It’s been a
few years since I last read the book 72-Hour Hold by late author Bebe Moore
Campbell. It’s a fictional story about a mother grappling with her daughter’s
severe mental illness (bipolar disorder) and the tribulations of navigating a
woefully inadequate mental health care system. The story, grounded in some hard
truths, was based on the author’s personal experiences with her own child.
the wealth of emotions that book took me through as we followed the heroine’s desperate
efforts to help her baby girl. I can still vividly feel the pain she felt as
she grieved the loss of their mother-daughter relationship. The fear, guilt and
hopelessness were tangible. So were the barriers they faced. The stigma
surrounding mental illness, the mistrust of the medical community, and that
black community culture that said problems at home should remain there, only to
be discussed around the family dinner table on the second Sunday of the month, were very real. It
was a hard read and the story haunted me for reasons I can only now begin to
son was seventeen-years young when the book was published. Even then I saw and thought
I understood the periodic bouts of depression he sometimes battled. Sadness ran
in the family. My beloved grandmother was renowned for her occasional mood
swings. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be handled I thought. I was
effectively handling my own issues. I was hopeful this thing with him would eventually
ten-plus years and what I knew and understood doesn’t begin to define the
trials we are experiencing today. I never imagined myself where I am; feeling completely
hopeless, lost, and fearful. Seventy-two-hour holds aren’t what they use to be
and when police become involved in the midst of a crisis, it can be tragic more
times than not.
My son has
an official diagnosis and the bouts of manic behavior, and waves of deep depression
seem never-ending. His situation is compounded by his relationship with a woman
whose own mental health issues are even more severe. Together, they are a fire
keg waiting to implode. And there is absolutely nothing I can do to help either
of them but listen and hopefully learn.
Bi-Polar Disorder (BPD) is a serious
mental illness characterized by intense mood swings and difficulty in
relationships. A person who has BPD feels emotions with great intensity, and
episodes of anger, anxiety, or depression can go on for several days. When
people with BPD have experiences that trigger emotional extremes, it can be
difficult for them to return to a place of emotional stability.
Like other serious mental illnesses,
borderline personality disorder doesn’t have one single cause, but it is
thought to be caused by a combination of factors. These factors include:
Biological Factors – There are strong
indications that heredity is a factor in this illness, and those who have a
close relative with BPD are as much as five times more likely to have it
themselves. Additionally, research shows that temperament is
biologically-based. The high sensitivity experienced by those with BPD is a
Brain function – There may be a
neurological basis for an inability to regulate intense emotions or to make
logical, well thought out decisions. It isn’t clear whether changes in the
brain leading to impulsive behavior lead to the disorder or are caused by it.
Environmental factors – Those who
have lived in an unstable environment or who have experienced trauma are at
increased risk of developing this condition.
A person with BPD may have no idea
that they have a serious mental illness. They may simply be aware that their
relationships never seem to be stable, that they have difficulty holding a job
or keeping their emotions under control. They may tell their doctor only a
small part of their symptoms, such as emphasizing depressive episodes or
periods of anxiety.
To come up with a diagnosis, a doctor
or mental health professional would perform a complete physical to rule out any
medical reasons for instability or emotional outbursts. The medical professional will conduct a thorough
interview and may also interview family, friends and previous clinicians.
It can be difficult to diagnose
borderline personality disorder, particularly since it often co-occurs with
other conditions that may have overlapping symptoms. BPD often exists along
with substance abuse, eating disorders or anxiety disorders.
Although BPD is a serious mental
illness, effective treatment is possible. Psychotherapy is the most important
aspect of treatment and may include dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT),
cognitive behavioral therapy and any other type of therapy that teaches ways to
cope with emotional dysregulation. Medication is sometimes used to control
symptoms such as anxiety or mood swings.
When a person with BPD is
experiencing extreme self-harming behavior, including suicidal tendencies,
short-term inpatient treatment may be recommended. Many people who are diagnosed and treated for
BPD eventually have their symptoms brought under control and can go on to lead
stable and happy lives.
My son and his
wife are far from stable and happy. Their promising futures have been waylaid,
possibly wrested from them permanently. But their efforts as they work toward
recovery are commendable. Medication, has to some degree, been life-changing. As a parent I mourn the loss of my relationship with
my baby boy and I feel powerless, unable to make things better for him. As a
parent, being unable to help my child when I see him in desperate need of help
feels daunting at best.
educating myself, wanting to understand everything I can about what I don’t know.
And I don’t know a hell of a lot about mental health disorders in general or
bi-polar disorder specifically. I’m discovering that what I don’t know has
caused more harm than good and that my biases have been profoundly detrimental
to my son’s healing.
son and his wife have both been very forthcoming with perfect strangers about their mental
health issues, I’ve decided to share my emotional journey as well. I hope to
pass on information as best I can to others who might be in need. Moving the
conversation out of my home, away from Sunday dinner, and into the light will
hopefully assuage the overwhelming guilt and feelings of inadequacy I have. I
know that clear, honest communication is crucial, and I can’t continue to allow
the shame and embarrassment I may be feeling to hold me hostage. I want to take a stand against the stigma that surrounds so many who suffer with their mental health issues in silence. I pray it will
eventually help families who sometimes have no clue. Because right now, I am
clueless, and I fear that if I don’t do something, my family and I will forever
be afloat in an abyss of hell and frustration. I've come to understand that what we once called normal
may never exist again, and I am slowly learning to accept that fact. For me, right now, stable and happy would be everything.
Women’s Center. “Is Borderline Personality Disorder a Serious Mental Illness?” BPD Mental Illness, www.clearviewwomenscenter.com/blog/bpd-mental-illness.
Accessed 30 May 2019