My Bipolar Grandmother – Guest post by my Daughter

•June 26, 2016 • Leave a Comment

There are lot of gaps in the memories of my childhood, however there are a few things I remember about my grandmother. I remember she was usually high energy, and when she was happy that was fun. I remember her screaming at my grandfather. I remember her ranting about my mother (her daughter-in-law). But, most other early childhood memories of her are fragmented.

I remember more clearly in my preteen years when everything exploded. My grandmother became the menace of the family, and we never saw her again. Until a few years ago, that is. Things calmed down. We opened up a little, invited them to a recital or a birthday dinner. We never spent more than a few hours with her at a time, and she was able to keep things together for that little while. She was being fun and nice again. And it was even better getting to see more of my grandfather.

Both of my grandparents are in their 80s now, and I’m in my 20s. I decided that perhaps, before I no longer have the opportunity, I should try to spend a little more time with them. So, I asked to go to the beach with them for a week. And here’s how it went…

Day One:

Their main house is in my town, and we were going to their beach house which was 200 miles away. So, about a four hour drive, on average. I arrive to their house at 12:30 pm on Thursday, completely packed and ready. We have a pleasant lunch on their sunny back porch, and everything is starting off delightfully. I helped them clean up the dishes and pack up the food, then waited for departure time.

We didn’t leave their house until 3:30 pm.

By then it was already rush hour. The original plan was to have dinner when we got to the beach, but because we left so late we had to stop for food and didn’t get there until 10 at night. A four hour trip turned into a seven hour trip because my grandmother wasn’t ready to leave on time. This would prove to be a common theme for the rest of the week.

Day Two:

So far, everything still seemed pleasant enough. It was Friday morning and my grandfather was making waffles. Grandma didn’t like how the waffles turned out. At first she told him to read the recipe, then she told him to read the instructions for the waffle iron, then she told him not to do this, or to do that, or to not use so much of that, or not to be so impatient. She became accusatory, condescending, and angry. I was honestly surprised at how rude she was being after someone else made her breakfast.

And she kept bringing it up.

After breakfast we drove around town. The plan was to visit one of their friend’s shop, but grandma changed her mind about that and we just went wherever her whim took us instead. She would constantly make comments about how hungry she was, how bad and disappointing and inadequate her breakfast had been. She did not stop talking about the waffles until we finally got lunch, then the rest of the day was relatively pleasant.

At some point, my grandfather told me that my presence was having a great effect on my grandmother’s mood. Usually she was very grumpy. Apparently this was her being not-grumpy.

The plan after lunch was to go straight to the beach, but we didn’t make it out of the house until 5 pm.

Day Three:

On Saturday we went to visit the farmer’s market and art fair, and bought some fresh produce and locally crafted jewelry. After that the plan was, again, to have lunch then go straight to the beach for the day. This time we made it there at 4 pm. Progress!

One significant trait to note about my grandmother is how much she likes to talk, and how fast she talks. I like to think of myself as a patient person but I could already feel myself starting to crack on the car ride down, and by Saturday I felt like I was going insane. Every single minute was spent with her telling me at breakneck speed about someone I haven’t seen since I was five, who was in the hospital, whose spouse died and from what cause, the marital status of all of their children, and so on. Every single one of them she knew by name.

And when I say every minute, I’m not exaggerating. When we were in the car I would count how long the silences between conversations lasted before she would start up another one or just make a random comment.

1… 2… 3… 4…

‘Oh, that’s John’s house, you remember him, he used to be a policeman, his wife died of cancer last year and their oldest daughter Jane is married and moved to Pennsylvania, and she has two children and…’

The highest I ever reached was 50 seconds. Literally, she could not stop talking for a single, full minute.

Day Four:

Sunday was mostly uneventful. Grandma got a call from one of her sisters that she would be visiting for grandma’s birthday. This meant that both of grandma’s sister would be there for her big 80 th birthday in July. She was happy about that, and talked about different possible plans for her party.

And this will be an important detail later: this week the town was going to begin construction on their main street, and had everything blocked off. Because of this, all the traffic on main street was detoured into my grandparent’s neighborhood, including construction vehicles, trucks, and so on. Every day after this, grandma would continuously complain about the situation, the noise of the cars, the exhaust fumes, and so on.

