MEEMAW'S WILD RIDE

Born in 1951. Grew up cultivating crops and raising livestock on a small farm in rural  Tennessee with my two brothers and our father and mother (widowed in  1959).  

Voted “Most Likely to Succeed” female by my high school peers. Married my high school sweetheart soon after graduation (1969-1981). Earned a PhD in mathematics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1979. Optimized scientific computer programs for one of the world's fastest supercomputers (1979-1989).

So far successful by most standards? However, looming from my past were noticeable early indicators of my mental illness that went undiagnosed. 

As a child I was labeled “high strung.” Later I began experiencing unpredictable changes in mood, poor judgment, and excessive talking. In my twenties  symptoms of mental illness were heightened by periods of extreme energy, occasional  lofty ideas about myself and my abilities, and euphoria, especially near the end of my  first marriage in 1981. Had these symptoms been diagnosed and treated, my first  psychotic episode might have been preventable.

In October 1982 I married a brilliant, successful engineer/inventor/entrepreneur. By the end of that year I’d landed in a psych ward in North Palm Beach because a shower head told me to go to the Intracostal Waterway and scream when I saw a small plane overhead to alert my husband of my whereabouts…only problem was the shower head forgot to tell me to put on some clothes! I was diagnosed with schizophrenia (later changed to bipolar disorder).  

Psychotic behavior didn’t end with this first hospitalization. I became psychotic after the birth of our first child in November 1983. Her father had to bring her home without me. The psychiatric hospital gave me weekend passes to visit her until my mental health improved  enough to assist her grandmothers in her care.   

I didn't experience a manic episode after our son was born in 1985. Nonetheless, I averaged one psychotic episode per year during our eight-year marriage. One time my husband saved my life by sprinting to the porch to flip the main switch in the circuit box when he heard both the hairdryer and water running in a locked bathroom. It would have been ruled a suicide. How could anyone have known what was going on inside my brain? That I thought I was Jesus and therefore invincible!  

After our divorce in 1990, I worked part-time at Oak Ridge National Laboratory while consulting with a diverse customer base for a wide range of high-performance computers.  In 1993 I founded ApoCom, a biotech software company that licensed, developed, and  marketed DNA sequence analysis software internationally. 

In 1995 I experienced another psychotic episode. I'd given my van to a neighbor  and other prized possessions to children who had walked past my house, but I had not harmed anyone. On a Sunday while neighbors were leaving for church services, several police  cars showed up in front of my house. They broke into my home and found me in my  bedroom reading my dad’s Bible. When I resisted giving it up, they handcuffed my hands  behind my back, bound my legs with tape, and picked me up. One began beating me on my back with a billy stick, but they dropped me on the floor when I said, “I’m not Rodney  King!” 

The local state mental institution refused to take me, so they took me to a small, little known private hospital where I was locked in a cage with only a metal frame cot without bedding. Later I asked a nurse to check my back for bruises. She said there were many, but refused to believe my story, saying “Now Honey, you know it was a  friend or family member that beat you like that!” I didn’t report the incident because one of the last things a business owner wants is negative press on the front page of a newspaper! Though I never learned who sent the police to my house, I was too embarrassed to live in my neighborhood, so my children and I moved into an apartment  across town for a few months.    

Comparing stories about my mental illness episodes with my professional  accomplishments along the same timeline, none of this makes sense! How could I have  accomplished anything during these times of extreme mental illness? But I WAS  successful, even meeting with Nobel Laureate Dr. James Watson at his invitation in 1998 at the pinnacle of my short 20-year career. 

And how could my children have become so successful? My daughter is a PharmD and has a one-year-old baby. My son is an  Emergency Medicine Physician with a Clinical Informatics subspecialty. He has three children under the age of seven.  

