Monday, December 13, 2010

The Bi-Polar Express

A few weeks ago, my high school friend Mark and I were at the TKTS window in Times Square debating which show to see.
Lombardi... Promises, Promises... or Next to Normal?
In the three months I had spent in New York, I had seen pretty much all of the shows that I wanted to see.
Some of them twice.
So I let him choose.
Despite our love of sports, he passed on Lombardi.
Despite his love of movies, he passed on Promises, a stage version of Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”.
So we settled on door #3.
Next to Normal is a Tony Award winning, Pulitzer Prize winning play about a family with a bipolar mother.
As someone who comes from a family with a bipolar mother, I knew this was no comedy.
But I went anyway.
My 81-year old mother has been battling the illness for my entire life and probably most of hers.
For those of you who have somehow dodged the disease, congratulations.
The Cliff Notes version might say that Bipolar Disorder is basically a bunch of extreme mood swings.
E X T R E M E.
Swings that sometimes can be controlled with medication.
Sometimes can be controlled with an extra dose of medication.
And sometimes can’t be controlled at all.
You may know this disease as “A Chemical Imbalance” or “Manic-Depressive”.
I know it as Mom.
Now Sherlock Holmes I am not, but I have become quite good at sniffing out when my mom is headed for a Manic Monday.
It almost always starts with a lack of sleep.
And that is followed by talking.
Lots of talking.
Talking to me.
Talking to you.
Talking to anybody who will listen.
About stories that she has told 1000 times.
Like they happened today.
Well this current episode has been no different.
I suppose the good news for me is that I seem to have figured out when she is having an episode.
The bad news is she is still having episodes.
And unfortunately that probably will never change.
We can pretty much count on 3-4 times a year that we will have to deal with this.
How bad does that sound?
Here’s my mother, who has beaten the odds like no person since Jimmy the Greek, to make it to her 81st year of life and I’m lumping myself in with her.
I’m not the one who never met their father and was raised during a time when that wasn’t so accepted.
I’m not the one who lost one of their children to a terrible accident and nearly lost another one to a terrible disease.
I’m not the one who has dealt with an uncontrollable condition that has consumed their life.
Actually, yes we.
Thankfully I have no concept of what these episodes are like for her or if she even realizes what is going on.
But I can tell you for me they are 11 miles past frustrating.
I have stuck with my mother every single step of the way, during every single one of her episodes and I’m not about to stop now.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to.
Each episode it gets even harder to keep the train on the track.
Every time I bring it up, she does what any good husband does after a trip to Las Vegas.
Deny, deny, deny.
“Mom, how did you sleep last night?”
“Like a log.  Never better”
That’s pretty close to word for word.
From 1982.   
And 1991.
And 1998.
And 2006.
And three days ago.
I sniffed out the latest episode a few weeks ago.
I picked it up in a phone call.
Then again the next morning at 6:00am when she called again.
Then during the intermission of Next to Normal when she called again.
I have always said that God has a great sense of humor.
Come on, I’m at a play about a bipolar mother and during the intermission of the play my bipolar mother calls me.
While having a bipolar episode.
As far as plays go, Next to Normal was pretty darn good.
For everybody there.
But me.
I felt like I was watching art imitating my life.
Had there been a pudgy teenage Jewish kid on stage who knew all of the words to Rapper’s Delight, I would’ve thought it was a story about me.
At the end of the play, Mark asked how I liked it.
And for the first time, maybe ever, I was speechless.
I was without speech.
Clearly this play had taken me to a place that I didn’t want to go.
And I’m sure the phone call in the middle didn’t help.
I flew back home a few days later to return to my family and we went to see my mom.
And when she brought up the story of us being at Mickey Mantle’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, my fears had been confirmed.
That story was from 1974.
Don’t me me wrong, it’s a great story.
My dad, who worked in baseball, introduced me to the Mick.
And I said, “Mickey Mantle, wow, you were almost as great as Roberto Clemente.”
Ok, I was seven.   And Mickey wore seven.
So he didn’t slug me.
But he had every right to.
Tonight my mom is resting in the arms of the professionals, hopefully inching back to normalcy.
Or at least next to normal.

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