Pub. Date:
Blinded by Hope: One Mother's Journey Through Her Son's Bipolar Illness and Addiction

Blinded by Hope: One Mother's Journey Through Her Son's Bipolar Illness and Addiction

by Meg McGuire


Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, October 4


One day a teenage boy gets on his bike and rides forty miles up California’s Pacific Coast Highway to avoid causing an earthquake he fears will endanger his mother and sister. But the quake he is experiencing is not coming from beneath the earth; it’s the onset of bipolar illness.

Blinded by Hope describes what it’s like to have an unusually bright, creative child—and then to have that child suddenly be hit with an illness that defies description and cure. Over the years, McGuire attributes her son’s lost jobs, broken relationships, legal troubles, and periodic hospitalizations to the manic phase of his illness, denying the severity of his growing drug use—but ultimately, she has to face her own addiction to rescuing him, and to forge a path for herself toward acceptance, resilience, and love. A wakeup call about the epidemic of mental illness, substance abuse, and mass incarceration in our society, Blinded by Hope shines a light on the shadow of family dynamics that shame, ignorance, and stigma rarely let the public see, and asks the question: How does a mother cope when love is not enough?

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631521256
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication date: 06/06/2017
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Meg McGuire is a mother, writer, psychotherapist and the author of five internationally published nonfiction books.

She is an activist in mental health and criminal justice reform and teaches memoir in southern California.

Read an Excerpt

Blinded by Hope

My Journey Through My Son's Bipolar Illness and Addiction

By Meg Mcguire

She Writes Press

Copyright © 2017 Meg McGuire
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63152-125-6


how did it come to this?

We hadn't planned to get married. Not then, anyway. We were both twenty-one, college seniors. I had just been awarded a full fellowship to attend graduate school at the University of Virginia, and Jerry was planning to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania. We would see whether our love could withstand the geographical distance. That's when we found out I was pregnant — a result of too much partying on St. Patrick's Day.

We would get married. We didn't even discuss other options. It was 1967, and that's what girls and boys from Irish Catholic families did. My mother flew into a rage. Her attempt to keep me chaste by flipping the front porch light on and off every time Jerry brought me home from a date had failed.

No, she said, she didn't want to see the ring Jerry had given me the night before when we'd broken the news to his parents. Jerry's father had wisely said, "Your mother is not going to be happy about this" He was right. We all knew how volatile my mother could be.

The day before, I had called my father to tell him I was pregnant and made him promise not to tell Mom. Jerry and I wanted to break the news to her ourselves. Dad did not keep his promise. As soon as we came into the house, Mom told Jerry to get out and yelled, "If you think you're going to get married, you'll have to find a priest in another state" She would not allow me to wear white in her home parish in New Jersey.

We found a wonderful priest at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church in Manhattan, where I had often attended noonday Mass in the summer. Father Joseph was kind and compassionate, and we needed his compassion. Since we were not being married in our home parish, he asked us each to sign papers stating there was no "impediment" to the marriage.

"Are you marrying of your own free will?" he asked me.

"Yes, of course I am. What's an impediment?"

"Being underage, having a certain physical defect, marrying your first cousin, or having already been married."

I nodded my head. And then he continued. "Marrying because of being pregnant could also be viewed as an impediment."

"How could pregnancy be an impediment? It's not a physical defect"

"Because you might feel you are being forced to marry," he said, loosening the collar of his cassock.

I wanted to say, What about Mary? Wasn't she pregnant before she married Joseph? Instead, I said, "If that's the case, I can't sign the document."

I didn't know whether he suspected that I was pregnant, but I wasn't going to sign a document saying I wasn't.

"It's only a formality" he said. "You should just sign it and get it over with. I'll give you a couple of minutes to think about it" He excused himself to get Jerry, whom a friar was counseling. "What's holding things up?" Jerry asked.

"I can't sign this document. It's a lie."

"I know it's a lie, but we want to get married, so just sign it. I want to get out of here"

* * *

A small group of family and friends attended our wedding, and my uncle Joe, a diocesan priest from Long Island, officiated at the Mass. The night before the wedding, I asked my father to meet with Jerry and tell him I couldn't go through with it. I had horrible morning sickness and felt much too rushed. The life I had mapped out for myself had been altered forever. Dad called Jerry and arranged to meet him for breakfast, but Jerry never showed. Or at least that's what my father told me.