Day Five:

Monday morning is when seams began to crack. Breakfast was had and I returned to my room to call home. After this call, I heard yelling from downstairs. Her tone was as I remembered it from my childhood: bitter, nasty, spiteful, and accusatory. The topic was grandma’s birthday. She was complaining that for grandpa’s 80 th , they had a reception in Florida, but the only things he has suggested was to have her birthday at a restaurant. She didn’t like that, apparently, because a restaurant is too loud to talk to anyone, as well as too expensive.

I did think it strange that she was jealous over a formal reception but thought having dinner at a restaurant would be too expensive. The rest of the (one-sided) conversation was her accusing him of not caring about her, trying to ruin her birthday, never standing up to her. (An example of him ‘never standing up for her’ is when the neighbors built a shed on their own property that she thought was ugly, and grandpa didn’t do anything about it.)

At some point she stormed outside and got in her car to leave. The engine revved a few times, but didn’t start. She had to call my grandpa over and have him start her car so she could finally drive off in a rage.

With nothing else to do, I used up some data on my phone to catch up with my long distance friends. I’m known for not cursing, ever, but the only word I could find to accurately describe my grandmother was, well, bitch. They found the story about the car amusing, and said that sounds like something I would do because of how bad I am with technology. And I found it funny too; I think I’ve always found humor in her behavior. The only thing that wasn’t funny about the situation was how my grandfather was being treated.

I also said that I suppose there’s a reason we haven’t visited her in ten years. Not that I had really forgotten, but I apparently needed a reminder.

When she finally came back, my grandfather told me we were going to go out to eat, and with food in our bellies we would ‘forget about grandma being naughty this morning.’

But this is her when she’s not grumpy!

Day Six:

On Tuesday their town was having an election, and they needed to vote in the morning. After that we would go ‘straight’ to the beach. We had breakfast, and I returned to my room to get ready. (Though by this time I knew we would probably not be going anywhere until well into the afternoon.)

A while after they left to vote their car returned, and my grandpa came inside asking if grandma was here.

Remember all the traffic on our street because of the construction? Apparently she was so upset by the smell of exhaust from all the cars that she… got out of the vehicle to walk along the street? Yes, that’s what she did. And now she’s wandered off and he didn’t know where she could be. I was tempted to tell my friends that I had lost my grandma but abstained so I could help him look for her.

We drove around a few streets, then returned to the neighborhood and walked around for a little. Then, lo and behold, she emerged out of nowhere! And absolutely lost it. We stood on the side walk as a large number of strangers drove by (slowly, by the way, it’s a residential neighborhood) and my grandmother screamed non-stop at my grandfather. The highlights include:

  • The noise from the cars woke her up and she got no sleep.
  • The exhaust fumes are killing her.
  • Grandpa doesn’t care and won’t stand up for her and do anything about all this traffic.
  • The government doesn’t care about her comfort.
  • The government doesn’t care if she dies from these exhaust fumes.
  • The government is trying to kill her.

I relate this story to my friends. ‘She sounds very dramatic,’ one of them said. Another word thrown around was psycho. Someone finally said that she seems bipolar. Bingo.

Eventually we got her back home and then out to lunch. We went to the beach ‘after lunch’ (at 4 pm) and while I was swimming around and acting like I couldn’t hear anything, she started yelling at him again. This time she complained about:

  • How horrible her life has been.
  • How horrible he personally has made her life.
  • How he doesn’t care about her at all.
  • How much she hates their marriage.
  • How much she hates him.
  • The nightmares she has of him leaving her, like when he left her in Florida (when she got so out of control that she was arrested and hospitalized.)
  • How he always leaves her. (Their marriage has functioned for the last several years with him going to their main home, her following, him going to their mountain home, her following, him going to their beach home, her following, and so on like a sad and expensive game of tag.)

And the most memorable quote award goes to: ‘My life has really been a bowl of cherries. Or more like a bowl of applesauce that’s rotten.’

Tuesday was probably the worst she was all week, but I got to see some baby ducks hanging around at lunch so I chalked it up to a pretty good day.

