What do you do when your life is turned upside down by the mental illness of someone you love? All your life, you have been ‘the one’ who has suffered from this disease and attention has been focused on you and your behaviour. Suddenly, you are the person who is grieving and terrified for someone you love more than life itself because you must sit by and watch them suffer more than you ever have. You can’t help them because they don’t want to be helped. You can’t watch over them because you don’t know where they are. The agony is far worse when you are on the other side, helplessly watching someone you love suffer from a mental illness. I have come to this realisation late in life – and for the first time.
Like me, my daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder many years ago. I don’t believe that she is bipolar. I believe that her diagnosis is something far worse. I’m not a doctor and I don’t know what that is. I do know that she suffers from progressively severe and lengthy delusional episodes. I also know that her threats of harm to herself and others – mainly her father and myself – are growing by the day.
As I sit here writing, it is 3:30 in the morning and I cannot sleep. That is because I don’t have any idea where my daughter is. She abandoned her apartment. She withdrew all of her money from the bank. She abandoned her pets – her ‘children’. She got in her car and drove away. She is 44 years old and there is not much we can do.
I sit here and wonder how this situation deteriorated so quickly. Then I realize that it really didn’t happen so rapidly after all. It began many months ago.
Her delusional episodes were very short at first, to the point where we really didn’t take them seriously. When we asked her where she had been or what she had been doing, she would respond with: ‘You tell me.’ The reason for that response? We had had a chip implanted in her neck to track everything she did and everywhere she went. A day or two later she would deny ever having said such a thing. She truly seemed not to remember these smaller, initial episodes or would believe they had been a dream rather than a reality.
Eventually, however, the delusional states came more frequently and lasted longer. The breaks with reality became more bizarre and her reactions to them became more heated. They were angry, confused, accusatory, and sad. It was heartbreaking and unbelievable to hear and try to convince her that what she believed wasn’t true.
She began to accuse us of paying her neighbours millions of dollars to stay home, not go to work so they could spy on her, and eventually try to kill her. She continued to be convinced that we were tracking her movements and activities. She said there was shrapnel coming out of her neck from where the chip had been planted. When she had been in the hospital six years previously, we had been paid millions of dollars to allow the doctors to perform medical experiments on her. The neighbours were putting bleach in her pets’ water bowls. There were too many fantasies to recount here, but she told us she was keeping a file and recording our conversations. We did find a tape recorder in her apartment when we went in to rescue her dog and cat.
In the last few terrible days before she drove off, she told us that she called CNN and the FBI and told them ‘everything’. She may well have done so because the local police informed us that she had asked for and been given the number for the FBI. She certainly did contact and speak with the local police.
As I sit here wrapping this up, I haven’t heard from my daughter in three days. She told us on more than one occasion that she would one day get in her car, drive away, and no one would see or hear from her again. She was angry but rational when she said those words. The woman who got into that car was not rational by any stretch of the imagination.
I worry infinitely. I worry beyond that. Where is she sleeping? What is she doing all day long? Is her behaviour making her a target? Does she know reality from fantasy? Is she sad? Is she lonely? Is she afraid? Will she call? Will she miss us? Will she come home?
And that most appalling question of all: Will we get that most dreadful call or knock in the night that instils terror in all parents?
Deb Wilk writes for various publications and she runs her own blog, Living Bipolar.