According to my friends (granted I wasn’t yet 10 years old at the time), it was unusual to see your mother taken from the house on a gurney. My step-father just always said that she was “sick”. I don’t recall worrying much because she always came home. But I knew there was something wrong when the man who delivered (yes, delivered) prescriptions came to our front door a lot. When no one was around I’d snoop through my mom’s seemingly endless array of purses looking for loose change. And when I would look through the drawers in their bathroom, there was an unending array of prescription pill bottles. I’m probably fortunate that I never decided to pop any of them, but that propensity would come back to haunt me in the future. I wouldn’t even know what depression and manic/depressive disorder meant until years later, when the term bipolar disorder became the more common way to refer to this malady.
I believe that my maternal grandmother had the gene, but it just wasn’t a known commodity and I believe that she fought her way through it. She was a proud, hard-working West Texas woman — not the typical stay-at-home grandmother, but one that went out and worked at a job every day in order to put more food on the table. It was that work ethic that probably saved her and those around her from the illness. But who’s to say?
The pain, particularly on the left side of my chest, was overwhelming, and was making it difficult to take a deep breath or to breathe at all. But I had to make that trip to London. I, too, have a strong work ethic, and I will show up unless I’m on my deathbed and fortunately, I’ve been pretty healthy and free of physical illnesses most of my adult life.
Usually, making my way to O’Hare meant taking the number 77 bus (Belmont Avenue in Chicago) to the Belmont Blue Line station, taking that to the airport, and proceeding the walk to check-in, TSA, and the gates. On this day, I chose to take an Uber all the way to keep the pain in check. Before I left, I checked our medicine cabinet, and I found that my mate had three tablets of vicodin left in a bottle, so I took one, saving the rest for later. Similar to the “Rohrer 747s“ (Quaaludes) from the 1970s, vicodin was my drug of choice. Unlike how many seem to respond to it, it gives me energy, with the only bad side effect being excessive sweating. Having only three tablets was underwhelming, but better than nothing.
On this particular trip, I would have to fly to Dulles Airport to catch my connecting flight to London. At our airport club at Dulles, I would have to see and communicate with colleagues. I’m pretty good at pretending I am “fine” when I’m not, so I was not worried. However, the pain intensified, so I took the second vicodin tablet, and began to drink alcoholic beverages. Again, this combination had never produced problems for me, and energized me instead. I had a bite to eat, and by the time my flight to London was ready to board (about 2 hours later), I felt “decent”. In order to maintain this state, I took my final tablet.
The term “bipolar” began being used in the 1980s, and the first SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reputake Inhibitors) — Prozac, came into the market in the late 1980s. This research and medication changed people’s lives. Whereas by this time I knew that my mom suffered from some sort of major depression, I didn’t know this new name for the disease until we had a phone conversation immediately after she was diagnosed. She was elated to finally know what was wrong with her, and equally to have an “antidote”, and that being Prozac. We’d been calling it manic/depressive disorder formerly. The discovery of this line of medications has changed millions of people’s lives for the better, but they do not come without side-effects.
If you were a fan of the AMC television show “Mad Men”, you know how, unlike now, husbands would send their wives to psychiatrists, and then without the protection of privacy rights, be reported upon. This is exactly what happened to my mom vis a vis her ex-husband, my first step-father. In the spring of 1967, I was informed that mom would be going to Sealy & Smith Medical Center in Galveston, Texas for 6 weeks to be treated for an undisclosed illness. To this day, the only explanation I got from my step-father was that she “spent too much money” which, well, was believable, given all of her beautiful clothes, those purses loaded with change, and a beautiful home in Abilene, Texas, full of all of the accoutrements of the day.
NEXT: The rest of my flight, and ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), or shock treatment.