I once read an interview with the actor I’d seen in a light comedy. He was now in a made for television movie based upon a news event about a mountie who murdered his wife. Playing a hero is easy, he observed, because you take the best parts of yourself and inflate them. However, when you play a murderer, he observed, you have to look inside your personality for the not so nice bits in order to give a convincing performance.
My mother was looked after hand and foot, by my father who was effectively her butler. When he died in 2008, I was left to absorb the full brunt of my mother’s bipolar disorder. I had some stuff in the basement since i was between apartments at the time (long story) and, for the first time in about living memory, she decided to clean. This is a woman who didn’t know how to cook, or work the washing machine since her husband had done it all. She went through my belongings, took what she wanted and threw the rest out.
When she told me, I was two metres away. I asked why and her response was, and I quote ‘Look,’ she pointed like a judge at a trial, with a tone of anger and disappointment, ‘you have to get me club soda.’
I am loathe to admit it, but had I been a metre closer, her dentist would be a rich man and I’d be in prison, married to the man with the most cigarettes.
Fortunately, I did not knock her teeth out, but for the first time in my life, I could see how people can be driven to violence. Now, remember, this is after four decades of putting up with her. This is not the first datum on a chart; instead, that was merely the latest event on non-Euclidean plane. The attempt to pick a topic at random to reframe a conversation is her stock tactic. For example, if she does something unwise, and you point it out to her or ask for an explanation, she will, with the predictability of Newtonian mechanics:
- Choose a subject at random
- Make a demand on you regarding this subject, claiming that it’s somehow your obligation and you’ve done poorly and are somehow in arrears regarding it
- Pretend it isn’t happening
- Manufacture some sort of delay to kick the can down the road and hope you’re too stupid to notice
What I find difficult to express to people who have no long term exposure to the bipolar, is how decades of this behaviour wear one down. Unlike a work situation where, even if terribly inconvenient, you can actually quit; being a bipolar caregiver holds you captive. Yes, yes, I know that social workers and shrinks would disagree, but unlike them, bipolar caregivers cannot turn off their computers at the end of the day and walk away from their caseloads until 8:3o to-morrow.