Bipolar Does Not Steal Your Life: Take a Vacation to the Sunniest City in the U.S.

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Bipolar Does Not Steal Your Life: Take a Vacation to the Sunniest City in the U.S.

Yuma has three hundred and sixty-two days of sun a year. Manic? Relax as you soak up the sun. Depressed? Swim, run, walk. Enjoy the sunshine.

I was going to Yuma for a month. I planned to drive cross-country in my car, a 2020 BMW Roadster. The car was a warning sign of my illness. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I played with the bells and whistles. When I found the start button, drive and reverse, I drove out of the lot. I drove to my son’s house. “You’ve got to see this. I’ll give you a ride.” He didn’t want a ride. He wanted to find out what happened to me. I drove to friends’ homes. I thought they would want a ride. They saw dilated eyes. My voice was shrill. This wasn’t enthusiasm. It was manic excitement.

In August 2019 I attended a conference in Dayton, Ohio. I acted out of character. I gave away money. I ran from person to person, introducing myself. I was on to the next person before I learned anyone’s name. By the time the conference ended I was over the top.

I was sick and needed help. My son called a psychiatrist and made an appointment. The doctor surprised me when he diagnosed bipolar disease. My son told him my plans to drive to Yuma.. “Fly” the psychiatrist said. “Wait until your medication takes effect. If you want to go right away, you need to fly.”
I was looking forward to driving to Yuma with my dog, Gracie. We would have a great time. I would drive seventeen-hundred twenty-five miles to my sister’s house. Situated on the border between Arizona and Mexico,

Yuma is a big city. I should do what my doctor said. “If you insist on going, do not drive. Fly.” My son agreed. He was afraid I’d get confused or stuck on the side of the road. He worried I would forget to take my medication. I told him I’d fly. Even that wasn’t good enough. I should wait. My kids worried I wouldn’t find my gate. I’d flown for five years working as a consultant with the Federal Head Start Program. I would be fine.

My son wanted me to be accountable to my older sister. Was I that ill? I complied with the reporting-in idea. I wanted to get going. I wanted to get to the land of blue skies, warm sun and hot air.

Gracie is my cocker spaniel. I couldn’t leave her for a month. “She’s a good dog. She obeys commands. “She’ll miss you, but she won’t feel abandoned,” Jim, her veterinarian said. He and his receptionist would care for her until I returned. Mary put a gate between her area and the reception counter. The gate would keep Gracie from getting into trouble with other animals. Good enough.

I was ready for an adventure. I was flying and I didn’t like it. My trip didn’t start well. During a layover at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, I left my bag with another woman while I used the restroom. Have you ever left your carry-on with a stranger? I didn’t hear the announcements over the PA system. It was loud throughout the airport. Everyone heard. There was no excuse for missing the warning. I might have heard it and thought it didn’t apply to me. Delusion can be part of my illness. The stranger asked me to watch her bags while she used airport facilities. That went well. Wasn’t that enough to trust her? I knew better, but really? I didn’t have trouble in the past. When I returned to my gate, the woman and my bag were gone.

Big mistake. I would have been insulted if my kids reminded me of airport rules. I wished they would have told me to hang onto my purse. My valuables were in my bag.

In retrospect, I pose a question. If my son was concerned, why didn’t he warn me to take my bag with me to the restroom? Why should he? He had enough questions and worries. Besides that, I’ve always been independent. I was a sixty-nine-year old widow who knew her way around an airport. I wanted my family to stop meddling in my affairs.

By the time I arrived in Yuma, my sister and brother-in-law had their concerns. My sister didn’t know how ill I was. I didn’t make sense in phone calls before the trip, but not enough for her to worry. She saw me and worried. I worried. What if I had a psychotic episode in front of her? I didn’t know psychosis could be part of my illness. I found out by checking Mayo’s website and following up with my son and doctor. My anxiety soared.

My flight was smooth and short. The flight attendants did all they could to make sure I was comfortable. I don’t fear flying but l craved the attention. Only one issue left. I was thinking about my bag. My visit to the washroom was not necessary. Why did I feel compelled? Although attempts to locate my bag failed, I didn’t think to check lost and found. My lost bag was inconsequential compared to my family’s worries.
I’ll tell you what was in that bag. My passport. I usually carried it with me. My pockets weren’t big enough. There goes any trip to Mexico. There went my credit cards. American Express, Amazon Prime and my bank card. All lost somewhere between Phoenix and Yuma. Oh, yes, I had three whole dollars in my wallet. Thank God I tucked my driver’s license deep into my pocket. I had my license.

I would use my license to secure payment on my room, I thought. It didn’t matter what I said. The amiable young woman at the desk couldn’t offer that. I hoped the company authorized her to accept my license guaranteeing my room, I slid it across the counter. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t take my license for payment. She could not alter room rates. She could make changes in room assignments. She offered water and snacks at no charge. “I can give you other examples of what I can do.” she said. “I cannot use your license.