When we got to the church, Jerry was waiting for me at the altar, oblivious to my distress. When my uncle asked, "Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?" I couldn't answer through my tears. My uncle took a breath and paused, waiting for me to compose myself. He then looked me in the eye and repeated, "Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?" I still couldn't open my mouth, and my face was wet. Uncle Joe leaned in closer to me and whispered, "Meg, you have to pull yourself together and say something" I couldn't. I had nothing to say.

After several moments of silence, Uncle Joe took it upon himself to say, "I do" and thereby sealed the marriage vows.

I never said "I do" but we were married for eleven years.

* * *

We moved to Philadelphia, so Jerry could attend law school, and I found a job. I didn't think much about the sacrifice I was making by giving up my fellowship to grad school. I deferred my dreams indefinitely. It helped that I loved Jerry and was determined to make a good life with him.

Six months later, our son Ryan was born. Liz followed two years after that. At Ryan's birth, I felt a profound love for him. He had a precipitous entry into the world, crowning in the front seat of the car as Jerry raced me to the hospital. The soulful Otis Redding had just died, and "Try a Little Tenderness" was playing on the radio. Earlier that morning, I had called the law school secretary to get Jerry out of his torts exam after my water broke and my contractions started coming fast and hard. Each time I tried to tell her what was happening, I had to hang up because the pain knocked the breath out of me. At the hospital, Jerry carried me to a gurney minutes before I delivered. Our son has been breaching boundaries, slipping through, ever since.

Ryan seemed fearless almost from birth. He was a sunny, energetic, freckle-faced toddler with a Beatles haircut who bounded into each room. He was always in motion, undeniably there. When Ryan was two and Liz was six months old, we moved our family from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, where Jerry accepted a position with a prestigious law firm. It wasn't our first choice. We had wanted to stay in the Northeast, where we enjoyed the changing seasons.

Instead, we set up house in a small rental in Venice, not far from the beach. We quickly embraced the climate and the sunshine. I enjoyed planting a garden of string beans, strawberries, and tomatoes and creating a playhouse out of an old moving crate. We explored the vast metropolis of Los Angeles, taking advantage of the beach, biking and hiking trails, and art museums.

One day at the Pasadena Art Museum, Ryan, age three, spied an installation of Claes Oldenburg's giant, multicolored pool balls in a gallery at the end of a long corridor. Before I could stop him, he ran down the hallway, and hurled himself against the installation like a cue ball. He laughed as the two-foot-high red and yellow and blue balls rolled around the gallery. The guards came running to stop him, but Oldenburg, who happened to be in the gallery, smiled his approval of a fearless child's interaction with his art.

A year later, we went with another family for a snow weekend in Big Bear, a few hours outside Los Angeles. After two days of playing in the snow, building a snowman, and having snowball fights, we went sledding. Ryan leaped on a wooden Flexible Flyer, pointed the sled down a steep hill, and headed toward a large pine tree. He whizzed down the hill, delighted with himself, as we ran after him, yelling, "Fall off! Fall off!" He didn't, and we couldn't catch him. The front of the sled hit the base of the tree, and Ryan flew forward. The next sound we heard was the crack of his skull on wood. It is difficult to describe how loud that crack sounded. I was sure his skull had broken.

How could we have let him get on the sled and speed away like that? I felt completely irresponsible. Terrified, we raced him to the local hospital, but the emergency room doctor who examined him there said he didn't have a concussion. "Just keep him awake for the next several hours as you drive home. He'll be fine in the morning." Miraculously, he was.

Although I didn't want my son to endanger himself, I took some satisfaction that he seemed unscathed after his adrenaline-filled mishaps. But years later, as he continued to sustain injuries from other falls and skateboard accidents, I wondered whether his brain had been damaged on that winter day.

In elementary school, everyone wanted to be Ryan's friend. He ran with a group of energetic boys who were mischievous but never got into serious trouble. They acted like a pack of unruly puppies wrestling, skateboarding, and riding their bikes. He was an exceptionally talented artist who made detailed drawings of ancient ships like the Golden Hind, Sir Francis Drake's warship that circumnavigated the globe. When he was in second grade, I took him on a trip to San Francisco to see the replica of the Golden Hind docked in the bay. He had a great time climbing the rigging, imagining he was the ship's artist, making sketches of the sailors' exploits capturing treasure.

