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Bumpy road to recovery


This road may look scenic, even appealing. But for those of us living with bipolar disorder

those twists and turns, those ups and downs can be truly scary.


In this blog post, I’m honoured to share excerpts from the essay titled A Bumpy Road: Worth the Ride by Tracy Windsor that was included in the Navigating Bipolar Country anthology.


Tracy was diagnosed with bipolar disorder Type I at age 19, and what a ride she’s been on! Her mother, Gail Windsor, also contributed to the anthology, so reading both essays gives invaluable insights into what bipolar can do to the person directly affected and to their caregiver(s). (Excerpts from Gail’s story will also be shared in a future blog post.)

Interspersed and offset throughout, I have phrased some questions for you to reflect on.

After a brief account of her childhood and early teen years, Tracy writes:

“I was 19 when I experienced an elated mood for a couple of months in early 2008. It was then that my mom [in Vancouver] first saw me in a manic state and understood what my dad [in Nova Scotia] had been talking about the previous year. She too started referring to some of my behaviour as ‘bizarre’ or ‘strange.’


“I remember feeling euphoric and having grandiose ideas. For example, I was on the bus and believed that all the passengers could hear my thoughts, and that they were reacting to my presence. It was as if all these strangers were acutely attuned to and aware of me, based on the way they were moving and shifting in their seats.


“Another example: at Science World in Vancouver, there is a large globe, about five feet in diameter. I was convinced I could make it spin—and then stop spinning—entirely at my command.”

Q1: If you have bipolar disorder yourself, have you ever experienced psychotic thoughts or behaviours? Or if you’re a caregiver, has your loved one ever shown “strange” or “bizarre” behaviour or beliefs like this?

If so, a medical or psychiatric consultation is urgently needed: psychosis can put the person concerned and bystanders in extreme danger… The risk of violence and suicide decreases significantly when psychosis is properly treated.

Tracy was hospitalized and diagnosed: Bipolar I with psychotic features. Her mania lasted about six months in all, and the psychosis about two months.

“Somewhere around here, my mom decided to leave her job so she could take care of me. We spent a lot of time wandering in the woods together. And she’d take me to my various psych appointments. I had to see a community psychiatrist every week for follow-ups.”

Q2: Tracy needed the loving care and attention of a full-time family caregiver. How fortunate that her mother, Gail, was both willing and able to fill that role. Would you consider dropping everything to care for your child, or partner, or parent, etc.? Are there adequate social, emotional, and financial supports for caregivers who take on this demanding role?

Tracy explains that she was only on a single medication after being hospitalized, and it did little to control her symptoms.

“As my delusions progressed, they became increasingly strange and engrossing. I started to believe that every thought that came into my mind would become true. Because my last name is ‘Windsor’ like the Queen of England, I thought I was a princess being raised outside the royal family for some classified research or intelligence reasons. As I continued to believe that everyone could hear my thoughts, I started to see myself as an exceptionally good person, which soon progressed into thinking that I was a Saint. One evening, as I was lying on my bed, I felt a warm light wash over my body from head to toe. I interpreted this as God blessing me and anointing me as the Messiah, sent to prevent World War III.


“One day, however, my thoughts crossed over to what I call the ‘dark side.’ As people passed by on the sidewalk, for example, I would see them turning into Zombie-like characters in my peripheral vision. I imagined that everybody I thought about would be killed. I had the thought of corpses rising from the dead, and zombies roaming the streets…”

Q3: Do you see how important it is to get psychosis treated properly? If at first the meds don’t work, please report back to your prescriber so they can either adjust dosages or try a different medication or combination of meds.

Don’t ignore the bumps in the road! Treatment can help.


Tracy initially withheld details of her “dark” thoughts from her community psychiatrist. But when they became too scary, she finally poured everything out. The psychiatrist said Tracy needed to be hospitalized (again) immediately.


Ominously, Tracy writes:

“I don’t recall any suicidal thoughts at that stage.


“Those came later.


“Now, when I try to explain what psychosis feels like, I write the word like this, with the letters all confused and warped-looking:


psyChOSis.


“Doesn’t looking at that make you feel a bit disconcerted and off-balance? Well, that’s exactly how I felt—all the time.”


Tracy’s essay continues for several more pages, detailing hospitalizations numbers two, three, four, five, six (all in the space of two years), and seven. In between, she experienced suicidal ideation and made a serious suicide attempt. She also underwent ECT. And through it all, her mother remained steadfast, convinced that somehow Tracy could and would recover…


In the next post, I’ll share some of Tracy’s reflections and insights for people living with bipolar, and for family members.


* * *


Many thanks to Tracy for sharing her difficult journey with readers in the Navigating Bipolar Country anthology, and for allowing me to excerpt from her essay here.


Do you have any additional questions to consider after reading this? Or any personal reflections? Please share in the comments below.


Cheers,


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