by Andrea Duran.
Thursday evening. I waited in the parking lot of the dental office where Stacy works. The twenty-five year old receptionist, who could pass for thirty, jumped into my car and pointed to a bar in the middle of an abandoned shopping center. This is the place she felt most comfortable answering the questions for my interview assignment. My idea had been to interview a person who appeared to live successfully with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The episodes were behind her and she was working and I thought we would discuss the world of a life changing event.
We did not formally decide where to conduct the interview but a dingy bar in the middle of nowhere was not what I had in mind. Stacy and I arrived at Shooters, a large bar with multiple pool tables hogged by old men with graying beards and gossiping women. Instead of a peaceful coffee shop, full of students completing homework and sipping lattes, older people reeking of booze and lazily leaning over pool tables surrounded us. I snatched a random gray table near the bar and began setting up for the interview, pulling out my laptop, and a notebook full of questions. The vibe at Shooters did not feel appropriate for the interview but I wanted her to feel as comfortable as possible, no matter how out of place I felt.
Still wearing her dark green work scrubs and a black jacket, she asked if I wanted something to drink. I shook my head, and jingled my car keys in the air.
“One beer isn’t going to kill you,” She rolled her eyes.
Stacy raced to the bar, ordered a beer, and paced back and forth. I met Stacy five years ago, two years before the episodes and she appears to be the same hyperactive antsy human being. Unfortunately this personality trait is also a symptom of bipolar disorder and we can no longer decipher the difference between normal personality traits and symptoms of hypomania.
Two minutes later, she arrived at the table with a beer in hand and quickly gulped at it. Tension swam in the air although neither of us would admit it. It was my first time interviewing someone about a traumatic event and it was the first time she was willing to let others know what happened and to give a unique insight into the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Stacy licked her lips, chugged more than half of her cup, and got straight to the point before I was able to ask any of my well thought out questions. “You know I really don’t believe it’s bipolar. I don’t believe the diagnosis exists and I do not believe it’s what I have. I had been having strange sleeping patterns for months, I was unemployed, and I had only weed and caffeine in my system the night that it happened. So, I stopped taking the medication six months ago and I have had no problems, and no episodes. I don’t want to be taking medication for the rest of my life, and I feel better now that I’m off of it.” She said rapidly.
Mouth agape, I ceased typing and took this in. Clearly, she went temporarily insane and was ultimately diagnosed with bipolar. The two episodes did not stop until she took medication. If the diagnosis didn’t exist then what could have caused these week long episodes? What snapped in Stacy’s mind?
“Absolutely nothing has happened in these past six months since you have stopped the medication?” I asked.
She shrugged, tucking a strand of her dark brown hair behind her ear. “Well, I got charged with a DUI along with resisting arrest in April, a few weeks after I stopped but that’s because I chose to drink and drive, not because I stopped taking my medication.”
My eyes widened. “And that’s why I had to pick you up today? Do you have a ride home?”
It felt like a Monday morning when I asked my six-year-old sister if she needed a ride to school, except I was picking up a grown woman from work and escorting her to a bar.
She smiled and nodded. “It’s not so bad though. It’s irritating having my mom pick me up and drop me off everywhere so honestly I haven’t been out in forever. This is the first time I have been out in months, this is like a party to me.”
Stacy’s life-of-the-party personality seemed unscathed by the few years of heavy medication although there are a few new traits worth noting. She spoke rapidly, thoughts raced in her mind, spilling out faster than I could type whether it had anything to do with our topic. She fiddled with her fingers while she talked and took large gulps of her beer in between sentences resulting in a large amount of beer consumed in a short amount of time. These new habits could have been formed under the pressure of the interview but it is quite different from the loud extroverted person I once knew.
The night of the first episode occurred sometime January of 2010. Stacy had been unemployed for several months, had recently broken off a long dysfunctional relationship, and developed strange sleeping patterns where she functioned on very few hours of sleep or none at all. One night her best friend Jen announced she wanted to smoke marijuana and hang out for a couple of hours. The entire night was a blur but Stacy remembers the beginning of the night vividly. The two women went to the local Arco gas station to pick up drinks and withdraw money. Stacy remembers buying a premade Starbucks coffee in a glass bottle, pulling out ten dollars and jumping in the passenger seat of her friend’s car. The paranoid fear began as she and Jen drove to another friends’ home to pick up a gram of marijuana. Convicted of several DUI’s and reckless driving, Jen continued to drive recklessly and under the influence. Stacy felt nervous, uncomfortable, and paranoid as Jen sped while using her cell phone as they went to pick up drugs. They smoked a bit over at their friend’s house resulting in increasing paranoia, and again when they arrived back at Stacy’s house. Stacy’s mom was asleep upstairs and her aunt slept in another bedroom under the staircase, so they decided to smoke in the garage with the side door opened. Stacy’s pit-bull was intimidating and frightened Jen who became quiet and withdrawn when she was stoned. The pit-bull also scared Stacy when she remembered her cousin claiming he dreamed of pit-bulls that symbolized death. Jen went outside for fresh air for a couple of minutes before deciding she wanted to go home.