Like many boys, he was fascinated with Superman and Spider-Man and drew endless pictures of their many adventures. He began taking art classes, and his illustrations were regularly used on many of his school's invitations and posters and published in Cricket magazine. His art teachers doted on him. I did, too. I was particularly proud and perhaps covetous of his artistic talents. As a young girl, I wanted to pursue art, but my artist father discounted my talent. "Either you have it or you don't," he said. Clearly he thought I didn't have it. I was determined I would never crush my own children's dreams.

One day Jerry came home from work and announced that he had quit his job at the law firm and wanted to establish his own practice. Without discussion, I became the family's sole financial supporter. My teaching salary at a private school was pitiful. I was scared we weren't going to be able to pay our bills. Soon after that, Jerry's father became ill and died from cancer and Jerry withdrew into himself for many months.

We had been good companions throughout his years in law school and loved parenting our two young children, but our marriage was suffering. We were moving apart emotionally. We tried couples' counseling for several months, but it became clear we needed to separate. We divorced two years later, when Ryan was in sixth grade.

It was a stressful period. I was working full-time as a third-grade teacher and taking night classes to become a family therapist. I wanted and needed a career, and I was also interested in figuring out the dynamics of my own dysfunctional family. Jerry was starting his solo law practice; his ability to contribute to child support was minimal. Although he lived close by and saw the children often, Liz, in particular really missed her dad. Ryan rarely expressed his sadness about the divorce, but he became more preoccupied. I was overwhelmed trying to keep everything together. I didn't realize the impact our split had on either child. I was lonely, and I think the children were probably both depressed. My main memory of this time is of falling asleep each night as I read to them on the couch. I don't think we ever finished the entire Chronicles of Narnia series.

The first Christmas after the divorce was bittersweet. Ryan, Liz, and I walked down Main Street on a warm day in mid-December and bought our tree from the Boy Scouts. At home, we set up the tree in a corner near the front window of our living room. As I opened the boxes of lights and ornaments Ryan had retrieved from the basement, I started to sweat and get dry mouth. Odd but true: hanging Christmas tree lights caused me great anxiety.

My mother and father were perfectionists in all things aesthetic, including the hanging of Christmas lights. In the 1950s, thick, opaque-colored bulbs burned in repeating sequences of blue, orange, yellow, green, red, and white. Dad replaced burned-out bulbs immediately. The '60s brought clear glass bulbs of the same colors that seemed to need fewer replacements. The '70s ushered in tiny clear glass lights that danced magically as pinpricks of white starlight. Each bulb knew its place, its string hidden well by tree needles. Dad said, "Don't ever let the cords show; the lights have to look like they're floating in space"

I inherited my family's Christmas tree lights, as well as a compulsive desire to replicate my memories of childhood magic. My anxiety grew because I could never get them just right. Ryan and Liz referred to my obsession as "Christmas tree light psychosis" They decided to cure it. Ryan said, "Mom, let me and Liz do the lights this year"

"Are you sure? You know what that means, don't you?"

"Yeah, I know you want them done just right, and we can do it. We know what you want. You'll see"

Liz added, "Why don't you go upstairs, and we'll call you when we're finished?"

I was hesitant at first but went upstairs and paced. Finally, I lay down on my bed, looked up at the ceiling, and tried to breathe deeply. My children were taking a stand to alleviate another Christmas tree drama. Had they planned this together in private, or was it a spontaneous gesture? I decided no matter how the tree looked I would appear pleased.

Ten minutes later, Liz called me downstairs. It seemed a little too soon for them to have done a careful job, but I took another deep breath and walked down the stairs.

The lit tree had a rakish tilt. It was clear that the lights were a-tangle. The colored lights from the '60s bunched up on the right side of the treetop, and the white twinkle lights from the '70s drooped around the bottom. The opaque glass bulbs from the '50s were spaced more evenly throughout the tree.

"How do you like it, Mom?" said Liz. "I did the bulbs, and Ryan did the rest of the lights."

