Finding Support Through Family: Lynn’s Story
Lynn may not have a large support network, but it certainly is mighty.
By Millie Guerrero
Lynn M. finds peace and solace after difficult days by sitting on the swing in her back porch and watching the riverbank.
“It’s very calming,” she says about the surroundings of her Selma, Alabama, home. “You can just get lost in the water going by and the beautiful birds and the sounds of the bullfrogs and crickets at night.”
Lynn, 58, has lived with bipolar disorder for the past 30 years. She finds that her small home in a quiet neighborhood helps keep her calm and find balance.
“I’ve lived here for 25 years,” she says. “I could never live back in town again. It’s just peaceful and quiet with a long street of houses aligned on the riverbank. Everyone is very nice.”
These days, Lynn often feels troubled by her father’s recent death, caused by major heart surgery for a blocked artery, as well as a host of other family concerns.
During her particularly down days, she turns on old-style country music to drown out her negative thoughts.
“Whenever I’m feeling really bad, I’ll … dance around the kitchen,” she says. “It gets my mind to quit thinking about what I was thinking about before. Here I am 58, and I still play it loud.”
“It doesn’t pull me out of a deep depression or anything,” she says, “but it’s just one of those things that helps me get through the days.”
Lynn was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 28. However, her mother believes Lynn has suffered from the illness her entire life. Several of Lynn’s family members have bipolar disorder, including her father, grandparents and uncles.
“In high school, I did all the bad stuff that you do when you are out of control,” she says. “Now, I know it’s not all my fault.”
Lynn says she was promiscuous and used alcohol and drugs in a misguided effort to ease her pain. She wouldn’t learn until much later in her life that hypersexuality and substance abuse are commonly related to untreated bipolar disorder.
“My morals were very loose,” she says. “I was turning to drugs and drinking just trying to get relief from all of those voices in your head, telling you horrible things about yourself.”
Lynn’s illness also has damaged her relationships and ability to work. She has been married five times. “Men can’t cope with this,” she says. “They can’t handle a woman who has mood swings like I do.”
She also has worked a variety of jobs, but applied for and received disability in 1992 because of her deteriorating health. Lynn’s parents, particularly her mother, have been her strength throughout her entire life.
“She would do anything for me,” she says of her mother. “Sometimes, in the middle of the night I’d wake up with a panic attack. I would pick up the phone and she was there in a couple of minutes. I’d call my mama and say ‘I need you right now’ and she was there for me. She would come and sit on the bed beside me and she would hold my hand and tell me that things are going to be alright.”
It was that patient reassurance that kept Lynn from giving up.
“She puts her arms around me and holds me just like as if I were a little girl. She knows when things are bad,” says Lynn. “All she has to do is talk with me on the telephone and she can tell by the tone in my voice whether I’m depressed or manic. Having my mother and children kept me from killing myself in my mind. I think about how terrible they would feel.”
After the recent death of her father, Lynn finds that she now has to be the “strong one” and take care of her 85-year old mother.
“My mama was always the strong person, but everybody loved daddy so much,” she says. “I’m trying to do the best I can.”
Now, Lynn leans on her two daughters, Cindy, 37, and Susan, 34, for support. Neither woman has bipolar disorder.
“I’ve tried not to be a burden,” Lynn says. Cindy “says ‘Mama, you stop acting like that, you’ll never be a burden to me.’ She can see right through me.”
Susan, who lives nearby, calls every night to make sure that Lynn is OK. These calls also give Lynn a chance to talk to her 15-yearold grandson. Even if it is only a two-minute conversation, Lynn says it makes her day.
“It just gives me a lift,” she says. “It picks your heart up a little bit. If you’re feeling really sad or lonely, a call from Susan gives me a positive jolt. It makes me think somebody loves me out there.”
Lynn raised her children on her own and says that she often feels guilty about how her illness impacted them. She remembers leaving the girls with babysitters to frequent bars. She often worries that she didn’t give them enough attention.
“I actually apologized to both of my girls because of the things that went wrong during this illness,” she says. “I had so much guilt inside of me (because) of what I had done. But, gosh, they wound up being great girls. And I was so afraid that I messed them up. They turned out so well that I must have done something right.”
Although having the support of her family is a major factor in her life, Lynn also seeks help from her church. Lynn talks with her pastor every week for spiritual counsel.
“I can talk to him about every aspect of my life and he doesn’t judge me,” she says. “He’s done everything he could do to understand my bipolar disorder. You don’t meet a lot of people like that, who want to understand what you are really going through.”
Lynn says that kind of friendship and support brings her comfort. She also sees a therapist each week and a psychiatrist each month. She says she has tried a variety of medications, but finds that no combination to date has controlled her rapid cycling.
“I pray for the people who make the medicine so I can find something to help me,” she says.
Even so, Lynn’s illness hasn’t stopped her from trying to make the best of her life. She involves herself in activities that keep her motivated and busy.
“I love arts and crafts, and that’s what I’ve always relied on,” she says. “I recently started making beaded jewelry. I like that a lot. It keeps my hands busy.”
Lynn says she hasn’t come across many people who have dealt with bipolar disorder as long as she has, but she says she is proud that she’s been able to summon the strength and courage to keep moving forward.
Lynn credits “shear guts and willpower” with her continued success.
“Every day, you just got to get out of the bed (and) keep going,” she says. “Sometimes, you think you aren’t going to make it. But I’m still here and pushing it everyday. I’m still here and I’m still trying.”
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Lynn’s wellness tips
- Keep in touch with your family because they can be your lifeline.
- Talk with your pastor and be open to discussing your problems.
- If you have a strong suicidal feeling, go to the emergency room and get help.
- Listen to music or get a hobby to distract you on bad days.
- Visit your therapist regularly.
- Find a place to go that brings you peace.
- Get a pet to help eliminate loneliness.
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Printed as “Pushing Forward… One Day at a Time“, Summer 2007