Bipolar disorder: Finding the right balance
Pamela Field, Mental Health column, For the Sun-News 8 a.m. MST December 2, 2016
“When Day Was Night” is the title of the book that Las Crucen Kathleen Sampson wants to write.
“I hope I can find the courage to write it,” she said as she talked candidly about her bipolar illness — which has encompassed much of her adult life.
As she described her journey, I have no doubt that she will do just that.
Sampson, who first sought treatment at the age of 36, said she had suffered from depression since she was a teenager, “but it would leave on its own,” she said.
While living in Jordan with her husband in 1987 she saw a psychiatrist and spent several years seeking out-patient care. Back in Las Cruces, in 1992 Sampson was hospitalized. She said she felt the stigma that comes with being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.
In 1978, she had married a college professor and had a promising career teaching at NMSU herself, but by the mid-90s all that changed.
“I lost my career, my marriage and had devastating losses,” she explained.
As a result, she willingly let her husband assume the parenting responsibilities.
Most people associate bipolar illness correctly with extreme mood swings. Sampson has what is termed as rapid cycling, which means she passes through the mood swings quicker, therefore making it very difficult to manage. For Sampson, that meant trying 25 different drugs.
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed as Bipolar I or II, and includes symptoms such as mania and hypomania, accompanied by depression.
Mania and hypomania are characterized by elevated moods, with mania causing more disruption in the person’s life.
During both episodes the person may be irritable, practice risky behavior and need little sleep. Although there depression occurs, when those with bipolar disorder are going through a manic phase is when they are at greater risk for suicide. It has been estimated that the risk of suicide with people with bipolar illness is greater than 6 percent over 20 years, and self-harm occurs in 30-40 percent of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Sampson said she spent years in the hypomanic phase, and it was during this period that she “traveled the back roads of New Mexico and started doing photography.”
Eventually, over 20 years, she had amassed a collection of photos, describing that like as living as a vagabond.
“I could not stay put,” she said.
It was during this 20 year period of trying to get the meds right that she said she lost more people in her life
“I ran them off,” she said.
She pursued her creative talents while sleeping in her car and renting cheap motel rooms.
Then she went into full blown mania, which led to hospitalization and sleeping for four days.
Going on nine years, now, she has described this time as stable. This has involved medications, therapy and pursuing wellness.
Sampson is a prolific writer and has written and published a book of poetry. She is an avid nature lover and considers solitude as an important part of her recovery.
It is nearly impossible not to be affected by the tremendous gratitude Sampson has felt for the life she has now. For someone who once said “I am Humpty Dumpty and they can’t put me together again,” she now has a life filled with hope. For her this includes her four grandchildren, and three daughters — two with PhDs and one who graduated from a naval academy.
What an accomplished life! And she is just getting started.
Pamela Field is a psychiatric nurse and can be reached at 575-312-2288 and email@example.com.