Excessive medications and subsequent obesity (up to 200 pounds) led to other issues such as diabetes and heart disease which, when combined with worsening mental  illness, left me disabled after 2000. During the past two decades I’ve had a quadruple bypass heart surgery, broken a hip, wasn’t permitted to drive because of excessive daytime  sleepiness, and often had to be fed in public due to extreme hand tremors.  In January 2012  my memory and cognitive skills were so poor that it took me a month to solve a simple math problem. Later that year, upon my psychiatrist’s recommendation, I was admitted into a  comprehensive long-term care facility (presumed to be permanent).


BUT GOD...had a different plan for my life. I remembered a sermon I’d heard years ago (”You Gotta Have the Want To”) by Rev. Allan C. Oggs, Sr. At birth, he was diagnosed with severe  cerebral palsy and was never supposed to walk, talk, or see. He said as a child he fell  frequently, “But You Gotta Get Up Again!” By the grace of God, he had a family and became a Protestant minister who preached all over the United States for over fifty years. 
My first grandchild gave me my “WANT TO.” She was over a year old and I’d never been able to stand up and hold her due to my risk for falls. Observing that the facility’s administrative staff didn’t work on Sundays and the nurses usually stayed in the nursing  home wing, one Saturday night I called my transportation service and “broke out” early  the next morning!   


After I “escaped” near the end of 2012, I changed my PCP to the Family Medicine Physician who'd pinpointed lithium as a major cause of my balance and leg spasm issues. I had been on so many medications that each time I saw him he felt like a failure  if he couldn’t take me off at least two or three of them. My health dramatically improved! During a visit in June 2013 I told him I’d made a mobile app for my granddaughter’s 2nd birthday. Looking shocked, he wrote in my chart “And her brain is back!” Beginning in the 90s when I was uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions, my out-of-pocket  prescription drug costs had averaged over $2000/month, but they dropped to less than  $600 for the entire year in 2013!    


I was elated that most of my health issues were under control, but I often remarked,  “This bipolar disorder isn’t going anywhere unless there’s a major medical  breakthrough!” I still had periods of manic symptoms, including incessant talking,  euphoria, racing thoughts, difficulty focusing, poor judgment, and overactivity,  interspersed occasionally with depression.  Despite my doubt and unbelief, a church pastor volunteered to pray for me on my 65th  birthday  (Feb 2016), telling me God neither caused nor wanted me to be mentally ill and  asked me to never say “I am mentally ill” again.    


My daughter could tell right away that I was different—just by talking with me by phone.  I listened without talking incessantly and I could focus. In April 2016 I visited my son and his  family in Chicago. When I arrived I asked if he could tell my mental health had improved considerably. He said, “Mom, I’ve  known you to be mentally ill for over 30 years!  You haven’t been here an hour and you expect  me to say you’re not?”   


 Before that visit I wasn’t able to keep my two granddaughters alone for more than four hours due to my mental illness. The first night they left me alone with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a four-month-old while they went only five minutes away. I was the baby’s first sitter. By the weekend I was caring for all three of them by myself for over 12 hours while their parents went to "The City,” an hour and a half commute away. If anyone doubts my remission, that’s the only "proof" they need!    


My experiences with bipolar disorder can be summed up by three of my family  members. After my daughter was told by a middle school friend that her parents wouldn’t allow  her to come to her slumber party because “Her mother is crazy, and she might  hurt you!”, she asked me, “Why couldn’t you have cancer, or Parkinson’s disease, or  MS? Anything but bipolar disorder! Because if you had one of those, people would  understand and try to help us. Nobody understands bipolar disorder!”    


My older brother recently said, “Ruth Ann, I’ve known you over 60 years. Many times I  don’t understand the things you say and do. I will never understand bipolar disorder, but  I love you unconditionally!”    


Finally, a cousin once told me that while praying for me she felt God was telling her to  tell me that HE UNDERSTANDS BIPOLAR DISORDER and my conflicting behavior that  often randomly oscillated between piety and hedonism, especially during elevated  states of mania. God is merciful and forgiving. Even though I have often rebelled  against Him, His Grace is sufficient for me.


--Meemaw 

   2016 



















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Ruth Ann Manning,
Oct 12, 2018, 6:53 AM