Coping with Bipolar Disorder
Andrea and her husband of 16 years already had a 13-year-old daughter when they decided to have a second child, a little boy they named Garrett. "He was precious," Andrea says. "He was so smart. He was already reading in kindergarten. He would entertain the class. He was so outgoing."
As Garrett grew older, Andrea was active in his school and volunteered for the PTA. But underneath the surface, she says she was troubled with dark, painful thoughts. "I struggled," she says. "Something didn't seem exactly right. I had bad feelings about myself that I was worthless, that I wasn't a good mom, that I wasn't a good person."
After bandaging up her wrists, Andrea told her husband what she had done. "He tried to convince me, 'Andrea, you're not a bad mom.' And I listened to him, and I tried to take all that in, and I thought, 'I can, I need to turn my thoughts around,'" she says. "But they kept racing in my mind, and it was so negative. I just felt the weight of the world was on me."
That same night, Andrea stayed up late working on a costume for Garrett to wear to school the next day—but she just couldn't finish it. Instead, she kept Garrett home from school, saying they didn't feel well. "I just couldn't get it together, and the voices started coming that he would be better off," she says. "And I just thought his life, things were going to be so bad, and the voices just kept getting louder and louder."
target=_blank> Listen to her conversation with a 911 operator.
Garrett was rushed to a hospital, where he died four days later. Andrea pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and she is currently serving a sentence of 42 years at a maximum-security prison.
Although Andrea says she had sought help in the past, she claims the medication her family doctor gave her didn't work for her symptoms. "The antidepressants he gave me … they either made me sleep more or be on the manic stage, be up all the time. I would clean the house for days. I would not sleep," she says. "It's like you can't see how bad things really are. If I had any idea what I would have done, I would have gotten help."
Once Andrea arrived in prison, she says the doctor there immediately diagnosed her problem as bipolar disorder. Within 10 days of starting the medications he prescribed, Andrea says she noticed results. "What a difference it has made in my life. It made me feel like maybe there was a reason that I took Garrett, you know? Maybe there was an answer," she says.
"It was almost like relief that I wasn't just this horrible person that killed my child one day, you know, that there was something that caused me to have this happen, because I miss him so much. I miss being his mom. I miss saying prayers at night. I miss taking him to Sunday school," she says. "My life, per se, is over in a lot of ways because the guilt is so heavy, because, you know, he's gone and I did it."
When Andrea was feeling down as an adult, Daphen and Kathy say they would often try to help her realize that she was a good mom. "[Andrea] could never live up to what she thought society expected or what society says is a good mother," Kathy says.
Daphen says both she and Kathy knew that Andrea had tried to kill herself once before—not long after Garrett's birth—but they attributed it to postpartum depression.
Daphen—whose own child has been diagnosed with early onset bipolar disorder—says if you notice symptoms in a loved one, it is important to do the research and speak with doctors who specialize in the illness. "It's not just about medication," Daphen says. "You need to also get therapy because therapy comes with the medication."
Andrea's husband declined to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and her daughter, now 21 years old, also turned down the invitation.
Dr. Jamison explains that the symptoms of bipolar disorder—also known as manic depression—are different for everyone. "It's a disorder of the brain that's characterized by real swings in mood—from irritability, depression, to euphoric highs," Dr. Jamison says. "It can be as in Andrea's case—hearing voices, psychosis, seeing things that aren't there—but usually, more commonly, it's just real extremes in energy."
According to Dr. Jamison, people in the manic phase probably don't need much sleep, talk very fast, and can be very intrusive and in your face. "When people are down and depressed, obviously everything else is the opposite. People very often go to the doctor because they're so tired. They aren't able to sleep or they sleep too much. They have no energy. And that's actually almost as striking as the down mood and irritable mood," she says.
