Off His Rocker: Two Sides of One Man

This is the Ikea love seat I bought and assembled for my father. Maybe I should say this "was" the Ikea love seat. The one I bought looked like this:
In June I moved my father into his lovely new apartment in an upscale retirement community in our neighborhood. I had moved him out of his decaying house in upstate New York a year before that, saving him from certain death. He had been in depression for almost seven years and remained that way even as I fed him and brought him back to life in my own house. He did nothing. He sat in silence and read books, magazines, listened to the radio, and wouldn't change his clothing or shower. For a year he did not even look at the flat files full of his art or the boxes of photos that I packed moved and unpacked and moved from house to moving pod and moving pod to my house. 

The inertia was unnerving, as was his permanent pose, arms folded, legs extended, slouched down, a vacant stare as my husband and I did everything without one single sign of gratitude from him. We were drained and exhausted, but relieved when he agreed, albeit begrudgingly to allow us to move him into this new community.

We became sherpas again, packing and moving, giving him our furniture - because he said he "wanted it," running all over Puget Sound buying things he would need, setting up his new home, gently telling him that being around people his own age would be better for him. (And there was free cable, wifi, a swimming pool, a movie theater, and wonderful shops within walking distance.) 

For the first month he remained silent, but slowly started to show appreciation for our efforts. He started to make friends. He called me on the phone, which in of itself was a small clue. He never called when he was in depression. I had to call him. But then, around the 4th of July, there was a small spark that I knew was about to ignite. He made a pun.

One pun? What's to worry, you might ask. That one play on words (that I can no longer recall) was a blazing flashing red light that went on in my head, displaying this word: "mania." He's going into mania. My father has untreated bipolar disorder; he has had it his entire life, but I finally figured out what it was about fifteen years ago when I fell into a clinical depression and started reading about mental illness and mood disorders. I finally understood why my father turned everything I said into a pun. I also realized that he was two completely different people and that he didn't remember what he did or said from one swing to the other.

This time I got to witness the change with my own eyes and ears and it was shocking.

In a matter of days, my father went from not changing his clothing, not shaving, to being all about hygiene. He started talking incessantly, making constant jokes and puns, and picked up things that he was doing in his last round of mania seven years ago. He started taping things all over the walls and writing captions on everything... and he painted the love seat.

That was the beginning of him calling me up to a half dozen times each day and/or night. He told me before that he didn't want a television, and now the one I did buy him was too small and he kept doing things to the remote that "crashed the TV," and he needed us to fix it.

He started calling everyone from his past, and he started pulling out "pie in the sky" projects that he created in previous manias, wanting to know if I thought he could sell them now. (One of them was an Elvis Presley coloring book. I told him that he'd need permission from the Presley estate and he dropped that idea.)

The list of changes are mind-boggling... being around someone in mania is also mind-strangling. Each sentence he spews might contain about twenty different subjects. And try to get a word in edgewise...forget about it! We kept telling him how to work the TV remote. He hears, but he won't listen.

If I thought caring for him in depression was bad, this is ten times ten-thousand times worse. I have to screen his calls, and maybe for once it was a blessing that I got the flu, which gave me laryngitis... I so need to attend to my own life and my writing and illustrating. He doesn't see that. But I've taken in another wayward sailor: my brother is now temporarily living with us while he looks for a place to live near his new job at Boeing. He's having to help with our father at the moment while I'm recovering.

But this is just the beginning of the wild manic ride. My father has attached himself to a whole new world of folks who live in his community. He has stories for days. He is no longer my father- he's my fodder.

He's off his rocker, and all I can do is take notes.

With Love,