Day Seven:

Wednesday, and also my grandparent’s anniversary! Celebrating 59 years of marriage! And yes, all throughout the week their friends and neighbors have been wishing them a happy anniversary.

They had another argument that morning, but I didn’t hear what it was about. Grandpa drove off to go the store, and the next thing I knew grandma was in my room saying that we should go to the beach without him. I suggested we call him, or just wait for him, and after some very timid attempts at persuasion she relented and we waited for him to return.

It may seem strange to someone unfamiliar with the dynamics of my family that this woman, who will gleefully tear down and scream at her husband in public, will relent to anything her 20 year old granddaughter suggests. I find it strange too, but it’s how things have always been. I was the golden child in their eyes from the time I was born, and it put me in some awkward positions as a child. I hated the attention (though I’m sure there were moments in my childhood where it turned me into a brat until my parents corrected me) but at this point if she’ll listen to me I’ll at least do what I can to help out my grandpa.

So, in this instance, I suggested we not abandon her husband on the day of their anniversary (I would have been enthusiastic about going to the beach with just grandpa, on the other hand) and so we waited. He eventually returned, we went to the beach, and then had a nice dinner for their anniversary. It was surreal to say the least, but at this point my ‘vacation’ was about eating a lot of good food, watching the wildlife, and sitting in the sun. And hey, there was plenty of that!

Day Eight:

Departure day, finally! I was all packed and ready to leave before breakfast. The plan was that we would leave at noon, then stop halfway to visit and have dinner with one of their nieces (my second cousin). If we managed to get there between 3 and 5 pm her son would even be able to join us. In private, grandpa told me that his goal was actually to leave by 1, but better to tell grandma noon. I agreed whole-heartedly.

While they were outside, they had another argument. Grandma was especially manic today, which I was expecting. But when I went outside to help them pack up the car, grandpa made a comment suggesting he had bite marks on his hand. My mind didn’t compute for a moment and my first though went to him being bitten by a stray cat, but then I realized what he meant. My grandmother had bit her husband.

She bit him.

I asked him about it and he confirmed, she had bit him on the hand, though she hadn’t broken skin. ‘First time that’s happened,’ he said. There were many times throughout the week I wanted to ask him why he stayed with her, if there was anything she did that made their marriage worth it, or if he was just there out of pride and obligation. I didn’t say anything, but I especially wanted to this time.

We didn’t manage to get on the road until 2:30, of course.

I fell asleep pretty quickly, then woke up and tried to go back to sleep but didn’t manage it because grandma began to complain that she wanted a turn to drive. You see, grandpa and I are both very tall and all week he had been driving, I had been in the front seat, and grandma was in the back. I had offered many times to have grandma ride in the front but she refused to move unless it meant she could drive, so I didn’t have much of a choice.

But she began to complain that she was getting cramped in the back seat, and that she wanted to drive, and that it wasn’t fair. Eventually she said she needed to use the bathroom, and demanded that grandpa pull over. She also complained that she even had to ask. Well, the nearest possible place to stop was 20 minutes away, so he said we would stop there. Then she said her leg was cramping, and began to sob in the back seat for the next 20 minutes.

It brought to mind a memory of when I was a child, probably in the last year before we stopped all contact with her. She wanted to take me to Florida with them over the summer, but my dad had said no. She sprawled on her couch and sobbed while 12 year old me awkwardly sat nearby in silence. Well, I was trying not to laugh. When I was much younger, her eccentric behavior scared me, but by 12 I just found it sad, absurd, and silly. I remember thinking at the time that she was like a little child crying because someone told her she can’t have what she wants.

And here we are again, an almost-80- year-old, sobbing because she can’t have her way. Honestly, you have to laugh to keep from crying along with her.

We finally found a place to stop, then continued to my cousin’s home. We didn’t get there until 6, much later than they planned. If they had their way, we would have spent the night there, but I was anxious to get home. We had a nice dinner but didn’t leave her house until 10:30. By then it was dark and raining heavily, and I spent the next two hours praying fervently that we didn’t crash on the highway and die. At exactly 11:59 at night we finally made it to my house, and I was free.

