Monday, April 25, 2011

'The Autobiography of Rob Love'...the ups and downs of being bi-polar

"The Autobiography of Rob Love: Ups and Downs of Bipolar Disorder" floated around my house for months before I picked it up to read. Weeks went by with it nestled in a stack of books by my bedroom night stand. It then lingered for more weeks at my writing desk. The holidays came and went. I went to Mexico for a vacation. Still I hadn't read it.
Why? Because I knew Rob's book would have an impact on me. Maybe a sad one.
There was an impact, but more inspirational than sad.
Rob's book is not too long at 115 pages. (Click here for a review) In it he documents his life growing up in Atlanta, Ga., his exceptional high school years, winning an appointment to the U.S. Navel Academy, his first bi-polar manic episode and his life in the nearly 20 years since then. Frankly, it took courage to write about it all.
Rob doesn't know me very well other than as a far away friend of his mother, Sharron, whom I met when I started as a green-horn teacher at Rosa Parks Junior High in Atlanta in 1968. Sharron reached out to me as the new white teacher in an all-black junior high. We compared notes on our students, we socialized and we went shopping. I remember carrying Rob around a mall during one of our expeditions. He was probably about four years old. My children weren't even born.
I left Atlanta after two years when my first husband went into the U.S. Army. I never again lived there but during all these years Sharron and I have stayed in touch.
As 60-somethings, we have much in common. We both had dynamic and strong mothers. We each bore two sons. We both have experienced the pain of abandonment and divorce. More than anything at this point in our lives we are living through the ups and downs of our older sons' bi-polar illnesses.
When I heard about Rob's book last fall, I called him and put in an order. ($12  paperback at http://www.amazon.com/).
It is not an easy read because Rob doesn't sugar coat the difficulties of managing life when your not always in control of your mind. He readily admits to forgetting to take his medications and then recounts the dire results. He's been homeless, in every major hospital in Atlanta, in a group home and occasionally back with his mother. Sharron tells me that Rob, age 45, is now living independently in cooperative housing, taking his meds and doing OK.
This is all good news to me because my older son at age 39 is in the midst of his third major manic episode. It's costing him his job, has pretty much trashed his marriage, affected his six-year-old son and has me and my ex-husband wondering where things will go from here.
Sharron and I talked last week. I told her I'd finally read Rob's book and appreciated it for its straight-forward documentation of how his mind works (or doesn't work) when he's ill. I also appreciate it that he's living with the illness, has a positive outlook on life despite the frustrations and is dealing with the challenges. He discusses medications and how they made him feel. He talks about his recording company, the CDs he's made and how one of them, "Friday, Friday" was used for the sound track of the movie, "Big Ain't Bad."
Rob's autobiography helped me with my own reality check. Embracing my son as he is ....that gets me into the present, gets me on track with supporting him. Both Rob and my son are intellectually gifted, talented, caring and passionate people.
Rob readily thanks his mother, Sharron, for her unwavering love and support. She called the Sheriff at least once to take him to the hospital. She's helped him through the rough times and supported him when he's well.
"One of the keys to leading a normal life is accepting that you are a manic-depressive," said Rob in his book. "I realize that I have to take medication for the rest of my life. Usually, when I'm stable, I begin to prosper academically, financially, vocationally and socially."
If you are bi-polar, Rob said, "you have to choose to accept the challenge that you have bi-polar disorder, you have to choose how you spend your money."
At the end of his book, Rob devotes several pages to thanking people - family and close friends -- who have provided support and love. The list starts with Sharron who writes an epilogue in the book:
Her hope is that Rob's autobiography will inspire others to speak out candidly about the challenges of mental illness. "The goal is to treat mental illness with the same deliberate compassion, research and awareness as other physical illnesses," she writes. "After reading this book, please lobby for legislation that will help provide for the needs of this population." An estimated 6 million Americans battle bipolar disease.
When I recently spoke with Sharron, seeking emotional support for my own situation, she recommended these web sites:
http://www.nami.org/ - National Alliance on Mental Illness
800-950-NAMI
http://www.dbsalliance.org/ - Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
http://www.ssa.org/ - Social Security Administration
Helpful book list:
"An Unquiet Mind, A Memoir of Moods and Madness," by Kay Redfield Jamison.
"Depression and Bipolar Disorders: Everything You Need to Know," by Virginia Edwards, M.D.
Rob's book was published through the Center for Self Actualization Inc., Atlanta, Ga. at http://www.selfactualization.org/.
Catherine Zeta-Jones shares insights into her bipolar conditin at abcnews.com

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