Suddenly, a black wave of trembling paranoia crept through Stacy’s body, causing her to shiver, jump, and become confused. Stacy’s eyes lit with fear as she recalled the horrifying paranoia, her dark brown eyes growing wider than her black framed glasses. She took in a deep breath before moving forward.
“I’m going to get another beer. You sure you don’t want anything? Beer? Soda? Water?”
I nodded. “Actually a water would be fine.”
She jumped up from the table. “Sorry if I take long, the bartenders take forever.”
The bartenders really did not take as long as she believed. There were two female bartenders who appeared slightly busy and her order didn’t take more than two minutes although she apologizes for the delay every time she goes up to the bar. She came back with a beer in a tall glass and water in a small plastic cup.
“Thank you,” I said taking a sip, waiting for the story to continue. She sipped the foam floating at the top of the beer and chugged a quarter of it with a finger in the air to put a pause on the conversation.
Stacy explained everything felt surreal, stranger than usual. She tried telling her aunt about these weird feelings but her aunt simply brushed it off and said she probably needed some sleep. Stacy went upstairs and believed she was having a conversation with one of her friends on the computer. Her computer had been broken for over a month. Thoughts became rambled, mixed up. Reality abruptly became dreamlike, confusing, and strange.
Sitting at the bar, Stacy spoke rapidly as she tried to explain everything that happened, remembering certain parts but unsure of the chronological order. It became difficult keeping up with everything and I decided to write down key sentences. She looked up at the ceiling, fingers poised in midair as she tried to remember what came first, and how long the ordeal lasted.
Somewhere in the midst of the episode, a thought popped up telling her to check in on her friend Brianna who lived down the street. Listening to the random collection of uncontrollable thoughts, she drove down to her friend’s house ringing the doorbell multiple times until Brianna’s father opened the door. He was surprised and a bit shocked at Stacy’s arrival, asking if everything was alright. Brianna had awoken instantly at Stacy’s arrival, and asked if she ingested any drugs. It was four in the morning and nothing made sense. Apparently, Stacy had been sending text messages full of rambling confusing chatter to Brianna and a group of other friends. The messages talked about everyone being one person and sharing one mind and someone named Angie going in the neighborhood stealing car keys.
Stacy then realized she had taken her cousin’s boyfriend’s car and her aunt’s cell phone. Brianna attempted to calm Stacy down several times to no avail. The sun was almost rising and Brianna decided just to follow her home to make sure she got there okay. Another thought shot into Stacy’s warped mind, telling her to pack suitcases because she would be going to the airport soon. Listening to these rambling, racing thoughts, she ran upstairs, quickly packed her bags, and waited outside at six in the morning for someone to come and take her to the airport. Her mother and aunt found Stacy shivering outside in the freezing temperature with the suitcases, staring off into space, talking to herself.
Believing she was on a handful of drugs, they dragged her back inside, and tried to force her to go to sleep. Everything was a blur that entire day but she knows she was not able to sleep and later on began trying to contact her friend Brianna. The thoughts in her racing mind said the world was ending, her friends were connected, and they would all die.
“How long did the episode last?” I asked trying to put some brakes on the speed of her confession.
She shrugged. “Ten, maybe fourteen days straight? I don’t really know, I can only remember the beginning, a few parts, and what my friends told me.”
The manic episode continued for a few more days. Her friends Rosa and Brianna decided to take her to the hospital believing she was on a mix of hard drugs. On the ride to the hospital, Stacy was having a conversation with no one in the back seat, rapidly rambling, and laughing loudly.
The hospital could not find anything wrong with her after completing a few blood tests and discharged her despite the clear symptoms of someone not being in the right state of mind. Brianna took her home and stayed the night in fear of what Stacy might do next. She remembered increasing paranoia, which would not diminish. When she saw Christmas trees lighting up in her neighbor’s house, which could not be possible because it was the middle of January, she freaked out, and tried jumping out the window.
Finally, Brianna and her mother decided they should call the cops. The cops called an ambulance and they sent her to the psych ward in Riverside. Stacy cannot remember anything that happened in the hospital except for an old man quietly reading a book that patiently looked up from his folded hands and said, “It’s about time you’re here. What took you so long?” She still does not know whether this man really existed. I stopped typing when Stacy retells this scene in a way someone would describe what they remembered eating for dinner on Saturday. This sent chills through my entire body.
The doctors immediately put her on medication. She stayed at the hospital for three days but worried she would be stuck in this phase forever. The doctors ultimately diagnosed her with bipolar.
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity level, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. The symptoms of the mental illness are severe and can often lead to dangerous manic episodes. Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million Americans yearly and many continue life undiagnosed. Stacy, a twenty-five year old receptionist at a busy dental office, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in January 2010 after a 14 day manic episode that landed her in a psych ward. Unlike many others who are diagnosed with certain illnesses, Stacy does not believe she was correctly diagnosed. In fact, Stacy does not even believe in Bipolar Disorder.
