The most challenging time in my adult life was precipitated by a seemingly routine phone call from my mother during the fall of my senior year of college. The call did not contain any bad news per se, but her manner over the phone was odd—strangely hurried and excited. As she continued, and the train of her conversation became more confusing, I grasped what was going on and a feeling of dread and dismay passed over me. My mother was having another manic attack. Bipolar disorder.
Several years prior she had been diagnosed at the age of fifty-five when I was eighteen; atypical for the diagnosis to come so late but not unheard of. The illness manifested itself with deep chronic depression coupled with infrequent but intense periods of mania. Her mania was typified by a religious fervor, vulgarity, and a suspicious attitude towards others including me.
I put down the phone and called relatives who lived in my home town to check on my mother; a widow for thirteen years who lived alone. Our relatives had noticed some inconsistencies in her behavior as of late and were thankfully able to convince her to go to the hospital. Fortunately, we were able to transfer her to the hospital in Manhattan, KS, where I lived at the time. When I went to visit her the next day, she was incoherent and rambling—a shell of her normal self—physically alright, but emotionally and psychologically wrecked. The ineffable pain which seeing a loved one in this condition sticks with me to this day.
I wish I could say that the twenty or so days she spent in the hospital flew by. They did not. Every night I would receive phone calls from her, frantically crying, asking me to come rescue her. The nurses were persecuting her, the doctors making her more ill. The same chorus was echoed in my daily visits. The small hospital lacked a full time psychiatrist and she saw three different ones on alternate days, each with a different diagnosis and outlook—adding to the frustration.
During this time, I had to make frequent trips back home to get my mother’s mail, pay her bills, discuss with her condition with employers—she worked two jobs to provide for herself and our family—this in addition to a full academic schedule of upper level classes and heavy expectations from my fraternity and campus organizations. During this time, I really learned the value of strict organization, focus, hard work, and perseverance. I was able to obtain a 4.0 that semester and learned a great deal about my abilities, and life in general. This more than any other event, forced a maturity on me that I greatly needed. Realizing that ones parents are fallible and that the traditional roles have now to some degree reversed has a profound effect.
After something like twenty days in the hospital, mom had improved but was still not fully back to her former self. I took her back to her home and stayed with as much as I could the rest of the semester and much of the next. Thankfully, she continued to improve and, thanks to new medication, has not had a similar attack since. I have tried to bring the ethos of hard work and perseverance that aided me in that time to the rest of my life. My academic successes, maturity, and work ethic have all been to some degree informed by this awful period of my life. Through all the pain and stress, I grew as a person, and this is how I now try to treat all adversity—looking for that oft evanescent silver lining no matter how dark the cloud.
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