All in all, I would honestly say I had an alright vacation. Good food, nice weather, beautiful location, lots of cats and ducks. The only bad part was her, however she managed to be consistently terrible. I suppose I had hoped she could keep it together for at least a week. But, even when she wasn’t being an abusive, awful human being she was just plain annoying. Would I go back? Maybe. And only for my grandpa’s sake. He’s a sweet man and does what he can take care of her and treat her well. Ideally, I could just spend a vacation with him, but I know that’s not possible. I still want to ask him why he stays with her, but I probably never will, and I’d probably never get a satisfying answer. But for his sake, I’ll probably be back. But not for a long while. And definitely not for a week.

Two dinners, a year apart.

•October 26, 2013 • 11 Comments

Yes, it has been a year and a half since I posted anything other than the occasional response to comments.

In my defense, not much has happened concerning Mom in that time. But yes, I did have dinner with Dad – twice.

The first was in early September, 2012. Dad called and said that he was passing through, and wanted to see the kids. The kids and I, my wife had a legitimate conflict, met him at the local museum, and then went to dinner at the ‘fancy’ restaurant. We had a nice time, and he got caught up with the kids. He said that he expected to be back in a few weeks, and would call then.

And nothing for an entire year. It’s was nice.

Then last Tuesday, Dad was waiting for me at the commuter lot. We chatted for a while, and he then met me at my house and talked with all of us until my daughter had to leave for school. We made arrangements to meed at the nice Chinese restaurant the next evening. My wife had pictures of the kids and mentioned that there was a folder of them at the mechanic, waiting for him. She stopped at the mechanic on Wednesday afternoon, and Dad had already picked them up.

We met at the restaurant, and had some more pictures, as well as DVDs of the theater productions the kids had been in. We ate and talked for about two hours about current events and activities the kids were in and what had been going on at the beach and things. We had a pleasant, normal time.
Then Dad’s phone rang. He looked at it, but didn’t answer it.
It was Mom.
It was Time For Him To Go.
He wasn’t rude or impolite, just Ready To Leave.
So we did. We said goodbye in the parking lot, and he said that he would be back through in a few weeks. He was looking for something in the car, and had been for almost two minutes before we drove off.

An Example & Other Things

•April 25, 2012 • 26 Comments

Here is a comment left by a bipolar who will remain anonymous unless she posts again.  I left the spelling, capitalization, punctuation exactly as it was.

people with bi-polar are extrememly intelligent and have insight beyond compare to normal people and its very hard to deal with the stupidity of so called normal people who will never be blessed with the gifts god gave us to rise above everyone else who isnt labeled mental, screw yas all, be thankful crazy people exist because they make life worth while, im done with rthis website and all the negative comments about us hard to deal with nut cases, dont judge til you walked a mile in our sheoes DUMMIES!

Notice the delusion of superiority (or adequacy), and wallowing in the joy of what everyone else calls an illness.  As to walking a mile in their shoes, how about trying to clean up the mess (both physical and emotional) that they leave in their wake?

Which brings up another topic I’ve been tossing around for a while but haven’t fully fleshed out.

When someone is first diagnosed with something, the doctors will usually go out of their way to tell them of famous people who have overcome their illness and gone on to to great things.  Lance Armstrong and Michael J. Fox come to mind, but all diseases have their stars and celebrities.

But WHY O WHY would you tell someone diagnosed with bipolar, which usually includes flights of fancy, invincibility, etc, of all the famous, talented, or important people who’ve also had bipolar.

Mom, in one of the rare instances where she briefly admitted that she had been diagnosed with bipolar, went on in the same breath to tell me that Robin Williams, Carrie Fisher, Mel Gibson, Winston Churchill, Vincent Van Gogh & Ernest Hemingway also had bipolar.  Unfortunately in her hypomanic state, she thought (and still does) that it meant that she was as funny as Robin Williams, as creative as Van Gogh, as articulate as Hemingway, as diplomatic as Churchill, etc.  Mom attributed herself with the best aspects of any famous person found to have bipolar.  From what I have heard from others, this wasn’t unusual.

