My guest today, MuseItUp author, Rochelle Weber is diagnosed as bi-polar. Rather than allowing this to slow her down, she chose to write about it. The result is a science fiction story, Rock Crazy. Today, Rochelle has agreed to talk about what it means to be bi-polar.
Ya Haven’t Lived…
Before I start my article, my family and I would like to extend our prayers and thoughts to the survivors and the people who lost loved ones during the attacks ten years ago. None of us will ever be the same.
“I’m here because the hormonal shifts of menopause overcame my bi-polar drugs.”
Eleven men slumped down in their chairs shaking their heads murmuring, “Oh no, she didn’t just say that,” in the opulent dining room in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. I’d been selected to give the woman’s view of my first experience at the Festival. I was there with a Chorus from the VA hospital in Chicago where I’d participated in Music Therapy since my first hospitalization for bi-polar disorder there in 2001.
“Ya haven’t lived until you’ve been the only woman on the locked ward at the VA. As they say—the odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
During menopause I was hospitalized five or six times. Back in the seventies when I tried birth control pills, I threw a blood clot in my lung. Hormone therapy was out of the question. Besides, I’m cold all the time. I miss my hot flashes. ;-(
I do not, however, miss my mood swings. I’m a rapid cycler and most of the time I’m fairly normal. Unfortunately, I moved away from Chicago where I got really good care to a more rural VA where they refused to change my meds even when it was clear they were not working. They just kept increasing the dosage. I kept “going off” on people and in between, I was experiencing increasing dementia—forgetting what I was doing, losing words, etc. I’m a writer, I’m in Mensa and I was in my fifties. I was terrified and my daughters were so upset, they made me give up my apartment and move in with my eldest.
Bi-polar disorder is easy to misdiagnose. People think of it as euphoric highs and crashing lows—going from periods of intense happiness and creativity to periods of paralyzing depression and, indeed, many bi-polar people are like that. But it can also include horrible temper tantrums, spending sprees, going from sexual promiscuity to total lack of desire. In really severe cases, people hear voices and it can be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. I spent several years on Prozac not realizing I was only treating half of my disease, because I didn’t realize my tantrums were the other half, until I had a roommate who was bi-polar and recognized the symptoms. She gave me Patti Duke’s books, “Call Me Anna,” and “A Brilliant Madness.” I read them on the pysch ward at the VA in Washington, DC, where I was living at the time. They diagnosed me and regulated my meds.
Many of Katie McGowan’s experiences are mine. Arguments with her mother are real. I believe my mom was bi-polar and self-medicated with alcohol. I hit puberty when she hit menopause and “it was not a good match,” at Katie tells Annie. We fought pretty hard when I was in high school. But Mama was a good person. She adopted me just because my mother was asking around the neighborhood for a home for me. And I know she loved me and was proud of me because she kept the first story I ever wrote when I was seven and had chicken pox. I still have it. She was just sick, like me, and like Katie. I hope you’ll read Rock Crazy and enjoy it.
Katie McGowan is bi-polar, and she’s run the gamut of medications, but nothing works anymore. Everyone says her she should have a microchip implanted in her brain that can regulate her mood swings. But Katie doesn’t want to be a robot. In a tough love move, her husband, Scott takes her to the Moon—and dumps her. Katie’s stuck on that God-forsaken “rock,” and thinks she’s space sick. But she’s wrong; she’s pregnant. Now the surgery’s too dangerous and she has to go off her meds until the baby’s born.
Scott’s elated that he’s going to be a father and assumes Katie will take him back. He has no clue how badly he’s hurt her, how thoroughly he’s broken her trust—or that he may not get her back at all.
They were on Earth, at a bar near Champaign, Illinois, part of the Chicago metropolis, which had sprawled across the Midwest and even down to Cairo, Illinois, where it merged with the equally sprawling Greater Memphis Area. They were there to sing karaoke, and Katie McGowan was ‘sober,’ as usual. She was on too many medications to mess with alcohol.
She didn’t remember, later, what the woman said that triggered her. She didn’t remember deciding to react. She just remembered the hot, red rage. And the split. She watched herself do it as The Voice kicked in.
“You can’t do this,” it said. “This is inappropriate behavior.”