I thanked her and asked my sister if she would use her credit card. She agreed. After paying for my room. Step one finished. She and her husband helped enough, but we made another trip to borrow $50 from my brother-in-law. I reminded him about my missing bag’s contents. He loaned the cash to me with the stipulation I promise not to lose it and would repay him when my bag arrived.

The next morning, I woke with the sun. I was going enjoy my first day in paradise. The air was cool. I was not. I loved it. I could stay here forever. I visited with people. Too many people in the beginning. When I settled down, I stopped talking without end. I didn’t tell anyone about my illness. I started limiting friends. I asked questions about their lives instead of yammering about my own. I worked hard. Each time hearing my talk about myself. I tried to stay curious. My family would be proud of me.

I alternated between my room, poolside and the pool. I worked on my novel daily. If it is not too much to edit, I would publish by late summer. If I finish writing by June and editing goes well, I could make my deadline. I had trouble with hypomania at the time and slept little. I may be crazy, but I enjoy the click of my keyboard as much as I like making up a story.

What was this illness getting in my way? I was showing mild symptoms of bipolar disorder by age fifteen. A psychiatrist diagnosed my daughter when she was fifteen. Why did it take until I was sixty-nine-years old to figure it out? My symptoms were under control and I didn’t realize anything was wrong. Why wasn’t I diagnosed earlier? Diagnosed sooner, my life might have been better. The doctors’ words scared me. I didn’t know what I would face the rest of my life.

By the time vacation started, I was sick of family comments about my mental health. I loved them, and they were expressing their concern. By day nine of my trip, my sister wasn’t visiting as often; she wasn’t hauling me to the gas station or the ATM for more cash. She nagged me enough. “Will you take your medications?” she asked. Can you believe she wanted to put my meds in pill keeper? She told me it wasn’t her idea. My son asked her to sort my pills.

Mood-stabilizing medications were not the only meds I was taking. Did they think I was too dumb to put them in the correct compartment for the appropriate day? I took medication for other conditions for six years. I knew how to keep them in order. I knew when and how to take them. “No more.” I told her to get off my back. I said I’d had enough. The next words were mean. I told her I know how to take the damn pills. I wanted a break. She wanted to know I was safe. I decided to let her fill my pill case. I handed my medication and pill pack to her. I didn’t like sorting anyway. She was happy and I got out of doing something I didn’t like to do. I decided if anything like that came up in the future, I would let her do it.

I hate medicine and don’t take pills unless I needed them. It was not often. I continued to reassure my family. I would take my pills as directed on the bottles. I wasn’t taking many pills. I was one of the lucky ones. When I got home, my doctor prescribed my new medication cocktail.

The last half of vacation was glorious. The kids no longer worried about my safety. They didn’t worry if I was dangerous to myself or others. My son said he would not fly out. My sister and her husband backed off. They didn’t call. I called them when I wanted to talk with them. They stopped monitoring my behavior. I continued to tell them stories about my behavior. I told them I was better. Could I reassure them?

The next days I was on my own. I had solitude when I wanted it. I observed. I got comfortable being with myself. I made friends. Some became friends I will correspond with. We talked about visiting each other’s homes. We would vacation together in Yuma the following year.

I enjoyed the people I met. I met them at the pool. I met them at Happy Hour. I met them in the lobby. I was not frantic. I didn’t talk nonstop. I was vacationing the way I wanted. Long days at the pool. Swimming, writing and knitting, I was happy. If others wanted to talk, great! That made me happy. When it was time for my return trip, my family reminded me to hold my bag close. They told me to follow airport rules. No matter what, stay safe. Come home soon. I knew now that they were right about me. I accepted their directions. All went well.

My vacation lasted thirty days. I slowed down, talked less, sat still longer. I found the way to myself. It was hard work. I knew I wasn’t my illness. I loved being aware. I loved knowing who I was. I may have another cycle of depression or mania. It may come next week. It may not return. Recovery tastes sweet. I was ready to go home. I had a great vacation and got my life back.

2 Responses

  1. Maribeth Hankwitz
    | Reply

    Dear Sally, I am so relieved to hear you are safe at home. We have been friends since third grade. Thank you for sharing your story. I have read your blogs and can see myself through your depression, I too suffer. You came to my side when my husband died, I am forever grateful. I wish we lived closer so we could visit and pray together. You are in my thoughts. Don’t hesitate calling whenever you want to,no matter the time. Take care my friend and God Bless Sally Wilke.
    Love you my friend.
    Maribeth

  2. Sally L. Wilke
    | Reply

    thanks for your compassionate response. Here’s a funny correction for you. I went to school in Milwaukee for third grade. We met when we were in fourth grade. It doesn’t matter to me. I only want to help you keep your facts straight.

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