And in lieu of another update post, I had two calls from Mom on my work phone last week.  Both were hangups, and came in back-to-back early Sunday morning.

Another Bipolar Mother

•January 1, 2012 • 8 Comments

The hits here have spiked recently, coinciding with the news that Newt Gingrich’s mother has bipolar. For anyone looking for that story, it appeared in ‘The Daily Beast’ at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/12/22/newt-gingrich-s-bipolar-mother-kit-gingrich-and-his-difficult-childhood.html.

According to the article, not only was his mother bipolar, but his mother divorced his father when he was less than a year old.  He found out about his natural father when he was 15, and confronted him in a traumatic fashion.  His adopted father was tyrannical, distant, and cold.

There are questions about whether Newt Gingrich inherited bipolar from his mother.  He certainly seems to have some signs that might point in that direction – affairs (plural), excessive energy & motivation, grandiose thoughts, risk taking.  But those could also be the result of the environment he was brought up in.

Mail Call

•August 26, 2011 • 13 Comments

I got a letter from Dad in last week’s post.  It read;

<Me>,

I will be brief & to the point!  I am appalled that so much time has gone by and you have refused to seek out Mom to reconcile!  In fact, Mom has tried & was rebuffed (<wife> slammed the door in her face & you rushed out and ordered her off your property)

The referenced incident occurred THREE AND A HALF YEARS AGO.

I have come by (after calling you) to see the children on several occasions in the past, only to be met outside & never asked in your home!  I am insulted!

Dad’s last visits were in February of this year (2011), and November 2009.

We have always tried to help you in the past – you asked for the loan to get you into your new home – we gave (loaned) you the money – your Buick blew an engine – we gave you <list of other stuff>!

I mention the above as it seems the more help we gave the more it was resented!

Well, the helping hands have now been withdrawn for everything & forever!

Mom’s cell phone # is <cell> if you care to call & attempt to reconcile, if not there will be no more contact between us.

Dad

I will expect the money by 1 Sept 11 or $200 a month  starting 1 Sep 11. Mail it to <street>

Well, it *looks* like Dad’s handwriting, but it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.  Some of the phrasing is definitely Mom, and some of it is definitely Dad.  Mom has always used guilt to try to get her way, and I see some of that here.  But it’s not done with Mom’s ‘flair’, so I assume it’s Dad.

My first reaction to the ‘call & attempt to reconcile or there will be no more contact’ was that the terms were acceptable. This makes more sense if you picture the alien from ‘Men in Black’ saying it when he takes the shotgun from the farmer’s ‘cold dead hands’.

As is usual for me, I procrastinated for a while, trying to decide if and how to respond.  The process has led me to an uncomfortable realization.  My desire is no longer for Mom to get treatment and restore some kind of relationship, but just for them both to go away and stay away.  I wouldn’t mind Dad, and the kids would get a lot out of him, but since they come as a group package, the cost is just too high.

I can no longer claim the moral high ground of ‘just wanting Mom to get help’.  I no longer care – as long as the people she drags into her spiral of insanity don’t include my family or I.

I Already Have A Bipolar Mother

•June 15, 2011 • 42 Comments

There are very few instances where I’ve denied or deleted comments.  Normally I just let them through without question, or occasional edits for profanity.  But this was directed at me and struck a nerve.  I’ve had this comment sitting in the moderation que for a week now, and it bugs me. I might be overly sensitive or conditioned to this kind of thing, but it bugs me none the less.

Some background from other comments she’s left:

  • It appears that this woman has bipolar, but *may* be getting treatment.
  • Two of her three children have cut off contact with her.
  • She recognized that her behavior has hurt her children.
  • She claims not to like the conflict caused between her and her daughters, and wishes to have their relationship restored.

Here’s the comment that I found troubling:

I was wondering if you would be willing to help me and in the process maybe I can help you in return? I love my children and ache when I read your blog. I would like to offer you a “mom” you can tell your feeligs to and have them validated and I would love a child I can share my empathy, love and compssion with. Maybe if we can make it work there is hope. Two out of my three children are not in communication with me at this time. I am hoping we can help each other understand the sane and the insane you began your blog with. My email is: <redacted>
May you find peace in your life.