Katie tried to stop herself, but she couldn’t. Her arm rose, as if of its own accord, and poured the pop on the woman’s bleach-blonde, over-processed head. The woman came off the stool and shoved Katie. She flew across the room, seemingly in slow motion. Of course she threw her right arm out to break the fall, and she still hit her head on the floor. But the pain in her wrist was worse than the headache.
“I told you not to do it,” The Voice said. “Now, at least stay down. Don’t try to fight her. You’ve already lost.”
Katie lay there gasping for breath, smelling the old, stale, spilled booze and beer that had seeped into the floor. Someone helped her up. It was Scott, her husband, and she was wrapped in his arms while holding her wrist. The woman wanted to come after her again, but people restrained her.
The screaming started. Katie cowered in Scott’s arms screaming and screaming and screaming, while The Voice told her to stop acting this way, and people tried to restrain the angry woman, pop dripping from her soggy bangs.
“Get her out of here!” the manager demanded.
“Looks like her temper matches her red hair.” She heard someone comment.
Scott half-carried her outside. She was hysterical and still screaming. The other woman followed them out to the car.
“What the fuck’s wrong with you, you crazy bitch?”
Katie couldn’t answer. All she could do was scream. Just scream. No words, just that high-pitched wail that was a good octave above any note she ever managed to reach when she sang.
“Now why can’t you reach this pitch when you sing?” The Voice asked. “Stop it or you won’t be able to sing at all. Ever again.”
She threw herself across the hood of the sky-car, feeling its warmth. She kept screaming, and the pain flared in her wrist again. Her throat was sore, and her voice was going…gone. The screaming subsided, and she began sobbing, hoarsely. Damn it. Her physical voice really was gone! The Voice was merging into the background, but now her mother was there. Linda Snodgrass had been dead for over five years, but she still appeared and yelled at Katie.
“You stupid bitch! I told you ladies don’t fight. What the hell did you think you were doing?”
“I don’t know why I did it, Mama. I think I broke my wrist,” she mumbled.
“Serves you right.”
“I’m sorry, Mama. I’m sorry.”
“Quit whining, or I’ll give you something to be sorry for.”
Her mother faded away, and she started hearing what was going on around her again.
Scott was there, and the manager, and the woman who had shoved her, and several bystanders, but all she could do was cry and say, “I’m sorry,” over and over.
“Who’s she talking to?” the woman asked. “She really is fucking crazy!”
“Katie’s bi-polar.” She heard Scott explain.
“Get her out of here!” the manager yelled.
“I’m so sorrrrrreeeeeee,” Katie wailed hoarsely. Someone stayed with her while Scott went back inside to get her sweater and his keys. She was powerless to stop this stage, as well. The sobbing and apologizing would go on for another hour or so. It was part of the pattern. She would apologize to everyone she met. And she would cry until she dehydrated herself and ran out of tears.
Scott came out of the bar and handed her sweater to her. She reached for it with her right hand and dropped it. He picked it up and put it across her shoulders. Then he unlocked the sky-car and helped her into it.
“Your wrist’s swelling up fast, baby. I brought you some ice from inside.” He handed her a bag of ice wrapped in a bar towel. “Your eyes look more red than green right now, and you’re so pale your freckles really stand out on your nose.”
“I’m sorry, Scott. I’m really sorry.”
He was oddly supportive this time. “I know you’re taking your meds. I’ve been giving them to you myself. And you still went off.”
“W-why?” Katie sobbed. “W-why? I’m s-sorry. I’m s-so s-sorrrrreeeee!”
“I don’t know. I don’t think the meds’re working,” he said. He reached over to pat her hand, but she was holding her right wrist, trying to cushion it and keep the bag of ice steady.
Rochelle Weber is a Navy veteran and holds a BA in Communications from Columbia College in Chicago with an emphasis on creative writing. Her non-fiction article, “Bulimia,” was featured in Hair Trigger 9 & 10, the acclaimed Columbia College student anthology. Her first novel, Rock Bound, is available at Create Space, Smashwords, Amazon and BN.com. She edits the Marketing for Romance Writers Newsletter. Rochelle fights her own battle with bi-polar disorder, quipping, “You haven’t lived until you’ve been the only woman on the locked ward at the VA.” Her song, “It’s Not My Fault,” won a gold medal in the National Veterans Creative Arts Competition. She lives in Volo, Ilinois, with her elder daughter and granddaughter. Her younger daughter lives in Paris, Illinois, and has a son and two daughters. Three cats and a bunny allow the humans to wait on them leg and paw.