Lessons from the NAMI Convention: How to Prepare for Emergencies

John McManamy Health Guide
  • At the recent NAMI convention in Washington DC I got a chance to have breakfast with Judy Eron, author of “What Goes Up.” In her book, Judy tells the story no one ever wants to tell, how her husband and soul mate Jim went off his lithium, became enthralled to his mania, turned into a completely different person - reckless and delusional and unfaithful and abusive - and ultimately took his own life.

    As well as writing a book, Judy speaks throughout the country, mostly at her own expense. Judy is adamant that no one should ever have to experience what she went through, what Jim went through. Informing anyone who will listen is not her day job, but it is her life’s work.
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    In the course of our conversation, Judy asked me what arrangements my wife Sophy and I had in place. Sophy, like me, also has bipolar disorder, and our marriage can be very interesting at times.

    Judy’s question caught me completely by surprise. In the two-and-a-half years we have been married, Sophy and I have come to many informal understandings, but nothing that can be interpreted as a binding contract. For instance, if Sophy happens to mention at five in the evening that she hasn’t had anything to eat all day I am all over her like a bad cop. No Mr Nice Guy. I let her know in no uncertain terms that she is putting her health, her life, and our marriage at risk.

    Similarly, Sophy can sink her teeth into me like a Doberman with a personality disorder. Recently, she busted me for cycling over the speed limit. Fortunately, I had the good sense to listen to her, and was able to manage my way down to a soft landing.

    But what Judy was driving at was something far more serious. What she wanted to know was under what conditions did Sophy have the authority to take over my life, to make the executive decisions, and get me into treatment, against my will, if necessary. Conversely, under what conditions would I be allowed to take charge of Sophy?

    Suppose, for instance, I had not listened to Sophy about my hypomania, and decided to stay out all night. Suppose this caused me to rev up into a higher gear. Suppose I went off my meds. Suppose …

    A light bulb went off. The two of us, I realized, would have to sit down and talk, have a whole series of talks, and slowly work our way to some formal agreements.

    First up, what constitutes legitimate happiness and what is the false high of over-the-top hypomania? Sometimes acting like Jim Carrey on speed is normal for me. Fortunately, Sophy understands this. Most people don’t. Fortunately, she also recognizes when I’m feeling too good for my own good. I trust her judgment on this and am willing to bet my life on it.

    More things to consider: Adherence to meds, lifestyle regimens, and stay well plans. How to resolve minor blow-ups. “Acceptable” bad behavior vs behavior no one should have to tolerate. What to do when things start going wrong. And the $64,000 dollar question: At what point does Sophy take over, in effect become my emergency frontal lobes?

  • I don’t have any answers – yet. But thanks to Judy’s penetrating question I will. And so will Sophy. Judy may have thought she was just paying for my breakfast, but she initiated something that may one day save my life. Or Sophy’s. Thank you, Judy. From now on, I pick up the tab.
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Published On: July 07, 2006