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Gloria Masters: It’s sad to watch illness ravage a good friend

A good friend of mine is having an episode of mania. While in this state, he spends enormous amounts of money, talks incessantly and cannot sleep. His mind is racing. He drives a car on little or no sleep.

His condition, bipolar disorder, is also known as manic depression. It is a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods, and changes in sleep, energy, thinking and behavior.

He has been hospitalized many times, but the hospital is unable to keep him long enough to stabilize him. There is no help for him or his family unless he is deemed to be a threat to himself or others. The trouble is that he and everyone around him is at risk.

It may not manifest itself in physical harm, but the longer it is uncontrolled, the more damage it does to his family relationships. They can be irreparable. This disease can turn a sweet, quiet, loving guy into one who can be verbally abusive. Harsh words can be forgiven, but not easily forgotten.

What can I do? This is the million-dollar question. I try to give the family resources, but every agency requires a hearing or a criminal act in order to qualify for help. There is no preventive care for people with mental illness.

Many a marriage has not survived these intense manic episodes. It is possible that a person in this state will spend enormous amounts of money without thinking about it. The mortgage payment could be spent on dollar store sunglasses. Yes, it’s true. Cases of useless items are taking up space in my friend’s basement, remnants of the last episode. Families can become homeless.

When a mental illness rears its ugly head, it does not discriminate. Any one of us could fall under its control.

Crisis Services can help if the person is “a threat to himself or others.” The doctor can only prescribe drugs. A reasonable time period must follow a change in medication to see if it will work. Meantime, the destruction continues.

I worry that we may not have an answer in my lifetime or my friend’s. I worry that I may lose contact with him, that people will hurt him or take advantage of him, but there is no way to protect him from himself.

I am not suggesting we go back to the days of institutionalization, but it seems cruel and inhumane to allow someone to live in a state of manic behavior and eventually depressing terror, with no relief or help.

Sometimes I can see the fear in his eyes, and sometimes I see the old him, the one I know and love. Then, his eyes are no longer the ones I recognize and I am terrified that, this time, he may not come back. Obviously the medication is not working yet. I’m waiting. I want to scream, “Come on, wake up! Be you again.”

My heart is sickened by inadequacy and helplessness, when his wife calls. Her words drip with quiet desperation: “I don’t know what to do.” I search my brain for magical answers. But I know that she’s had it.

My friend – a veteran, husband and father – may end up like the poor souls we hate to look at, people I see aimlessly roaming the streets, subject to all sorts of abuse. Who will care about my friend if he is unable to regain his sanity? He could very well freeze to death in a cardboard box this winter. If he is not a threat to himself, I don’t know who is.

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