Friday, March 23, 2012

A View from my Family~ Dealing with Bipolar Disorder

What is the most difficult part of having a relationship with a family member who is bipolar?

Since I am the one who has this darn illness that is a tough question in every way.  Difficult?  Am I really that difficult?  Well maybe so, but I sure don’t want to be or mean to be.  I don’t want to have those shifty moods, those lows where you want to end your life, or the highs were you might say something you shouldn’t say.  I don’t like that I have this thing called bipolar which I do not have total control over and can never be completely healed.  What I can do is try daily to maintain, to take breaks, take my medications, walk, and pray.  

My name is Maggie Reese.  I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 at 19 years of age.  I was hospitalized twice, put my family through complete hell, and thought I was literally in hell myself!  I went from being a running star, a good student, and a fun loving individual to an awful, mean, scary, and sad girl.  What got me through was my family.  They are incredible!

I have just spent an entire week at the beach with my family.  It was really great, but at the same time hard for me.  Sometimes the stress of everyone together get to be too much and I get a little snappy.  I don’t mean to.  But then again, isn’t that normal behavior, when you are with a group for an entire week?  I was able to have some great conversations with everyone and soak up the sun.  I feel so thankful that we are all still spending time together after all these years and still giving each other support. 

I cornered my brother first.   Tom and I were close growing up.  We were only two years apart.  Sure, we did the fighting as little ones but as we got older we had a good time together.  By high school we had the same friends and were on the same track and cross-country teams.  I loved having my brother around.  We went on all the running trips together to LA and had a blast.  We were both stars and enjoyed our glory.  When I got sick at the University of Idaho everything changed.  I had to quit college and move back home.  I ruined my brother’s senior year of high school with my first manic episode.  He was left to survive that year on his own while my family tried to save my life.  His glory went unnoticed with his amazing sports accomplishments and I even managed to ruin his graduation night.  So my relationship with my brother was lost.  Even as I began to get well it didn’t come back.  Not even an inch.  So here we were at the beach house and I asked him to answer this tough question.  He didn’t want to and brushed me off.  My begging worked.  This is how he responded.
Tom Hurst - Brother
“When she was first diagnosed I didn’t understand the disorder and chose not to deal with it....BIG MISTAKE!  You have to hit the problem head-on and educate yourself as much as you can about the disorder, and constantly work on building a better relationship.”
I cried when I read this.  I still am crying as I write this.  He is coming back to me.  Yes it has been 15 years since high school but I will take these bits of love he is giving out!

Next I sat down with my grandmother.  Grandma Virginia is 93 and is as sharp as a tack.  She doesn’t miss a beat and tells it like it is.  When I was in the middle of my manic episode at nineteen, I remember her saying, “Margaret don’t worry we are going to solve this and you are going to come back.  Now go sit down and eat your dinner. You're too thin!”  She made me feel calm and made me believe that someday I would be happy again.  She gave me hope by being so real in a crisis.  Grandma and I have always been close.  We have been sending letters back and forth since I was little.  We talk about everything.  We tell each other about our gardens, what new recipe we have found, and what great adventures we have been on.  My grandmother has traveled the world.  She is a strong woman.  When she says she is going to do something she does it.  Grandma took me to England when I was 21.  She put the bug in me to see what the world has to offer.  I have seen a lot of the world because of her.  We get each other in every way.  In my only other episode at 30 years of age, Matt and I had met her for breakfast so she could see our baby Allison.  I was completely out of it and she said, “Margaret you need some more pancakes!”  I felt normal for just an instant.  She is amazing.
Virginia Hailey - Grandmother
“Realizing the individual is in charge of their own life and you can be the back-up, but cannot solve the problem.”

Amy Hurst-Kownacki - Sister
“What is the most difficult part of having a relationship with a bipolar sister? My answer would be what is the most difficult part of having a relationship with any family member or someone close?  Yes, my sister is bipolar, but in my eyes she is an amazing person.  Everyday she makes a choice to live a full life.  As her sister there are good times as well as bad.  But the good outweigh everything.  And the bad...well there is really only an occasional bump in the road.  I don’t know any siblings out there that don’t have disagreements.   There are days where I can tell in her voice that she needs extra help or just a hug.  Maybe it is a day spent helping her with errands or cleaning house.  Other days she is at my rescue, picking me up at the airport or taking me to lunch.  I am thankful everyday that my sister is here.  I can’t imagine my life without her by my side, fighting in my corner.  She has amazing strength and courage to face each day.  I embrace and love my sister with my whole heart.  ~ With all my love, Amy”                                                                                                                