Although the word bipolar seems to mean that you feel one of two extremes in emotion at either end of the spectrum, Dr. Jamison says that's not true. Someone who is bipolar can actually be in a very depressed mood and still have a manic energy level. "That's one of the reasons why it's kind of a misleading word, because there are actually states where you combine mania and depression where people are very agitated, have a very depressed mood but have a manic energy level," Dr. Jamison says. "And those are very dangerous states from a suicide and violence point of view."
Then, one frightening night while Paula's nieces were sleeping over, Maurice drank half a bottle of wine. "And I started feeling very violent. And I remember [Paula] crying," he said. "And she wouldn't stop. So I started yelling. And I told her if she didn't stop, that I was going to kill her—in my mind I didn't believe I would."
Another difficult time came when Maurice agreed to let General Hospital write a story line where his character has a breakdown and goes on lithium. "I said, 'Yeah, let's do it. Let's do it,'" Maurice says. "So I did it, and [they] said, 'Any time you want to stop, we stop the story.'"
Read an interview with Maurice from BP Magazine about the change in his character.
"After two months of it, I knew that I wasn't [okay]. But that's a problem with this disease. You always deny. 'I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine.' Until you get to that point. And unfortunately, at the end of the story, I got to that point. I had another anxiety attack."
Maurice says he has been taking medication for 15 years and will continue to do so. "I flirt with not taking it—but I'm not stupid, because every time I've gone off the medication, I've had a breakdown," Maurice says.
Actress Jenifer Lewis, who appeared in Tyler Perry's film Madea's Family Reunion, recently revealed that she is bipolar and says she is finally ready to talk about it. "After years of therapy and after years of medication, I feel experienced enough now to come out and say bipolar disorder is treatable and you can get help and you don't have to live such a tortured existence," she says.
Jenifer says she knew for years that something was wrong, but she didn't know what it was. To cope, she used her one-woman shows to hide her manic tendencies. "On stage I could be big and loud and everybody said, 'Well, she's fabulous,'" she says.
But after the curtain went down, Jenifer says she lived in a dark place. "I would cry and I didn't know why I was crying," she says. "You can wake up and the sky is blue. But for [people with bipolar], it's black. It's dark…. It's a dark place to go."
Jenifer also says her manic behavior led to things like road rage. One morning, she says she left her house feeling calm—until the driver behind her bumped her car while trying to pass. "In that second I went right into a rage and I chased him going 60 miles per hour in a 35 speed limit zone," she says. "The rage in that moment is saying, 'Get him. Get that person who hit my car!' That's all that's going through your mind. There's no rational thinking. Bipolar can destroy the bases of rational thinking."
Diagnosed in 1990, Jenifer says it took four years for her therapist to convince her to take medication. "My whole thing was, 'Oh, honey, I need my edge. I'm Jenifer Lewis. I need my edge. You can't take that away,'" she says. "But I got tired. Being bipolar is exhausting."
It took some time and patience to find the right dosage, Jenifer says, but it hasn't destroyed her edge. "Sometimes the personality, which I have a big one, can break through the medication," she says. "You can be even. … You can function in whatever way you want to on medication."
Jenifer says she's sometimes tempted to stop taking her meds, but she received a strong reminder of how important it is in 2005. She happened to be in Rome when Pope John Paul II died. Because there were so many people flying in and out of the city, she had trouble getting a flight back and was without her medication for four days. "I took it when I got home. But I didn't know I was in a manic state and I went out and bought a $2.3 million mansion on a whim. I didn't think anything about it," she says.
Jenifer has even written a show called Bipolar, Bath and Beyond. "It's through my one-woman shows that I do my part through humor, laughter being the greatest healer," she says. "My technique has always been to make 'em laugh and then stick 'em with that knowledge."
With three movies coming out, Jenifer's professional life is booming. But it's the personal milestones that mean the most—she's adopted a little girl! "You can live a good life with this disorder," she says. "But you have to do the work—therapy plus medication."
- Mood swings
- Rage attacks
- Changes in energy
- Sleeping too much
- Sleeping too little
- Alcohol and drug use
More from this show
Learn more about bipolar disorder.