Notice that there is no hope without my successful participation, and that I need her help (after I’ve helped her).  I’ve seen this kind of burden before.  It’s a guilt trip, and it’s toxic.

So, this woman who has chased off two of her own kids offers to make me an honorary ‘child’ she can share her ’empathy, love and compassion’ with.  Who wouldn’t find that appealing?

I think I’ve made it quite clear that I don’t need my feelings validated by anyone.  I understand well enough the ‘sane and insane’, and have no desire to get sucked into an emotional vortex with someone on the internet.

I already have a bipolar mother, I really don’t think I need another one.

Am I being harsh?

p.s. If this is you, and you wish to remain anonymous, don’t post in this thread.

Reminder From Mom & Report From Neighbors

•May 22, 2011 • 6 Comments

I got a call at work Friday morning from Mom.  She called to remind me that Dad’s birthday was this weekend, and he was home, while she was at the beach.  She said that since she wouldn’t be there, I should take the kids over and at least tell him happy birthday.  She also said something like ‘didn’t you have a birthday  a while ago’.  Yes, I did – last summer.

She also had burned her hand on the stove, and it was bandaged in the ER, but it still hurt.  She has an appointment for dental surgery some time in the next week or so.  Just so that I know.

And that was it.  Total conversation time under three minutes.

First, her mood.  She was sarcastic, and probably in a tightly controlled hypomanic state, judging by the speed and tone of her speech.

My first (guilt induced) thought was, maybe it would be a good idea to take the kids over to see Dad.  We’ve got a present that we found a while ago that he would really like.  Then a few minutes later it struck me that I was being manipulated.  I know that I should have known it from the minute she called, but the guilt conditioning runs deep.  Then I thought that Mom must have incredible intestinal fortitude to call and ask that I remember Dad’s birthday, when the only birthday they remember is my Daughter’s.  And both my Sons’ birthday were completely ignored by them this year.

So, I told my Wife about it when I got home, and she thought it was funny because ‘guess who she ran into at the store today’.  Dad’s neighbor & his formerly estranged wife – apparently they are now back together.  According to them, Mom is doing really well, normal even.  Dad on the other hand, has health problems, has been getting very forgetful, and was ‘lying in the ditch’.  The ditch thing seems to be a recurring theme for him – probably because his driveway is a little different than Dad’s.  Dad’s driveway has a concrete pipe under it that lets water get through.  Unfortunately it frequently clogs up with twigs and leaves, causing water to run around and undercut the mailbox.  About twice a year, it needs to be cleaned out to keep it from happening.  Usually, this means lying down in the ditch, using a shovel to remove the debris.  Because of the width of the driveway, you have to do it from both sides, and there is still an area in the middle you can’t reach.

My Wife asked me if I was considering seeing Dad, and I told her no.  Dad has told me every time I see him, that he will call or stop by ‘the next time he’s in town’, but he doesn’t.  I answer when he calls, and fit whatever he asks into the schedule.  If he doesn’t want to see us, I’m not going to force it.  His choice, and his loss.

*UPDATE*

I missed two calls from Mom’s cell on Saturday.  I was changing the window motor in my truck, and didn’t have the cell around – not that I probably would have answered anyway.   I finally got around to listening to them this morning.  Mom was calling just letting me know that Dad was home and eating lunch, so now would be a good time to go over, if I wanted to go over, which I probably didn’t, or my Wife wouldn’t let me.  And it was such a shame that I was depriving her grandchildren of benefiting from a relationship with my father, and I would really be sorry since he is getting old and won’t be around much longer.  And my kids would probably blame me for that, and treat me exactly the same way.’

Nothing new, and as usual Mom left all the contact numbers again, as if the reason I don’t call is that I don’t have the number or something.  And it’s funny, because this is the first time I’ve noticed, but Mom leaving those numbers sounds a lot like the computer generated voice that reads off numbers on some voicemail systems.

Done with that for a while, probably.  The next event where I *might* hear from Mom would be in early July.  That’s her birthday, but it is close to our wedding anniversary as well.  She hasn’t ‘reminded’ me of either in a year or so.