Open Tabs

“Warn me when I attempt to close multiple tabs.”

It’s a friendly reminder at the top of your laptop screen.

It’s a metaphor for those living with bipolar disorder.

brain tabs

My earliest experience with the illness was at 6 yrs. of age. Of course, no one used the words, but it was clear that my mother was suffering. Hers started as a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; the result of a shocking and sudden death of our grandmother.

Grandma lived with us since my parents’ marriage, and  assumed all the roles traditionally held by mothers in the 1950’s. She was the one who maintained the home and nurtured this family of 3 young children. She was the rock of the family and insisted on contributing in this way; allowing our mother to keep a much-loved job outside the home for the first decade or so.

She died of sudden cardiac arrest on our living room sofa, while we were coloring Easter eggs. Our mother was thrust into a role for which she was not prepared. She dodged the challenges normally faced by women in the early years of marriage and child-rearing. There was no escaping them now; and it sent her into a catatonic shock.

Hospitalization, ECT, therapy and medications only put a temporary bandage on the situation. After several months of missing school and being farmed out to relatives and friends, we returned home to find the new Mom.

As adults, we learned the details of her mental illness, especially when she relapsed into a major mania 20 years later. It was a dark family secret up until then; it was not a subject that my father would discuss, even though it affected us all in very personal ways. That is the true shame of it all. We were denied the open dialog. We had to hide it from friends and neighbors.

We carried that shame forward. We learned the code of silence. We saw it practiced every day in our youth.

It ended for me when I turned 40; after a few questionable episodes, a lot of doubt and denial, I walked into a doctor’s office and asked for medication. I had gone the route of talk-therapy, spirituality, eastern philosophy, dietary modification, exercise therapy; all of which became a bit of a game for me, and I was tired of playing.

You could say I pretty much diagnosed myself. I had already had 2 minor manic episodes, both due to situational depression. I assumed the diagnosis would be Bipolar; the doctor classified it as “atypical mood disorder”. He prescribed Lithium; said when I was feeling better, could go off of it for periods of time. I took this advice. Later physicians said this was a mistake; that I should never risk a major episode by self-adjusting the meds.

I had witnessed my mother, both on and off of medication, and I’m not sure which was worse…the mood swings and violent temper; or the zombie-like state achieved on a cocktail of psychotropic drugs.  One doctor actually recommended that she get pregnant again, citing the positive benefits of hormonal changes. She had 3 more children. It worked, at least until it no longer did.

With all these observations, and after doing my own adult research, I have had long periods without incident, and without medication; sometimes as long as 2 years at a stretch. It is during those times, that my “tabs” greatly expand. They led to very productive career changes, new hobbies and interests, a return to the arts. I could draw, paint, write, and best of all, develop a photography hobby into a paid profession.


I have managed my best to keep the open tabs under control; and take advantage of the positive energy. Maybe it is creativity; maybe it is hypomania. Time will tell and I am ever-vigilant.

This entry was posted in Art, Childhood, Depression, Family, Memories, Mental Health, Photography, Work and Career, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Open Tabs

  1. Open Tabs, a very interesting, creative way to write your personal story, and with thoughtful management of Bipolar Disorder. I believe creativity no matter what art form it takes comes from all parts of a brain response. I like the Dr. Seuss quote to put it simply: “Think left and think right and think high and think low. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”

  2. Thank you Christine. You had me at “Dr. Seuss”.

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