July 11, 2007
by Larry Drain
July 11, 2007. That's the day we found out the name of the elephant in our room.
My wife, Linda, was bipolar.
Linda and I have been married for 26 years and we knew about coping with bad things. Linda
had been born with epilepsy. Seven years ago a good day was 10-15 grand mal seizures and
she didn't have too many good days. She tried medicine after medicine to little
effect. Sometimes it was not clear if the seizures were worse than the side effects of the
medicines that she took. Hope was always fragile, always resting in the next new thing that
was soon replaced by another next new thing. Life for Linda was like living in a
cloud. There was one big difference though. Clouds go away.
Finally she got hurt really bad. She fell down a flight of stairs during a seizure, hit her
face on the banister and literally broke her face. She looked like I had taken a baseball
bat and beaten her half to death. She used to tell me that she couldn't go to the store
because people would stare at her. I'd tell her no—they are staring at me trying to figure out
what kind of monster I am to do that to you.
The neurologist finally figured out what we already knew. No medication was going to
help. He told us that brain surgery was the only option. She had her amygdala and
hippocampus removed and the seizures went away—for a short time.
When they did come back they came back with a vengeance. Four years later she was in
Vanderbilt Hospital having close to 100 seizures a day. Now finally the seizures seem under
control. They are still there, but no longer does Linda tell people what kind of day she
had by giving them the seizure count.
The surgery though took Linda to a place she had never been before. Disabilities that had
never existed prior to the surgery took control of her life. Her memory was shot and
because of that she begin to have problems learning. She couldn’t concentrate. She
loved to read all her life, but sometimes found that now she had no comprehension. She
became noise sensitive. Noise at times—any noise—was at times physically painful. She
could get lost going from one room to the other. She
could have the same conversation 3 times in 10 minutes and not remember any of them. And
that was only the tip of the iceberg. One doctor told her she now had a new label—traumatic
But there was something else wrong and we knew it. Linda was a good and a kind person, but
at times she was seemingly drowned in moods that overtook her and hijacked her to a place that
sometimes we wondered if she was coming back from. We explained it in terms of seizures, of
surgery and when all else failed medicine side effects. There were so many explanations
that we never bothered to look right in front of us. There were a lot of red flags, but we
were color-blind. Even when there was nothing "physically wrong" something was
always in the way. Hope seemed a cruel delusion, always being dashed for reasons that we
never clearly understood, but seemingly always present. Life sometimes seemed like little
more than waiting for the next bad thing to happen. Even though we couldn't see the
elephant we knew he was there. All we had to do was look at the path of destruction he
Linda had gotten a vagus nerve stimulator implanted in her chest 3 years ago to help control
seizures. It never really seemed to work and was giving her lots of problems. She had
talked to doctors about getting it out, but felt like they never really listened to her. It
was a point of growing stress.
On the night of July 10th, while at work, I had gotten several hysterical phone calls from
her. She told me that she was fed up with them lying to her and if they wouldn’t take it
out she would. I didn’t really take her serious. After all who cuts their own chest
open? I had seen her really upset before and figured she just needed a chance to calm
When I got home she was asleep and it was the next morning before I found out what had
happened. She had cut a large gash in her chest and then took a hammer and beat herself in
the chest trying to break the stimulator. Her chest was black and blue and badly
swollen. She started up again and I told her if she didn't stop I was calling the
police. She took off out the door.
I helped the police to search for over 2 hours and found no sign of her. I thought she was
dead. No words could express what I felt. It was a swirling combination of fear,
dread, rage, and guilt that made me feel like I had fallen into a space I could never return
from. We went back to search the house for a last time. We found her hiding in a
closet. She scared the police officer so bad he almost pulled out his gun and shot
That was the day we found out the name of the elephant. Linda was
bi-polar. She spent a horrifying week in a psychiatric hospital and we began to try to put
our lives back together again.
In retrospect it was so obvious. It was so easy to see we never saw it. She had
serious problems with mood that we had always tried to explain by something else. There had
been a series of problems that had been getting worse for some time. She would get very
depressed and talk about suicide. She would get very angry and there would be no way to
slow her down or calm her. I began to just walk away and wait for it to end. My kids
and I learned not just to walk on glass, but that there was glass everywhere.
There was just so much to look at we never looked right in front of our face. Linda's
father, it appears now, may have been bi-polar. Epilepsy can be associated with a higher
degree than normal of depression or mood disorders. The brain surgery removed some parts of
her brain associated with the management and regulations of moods. There were a thousand
red flags, but we were color-blind.
Even with all this Linda was still the most loving and caring person that I knew. She loved
God and she loved her family and would do absolutely anything she could do to help someone in
distress. At times she just "went away." In so many ways she was a
testimony to strength, love, and faith. As I came to understand the weight she was carrying
I came to understand what a miracle she was.
Now our elephant has a name and our life has changed dramatically. There is something
about being able to call things by their right name that gives you freedom. What you can
name you can see. What you can see you can live with. What you can live with you can
triumph over. With medication, therapy, and lifestyle management we have finally found an
answer to a question long unanswered. Hope need not be wishful thinking. It can be
real. Recovery is possible and we are recovering. We have learned that recovery is
not a place you go or a something you have, but a way you live and with that living you can go to
better and better places.
The elephant still tries to hide and do its damage unseen. That's where his
real power lies, but he is finding that harder and harder to do. The first place we look
right now is right in front of our eyes. Linda still has her struggles, as we do. She
is indeed a warrior, but like all warriors she sometimes grows weary of the battle and I know she
is looking forward to easier days.
Me too. We are thankful every day for the blessings God has given us. I thank Him in
particular for helping us to find out that she is bi-polar. For us it has not been the end
of the world, but the beginning of a new one.
Hope does work. It need not be wishful thinking. It need not be a lie. We know
now that if we do what we need to do that, Linda as a person with bi-polar disorder and us as the
people who know her and love her, have a better and better life ahead—together.
We decided to tell our story. The more you share your hope with others, the more that comes
back to you. We started a new chapter of the DBSA in our county. The day before our
first meeting the local paper ran our story, complete with pictures and all details. I'll
never forget what one lady said in the first meeting. Crying she faced the group,
"Tonight is the first time I have ever felt safe talking about what my life is
like." I knew then hope does work.