I will call her “Rita.” She is a middle-aged copy editor for a Midwest publishing company. In her teens, she began having mental health struggles and in her 20s was diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder. A National Institute of Mental Health website defines bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, as “a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” In her form of the disorder, Rita experiences more challenges with depression than mania.
“I began depression when I was 13,” said Rita in a telephone interview. “I was depressed that entire year. I used to cut myself with razors and knives. My mother asked about (the cuts) once and I said a cat scratched me. But I was using a razor blade to cut my wrist and legs.” She also was rebellious, got into trouble for fighting at school, and became pregnant at 16.
“When I was 20, my father died, and that really set me off,” she said. Six months later, she tried committing suicide and was placed in a mental institution where she heard women describing their experiences with bipolar disorder. She instinctively knew she had it. The only problem was the mental institution believed her behaviors were primarily due to alcohol and marijuana usage. It took two years before a therapist diagnosed bipolar disorder.
Medication began taking away her deepest valleys and highest peaks, and shortened her depressed and manic periods. She eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in English, which helped her obtain a copy editor job almost ten years ago.
During her depressed periods, which can last four months, she sleeps up to 12 hours a day, shows little excitement for anything, and becomes withdrawn. She cries easily. She finds answering the telephone at work and home difficult. During her manic periods, she gets “amped up” and “off the charts” expressing emotion and becomes more creative in cooking, drawing, and writing. She impulsively spends money.
Like many people, she gained weight on bipolar disorder medication, going from 95 pounds in 2002 to 145 pounds today.
She said, “I’ve tried lately being more forthcoming (at work) about having bipolar disorder. People need to know that a person with a mental disability can be a productive part of society.”