"Yeah, I tried to give them a new look; I decided they wanted to be a bit freer this year. So I picked up the colored ones and threw them up over the top of the tree, and where they landed, they stayed. Looks pretty cool, doesn't it?"

I started to laugh. It did look cool. The tree looked happy, like a well-licked ice-cream cone that had started to melt. It tickled me completely. My Christmas tree light psychosis was temporarily cured.

* * *

By age ten, Ryan directed his creative energy into skateboarding. He built successively larger ramps in our small backyard from discarded plywood and two-by-fours he found in the alley behind our house. Over the years, he banged up his shins and elbows practicing new tricks. "Come outside, Mom, and see my new moves." I loved watching his new toe tap or hand plant or wheelie, and I teased him about being a cat with nine lives. He sprained an occasional ankle or wrist but always picked himself up and went on. Even though we made several visits to the emergency room, his behavior didn't seem reckless or extreme to me. He was energetic but not careless. I had not grown up with brothers and assumed that his scrapes were part of a normal boyhood. He was my sunny, bright, athletic son.

After teaching all day, I was usually at the stove, cooking dinner, when Ryan came in from skateboarding. While I was stirring a pot of soup or stir-frying vegetables, he would shape the soft flesh on my upper arm like a piece of clay. Using the thumb and forefinger of both of his hands, he made triangles, squares, and circles with my fleshy tissue. It tickled and was a bit of a nuisance, but when he stopped doing it as he moved into adolescence, I missed the physical affection of this ritual.

He was a normal boy who roughhoused and wrestled with his friends throughout grade school, but this type of physical activity came to an abrupt halt in seventh grade. All of his friends shot up in height, leaving him the shortest in his group. He turned his attention to music when his father gave him a drum set for his twelfth birthday. He took drum lessons and beat out more and more complicated rhythms in the egg carton-festooned garage shed behind the house. Soon, he formed a neighborhood band. Between the sounds of drumming and the roar of skateboards, I always knew he was around. Liz and I had to carve out quiet space for ourselves inside the house.

In high school Ryan was still popular, excelled academically except in math, won all the school art awards, and practiced more challenging skateboard moves. By sixteen, he had joined a local semiprofessional skateboard team that won many competitive meets. He even made it into the skateboarders' favorite, Thrasher magazine.

Ryan's hyperactivity or bursts of creative energy still didn't worry me. He reminded me of my father, who seemed incapable of sitting still or relaxing. Dad moved quickly through his own creative projects, like paneling the basement or transplanting rhododendrons from one end of the garden to another. He was quirky, a bit hyper, but he was also a very successful advertising executive. I didn't associate creative energy with a mood disorder.

I had been a single mother for five years when I fell in love with a man named Luc. He moved onto our block, we started dating, and, after he took a long dreamed-about midlife sailing trip from Nova Scotia to Los Angeles, we married. I was happily distracted and may have missed early signs of Ryan's bipolar illness. Ryan has since told me that as early as age fifteen his friends said his mood swings, either quiet or angry, were too intense for them. Sometimes they didn't invite him to do things because his moods were unpredictable. This news surprised me. Ryan's friends seemed fine with him when they were at our house, skateboarding or playing music.


Excerpted from Blinded by Hope by Meg Mcguire. Copyright © 2017 Meg McGuire. Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
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.

Table of Contents

Prologue xix

Chapter 1 How did it come to this? 1

Chapter 2 Warning signs 21

Chapter 3 The bike ride 33

Chapter 4 Bipolar illness 46

Chapter 5 The twenties 52

Chapter 6 New year's day 1998 62

Chapter 7 The early thirties 72

Chapter 8 Leaving new york 82

Chapter 9 The late thirties 89

Chapter 10 Endocarditis-everything changed 100

Chapter 11 The pieta 109

Chapter 12 The second letter 119

Chapter 13 Reducing harm isn't easy 127

Chapter 14 Mothers don't let go 133

Chapter 15 A constellation of crises 143

Chapter 16 The seduction of hope 154

Chapter 17 The waiting game 161

Chapter 18 Almost forty 171

Chapter 19 Can we help him or not? 178

Chapter 20 The pietà redux 191

Chapter 21 Reflections from san quentin 199

Chapter 22 Dawn 204

Resources 206

Selected readings 212

Acknowledgments 215

About the author 217

Customer Reviews