My mom has been having a nice week relaxing at the beach house.  I don’t want to bug her with this question so I wait it out to the very last morning to ask her.  Mom has been through so much with me.  It has taken years off her life.  The worry alone has just been a lot for any parent to take.  She got back into art as an outlet.  It started to take her places.  She started to sell.  She got in galleries.  She painted the world.  She went to Italy and came home and started a olive orchard which turned into you guessed it another business - olive oil.  Mom couldn’t stop there and turned her worries into much more. A vineyard, an organic meat company, spices, and lavender have become her passion.  She has taken a rough situation and turned it into magic.  My mom is my hero.  She never lets anything take her down.  She is somebody that I long to be like and try to be as tough as her.  She says I have the courage of a lion.  I think she does.  We are a lot alike, which sometimes makes it hard between us, but yet, we also have that understanding of no matter how hard it gets we are there for each other 100%.  Mom is somebody that knows how hard it is to have bipolar 1.  She knows how hard I work everyday to stay well.  She knows I try to hide my awful thoughts.  She gets it.  I love her for that.
Leslie Hurst - Mother
“What is the hardest part?  I suppose its stopping myself from helping too much, stopping myself from expecting too little, and stopping myself from interfering in Maggie’s life.  I know all of these three things come from, #1 the guilt I feel at having passed her the gene for Bipolar, #2 the fact that to keep her alive and   #3 move her forward in her life - I had to do those three things 24/7.  When she was sick - I had to help - I had to lower my expectations and I had to interfere in her life.   As she began to recover and as I began to let go, I think she was way more successful in her job than I was in my job.  In fact for many years I just tried to fill up my life with work so I wouldn’t be able to drop everything and come.  I probably overdid it too!  But I think I have come to a balance at last.  I can help when I am needed, I expect all the world for her and I don’t interfere in her life.  She is strong, independent, funny, and has a true desire to help others who are bipolar. How proud of her I am!”

My dad is real in every sense of the word.  No matter how bad a situation is it doesn’t break him.  He fights to the end of every crisis whether it is a business deal or a family matter.  He doesn’t quit until the problem is resolved.  He just had his 68th birthday here at the beach house.  Dad didn’t want gifts, cards, or special treatment.  What he did like was a day with his family sitting in the sand, riding the Belmont roller-coaster, and riding the bumper cars with his granddaughter.  Simple but perfect in every way.  In high school I use to cry and tell dad I didn’t have any talents. “Margaret when are you going to learn that everyone has a talent you just have to figure what yours is and then excel at that!”  I would listen for maybe a few minutes and then forget about this great advice of his and pout my way through high school even though I was very successful!  My dad chased me down for months all through my manic episode at nineteen at all hours of the day and night.  He believed in me even though I was so awful and mean.  He stayed strong and he eventually waited me out.  I came back one day and there he was waiting with open arms.  He fixes problems.  He fixed me!  He taught me to rely on the “Big Chief,” the man upstairs, God.  It took me awhile to believe that he was right.  But when I had my really terrible episode  after having my daughter Allie, I had no choice but to believe in a higher power!  God was there for me 100%.  I gave up trying to control everything and gave my worry to God.  My dad was right all these years.  He is awesome.
Joe Hurst - Father
“You must not take what they say personally.  It’s not their fault - you need to help them get through the bad times with compassion and firmness.  It is a very delicate balance to find.  So it is your job to protect them with firmness but give them the love they require.  It most always requires faith in a higher power than yourself.”

My daughter is the reason I want to stay well.  She makes me want to get up everyday and fight for my life.  I want to show her how to have courage, how to love, how to cook, be kind to others, and have a close relationship with God.  I love teaching her about life in every way.  We swim, we look for bugs, we get dirty in the garden, we fish, she helps water my mini vineyard, and she and I have great tickle wars.  I love her to pieces.  I never want to be sick again.  I don’t want to miss a moment of her life.  I will do anything I can to stay well to watch her grow into a wonderful young woman.
Allison Isabelle Reese - daughter 4 years old
“I love my mom....that is all...okay!”

It has been a few days since we have left our family beach vacation.  I am still waiting for Matt’s reply.  Matt is my husband.  He met me when I was 19.  He was hired as my bodyguard when I was completely out of control.  My parents were worn out from me going 100 miles an hour 24/7.  Matt is the love of my life.  I can’t get enough of him.  We have been married for 9 years but have been together for 15 years now.  He put up with me during my episode at 19.  He took my collect calls from Stanford Psychiatric ward.  When I got out he was there to take me on my first date in San Francisco.  He has been there through my depressions, through my manic highs, and again for the worst time of my life after giving birth to our daughter Allison.  I thought he was dead for six weeks after we had our baby girl.  He stayed strong.  He fed me, he changed the sheets because I sweated through them or peed the bed and bathed me.  More importantly he took care of our new baby for the first nine months day and night with no help from me.  I was severely ill.  He took care of not only a new baby but a very sick wife.  He in amazing.  I love him with all my heart.  He is my everything.
Matt Reese - Husband
“Knowing that things don’t change quickly.  When Maggie is anxious it lasts for weeks and months.  Manic spring energy is several months and the holiday depression lasts awhile too.  None of this can be remedied in a day or a week.  It takes time, medicine, a support system, rest, and patience.”
 After reading his response I responded, "Matt couldn't you put some mushy stuff in there!"   Matt's reply was simply, "Really, Mag, you know me better than that!"  He was right....I had to laugh.  He wasn't about to say something that wasn't him!

Even after all these years, I am very hard on myself for the damage I have done to each family member.  It runs deep in my veins.  The sadness that I have caused, the destruction I have left in my wake, and the years I have taken away from each one of them.  But at the same time, I am working towards forgiving myself.

Family is important.  It is key for me to have them on my side, helping me through thick and thin.  I am alive because they have all sacrificed for me to be here.  I can’t thank them enough.

Maggie Reese
Daughter, Sister, Granddaughter, Mother, Wife, and Author of Runaway Mind

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