So many of us walk around with illnesses we don't know we have. Just this week I learned that the brother of my dear friend Celeste has a malignant form of brain cancer with a three percent survival rate after just one year. The way he found out was that he lost use of his arm. No prior symptoms. How fragile we are.
My family has an illness that is easy to spot if you're looking in from the outside, but hard to accept if you have it. The illness is bipolar disorder, and it can ruin the lives of the sick person and everyone around him or her. All the while, the sick person is protesting that there's nothing wrong, how dare you tell me I need help?
About six years ago, my sister and her husband sold their ranch house in West Virginia and moved across the river into Maryland. They purchased a lavish 4-bedroom home with cathedral ceilings and mountain views. Sis bought all new furniture and decor for it. When I first walked in, it looked like a palace.
Sis and her husband received two large inheritances, one from my side and one from her husband's. I figured the big bequests bankrolled the new house. But then Sis started buying stuff. Expensive stuff. Lots and lots of it. And she acquired pets. She started with one dog. Now she has three. She started with one cat. Now she has five. She started with one bird that she had for 22 years. That bird flew out of its cage recently and hit its head on a wall and died. So now she has two new birds.
Last spring, my sister and her husband (ages 47 and 49) adopted two boys ages 5 and 8. My sister paid a private Christian adoption agency $30,000 for the adoption. The boys have behavior issues, especially the younger one.
This is what my sister told me when last I spoke to her: She and her husband (he has a very well-paying job) are living paycheck to paycheck. They have exhausted both inheritances and their retirement account. The house, once spotless, is now awash in dust and mayhem. She is trying fruitlessly to sell some of the expensive stuff in a desperate effort to recoup losses. I offered to buy a statue she has of a Pan faerie, only to be told it cost $800.
Many nights Sis gets four hours of sleep. Many evenings she deals with wild tantrums. This is all I will say here about the children, but I'll bet you get the picture.
I wondered how an adoption could be arranged without an agency contacting next of kin for a report. Now I know. This "Christian" agency either heard from Sis that I was a Pagan, or it didn't hear about me at all. I would have told them not to place young children with her. I would have told them I didn't think she was stable enough to be saddled with a ready-made family.
Several times in the past few years I have warned Sis that she was showing symptoms of bipolar disorder. Each time she lashed out at me. On one memorable occasion she denounced Druids for being cold-hearted, as if my faith had influenced my discernment.
One of the classic symptoms of bipolar disorder is profligate spending of money. I figured my sister's husband was making big bucks, but he's not. They have blown through a fortune and inherited a whirlwind. I say "they," because her husband is the enabler. It was incumbent upon him to get her ... them ... help.
The moral of this sermon is this: If you know someone who is bipolar, don't blame yourself when that person's life goes awry. Bipolar disorder is a terrible illness. It is incurable but can be managed with medical treatment, constant monitoring, and medicines. But first the victim needs to see the illness. When that doesn't happen, the legal system protects the person until he or she becomes a danger to self or others.
Light a candle for my sister, please. I think she is quickly approaching the danger zone. It's like a car wreck that I don't want to look at, for fear of what I will see.