scenery, I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Finally there was an end to our eight-hour journey from New Jersey! I felt like a sardine, cramped with Mom, Dad and my sister Samantha in our Subaru station wagon. At last, I was at the beginning of my new journey.
Naturally, there had to be a glitch to my new start. We noticed smoke coming from our Subaru's muffler, which had started somewhere between New Jersey and Virginia. It had gotten progressively worse and was now jetting out in an unusually strong velocity making everyone, especially me, extremely nervous.
As we pulled onto the university campus, through clouds of smoke, I saw tons of people everywhere. The lush green grass filled the seemingly endless wide, open spaces between the many stone buildings. The stadium was gigantic! It was impossible not to feel small. I tried not to feel overwhelmed, rather to revel in the excitement. The energy was in the air. You could practically see it.
"Dad, um, slow down. The map says it should be right ... over ... there?" I was half looking at the map and signs and half ducking, praying no one would recognize me in our smoke machine.
"I think that's it. West Ambler Johnston, right?" My sister spotted it first.
"Yeah that's it. That's it!"
"Wait Dad, go to the right. It looks like you can park in that lot over there." Samantha, my older sister was ever the practical one and the first to figure out where we could park.
Another person pointed to our car and yelled something to us. I ducked again. Then I popped up and turned around to check the amount of smoke coming out. It was much worse than before. Fabulous. What a way to make an entrance.
"God, I hope nobody recognizes me." I was starting to panic a little as people looked at our smoking car go by.
"It's a big school, honey. Nobody's going to remember you." My Mom sounded tired, but still positive.
Excerpted from I'm Not Crazy Just Bipolar by Wendy K. Williamson Copyright © 2010 by Wendy K. Williamson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 5, 2012
WOW! I have never read a more down-to-earth, honest and funny account of this debilitating illness before. My sister has bpd and it really helped me understand her. Her behaviour can be tough to understand, as I do not have it, but I read many books on the subject to try. The author bravely put out her story and I appreciate it because it made a lot of sense. Here in the UK we don't have the same issues b/c of our NHS, but otherwise I have seen her go through most everything else. I hope she continues to write!
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Posted March 26, 2012
If you are bipolar, read this book and you will find you are not alone. Even if you "know" this, read the book and you will be more confident about it. Only another person with the condition can truly understand, and the author does a great job of communicating this. Sometimes in real life we are hesitatant to discuss this.
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Posted September 22, 2012
Posted May 6, 2012
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