Another episode occurred three months later in April during a visit in Mexico. Although she was on medication, she smoked weed with a relative and completely snapped with paranoia. There was a one legged man in the yard trying to get inside the house, people were scattered on the streets trying to come in and shoot her, and she could not stop screaming. Aggravated, her mother threw her in the shower for a few hours until the family thought it was best to give her more medication and take her to the hospital. They had to wait a few days before going back home because she still had not calmed down.
A few beers later, I noticed the bar had become louder, slightly crowded, and people were shooting us strange glances. Stacy didn’t notice as she continued talking rapidly, swallowing beer, and nervously looking through her phone. This was incredibly awkward.
“My girlfriend doesn’t know about this.” She said turning off her phone.
“That we’re meeting?”
She shook her head. “She knows I’m here with you, she doesn’t know what we’re talking about. I don’t feel I should tell her or that she should know. Many people might think I’m strange or mental and I don’t think it’s the right time. I stopped taking the medication in April when we became official so I should be okay.”
“Do these incidents make you feel strange or different?”
She shrugged. “No, I try not to over think it. It was a random event in a seemingly normal life. I don’t know. But during those months I was unemployed, depressed, and had strange sleeping patterns along with no sleep and too much caffeine. Everybody in my support group also don’t really believe they have it. Our main goals are to stop the medication. We just want to stop. I’ve stopped several months ago, smoked weed, and I am completely fine. It was just a bad stage in my life. I really don’t believe I even have it.”
“So, what do you think it was?” Her denial was perplexing yet intriguing.
“Lack of sleep? If the diagnosis didn’t exist, what would you think it was?” Stacy asked in a defensive tone. Clearly, she did not believe in bipolar and did not want to discuss the matter any further. So I tried to take the questions in a different direction.
“Do you believe life would be easier without the diagnosis hanging over your head and the memories of manic episodes?”
She thought about this for a moment, looking up at the ceiling before responding. “Life would be the same because I feel like I’m different but isn’t everybody? I don’t believe in labeling myself but it would definitely be easier not having the diagnosis because I wouldn’t have to think about having another episode. But…if this never happened, my life may have gotten worse because I was messing around with a lot of drugs, partying all the time, and enjoying being unemployed for so long.”
Stacy answered her cell phone after my last question. It was difficult asking some of the prepared questions because she seemed to be completely detached from the events that had befallen her and emotionless about the aftermath. She doesn’t believe in the diagnosis of bipolar and is against the medication despite the fact that both of her episodes lasted fourteen days. She believes something physical or the environment around her had something to do with the unexpected episodes and does not want to think about them for too long. She did not mind explaining the small fractions of memory from the episodes but would not explain further some of the things she saw and felt.
This contradicted my original beliefs before entering the bar. I thought I would interview a happy soul who has accepted the fate of bipolar disorder and managed to live a full productive life. Yet, I sit across a grown woman who cannot drive on her own to work, drinking the night away on a weekday, and does not believe in mental disorders. Stacy hung up the phone and raised her eyebrow.
“So, is that good? Do you need anything else?”
I smiled, unsure of what questions to probe her with next. “Yes, it’s fine. I think I am alright. Your mom’s picking you up today?”
She nodded. “She should be here shortly, I’m going to grab another beer. You sure you don’t want one? Come on, it’s on me.”
I shook my head. “I’m driving in a few minutes, so I’m okay.”
Stacy jumped from the table quickly, placed an order, and quickly went back to her cell phone as she waited for her next beer. I wrapped up the piece, fixed misspelled words, and glanced around at the crowd.
The crowded bar was now filled with people and the smell of cheap beer and cigarettes. It was clear I was the odd one in a room full of people drinking and playing pool while I sipped on a glass of water, typing rapidly on my laptop. Stacy and I did not share the same idea of a chill Thursday night for an interview but this is where she felt most comfortable to describe these events. I thought we could have met at a Starbucks but here we sit in a bar full of loud, obnoxious people drinking and stumbling over pool sticks. Perhaps, she only felt comfortable talking about these events while she kept a buzz going although she would not openly admit this. Stacy ran back with the beer, and chugged the entire glass because her mother just arrived.
“Stacy, if you had advice to give someone who’s going through the same thing, what would you say?” I asked as I packed my laptop inside my bag, and zipped up my jacket.
She burped, wiped her lips, and stuck her phone in her jacket pocket. “Don’t take the medication unless you absolutely need it to calm down and there are no other solutions. There’s no point in taking the medication. Sometimes… sometimes these things just happen.”
Stacy and I walked out into the crisp, chilly night, her mother’s headlights blared in the middle of the dark parking lot. Stacy waved and jumped into the backseat of the small gray Honda. I went back into my car, and sat down thinking about everything she just confessed. Manic episodes just happen. Nothing more. Faced with the memories of temporary insanity and a life changing diagnosis, Stacy chose the route of denial, feeding me the idea of fake mental disorders. The question floats in the air like a repulsive, dark, dusty cloud questioning the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and while taking in Stacy’s conspiracy theories.