Brought to you by the students of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
By Emily Galan
Mr. H was warm, charismatic, engaging, and always laughing. Naturally, given the fact that he was in a psychiatrist’s outpatient office, this meant he was manic. Over my 25 years I saw my mother struggle with bipolar disorder, shifting between years of depression and then month-long spurts of mania, but Mr. H was different. He wasn’t cold and irritable like she was. He was captivating, describing his previous manic episodes with such clarity and insight. He shared with us the story of how an episode of mania years ago led him to endlessly obsess about a tree. He became consumed with the thought that the tree was dead despite having a “tree guy” reassure him otherwise. After many sleepless nights filled with guilty thoughts about his neglect for the tree, the thoughts progressed to a constant worry that a branch would fall and someone would get harmed. He sprung into action, calling the city and the state, demanding help. When they refused to help, he took matters into his own hands. After days in his workshop, he came out with a sign saying “danger above” and several orange cones to put around the tree. Naturally, the first person to walk by was a pregnant woman pushing a stroller. His story was bizarre and funny in itself, but what was much more engrossing was the way he laughed about it. Despite his mentally ill state, he had this perfect clarity that what he did was irrational. He laughed about each step and pointed out what a “normal” person would do instead. Then he said something that really made me think. “The problem when you’re in that state is this – you don’t know if you’re completely overreacting and you’re wrong, or if this tree really is a danger, and I’m just the first one to notice it.” He followed up by saying, “That’s why I come to treatment. So she can tell me what normal people think. So I can try to think like a normal person.”
You can see 1,000 patients with hypertension and they all look the same. They need to cut down on their sodium intake. They don’t watch what they eat. They are too sedentary. But if you take 1,000 bipolar patients they look so vastly different. Coming into my psychiatry rotation I thought I knew bipolar disorder in and out. I came home from school to it everyday. I was concerned before starting my psychiatry rotation that I would not be compassionate toward bipolar patients, that I would project my hostility toward my mother onto these people. But Mr. H made me think differently. He painted an entirely different picture of his disease. He made himself seem relatable. The labels of doctor, medical student, and patient dissolved away. We were just three people, sitting in a room, trying to figure out what normal is.
Second Place - First Annual Mentis Writing Contest
Copyright © 2012 Mentis
About the Author:
Emily Galan is a third-year medical student