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Reintegration & Recovery >> First Person
A Journey Not Chosen
By Kristy Worthen
As her mother describes it, Kristy Worthen began a journey along an uncertain path toward an uncertain destination. During her teens, Kristy began to exhibit the symptoms of bipolar disorder, a mental condition that takes a person on a journey over the hills of mania and into the valleys of delusions and depression.
For Mary Worthen, the most difficult part was knowing that something was terribly wrong with her daughter, yet not being able to give it a name. "When she turned 14 is when I really noticed the difference in the personality changes," she says. "She got to the point of being belligerent at times. Those episodes would last for a couple weeks or a month and then she would be back to just being Kristy."
Kristy's mood swings became more drastic and more frequent; enough so that her mother knew it was more than just typical teenage changes. "Like a regular mom, I probably thought, perhaps she's on drugs or something. So the next time she had one of those episodes, I took her to our family doctor."
Mary asked that her daughter be checked for diabetes, since the illness was in her family history. At the same time, she asked that Kristy be tested for drugs. Tests showed that Kristy was neither diabetic nor taking drugs. Although the doctor attributed some of Kristy's problems to "being a teenager," Mary had raised three other children and hadn't seen such problems with any of them. She was very concerned.
"When I was about 20 years old," Kristy says, "I started feeling signs of depression. I wouldn't want to get out of bed. Just everyday tasks that were just simple, like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, seemed to come hard to me because I just felt kind of empty inside."
Referral for counseling seemed to turn Kristy's diagnosis in the right direction and she was given a prescription for an antidepressant. "I never knew how it would work because I thought 'oh well, this couldn't be me, I couldn't be depressed.' I just thought it was the kind of person I was." Getting Kristy to take her medicine was not an easy task. "I thought if I took the medicine, it proved that I was sick. And I thought if I didn't take the medicine, it'd prove I wasn't sick."
Kristy was still not a willing participant in her recovery at that point. Life became more difficult for her and those who wanted to help her. During episodes of mania, Kristy began to exhibit some very bizarre behaviors. She started staying up all night and went for a week without sleep. "I became delusional. I was recopying the Bible. I was writing it down just constantly. I would think I was just superhuman or something." Kristy and her mother had always been close. But mental illness was changing all that. Kristy believed that she was God, or Jesus, or an angel and that her mother was an evil person. In her delusional thinking, Kristy believed that she wasn't just copying the Bible, she was writing it for the first time.
Mary Worthen was scared for her daughter. Kristy began hanging with a bad crowd, became more unpredictable and began to withdraw. Kristy was an excellent employee at work. However, when in a manic state, she was irritable. When a customer came in with a cross mood, a yelling match ensued. Kristy went home that day and would not return, despite several attempts by her boss to get her back.
"This was more than just a confrontation with a customer," her mother said. "It was the beginning of Kristy being out of control with reality and an inability to make good decisions. We knew at this time that Kristy desperately needed help."
But Kristy was luckier than many who suffer from mental Illness. Her mother dedicated herself to being Kristy's support system and got her the psychiatric help she needed to begin reintegration back to the life she left behind.
Kristy is thankful for those who stayed with her. "My mom has been the backbone in my support system. She was there no matter what I said or what I did. She was there for me even when I told her I didn't want her to be there because I was so delusional. I just thought that it would be wrong if she was there for me. And then after I got well, I realized she was the one who stood with me through thick and thin."
Her psychiatrist, Dr. Paula Lynch, was able to finally diagnose Kristy as having bipolar disorder and prescribe Zyprexa, an antipsychotic to help stabilize her mood. She also got her into a six-month program of structured therapy to begin her reintegration to employment and become more comfortable around other people in her life.
"Dr. Lynch was there if I needed anything. If I had a problem, I'd go and talk to her. If I thought my medicine was too strong or too weak, she would adjust it for me. If I had a problem sleeping, she would change the medicine. If I just wanted to talk to her for a minute, say, 'Hi, how's it going?', she was always willing to be there for me."
Her support system, ongoing counseling and medication are helping Kristy toward reintegration. She is taking classes and after six months without a job is gaining the confidence she needs to pursue employment opportunities in either accounting or photography.
Mary Worthen has seen what her daughter has been through and can see progress and recovery taking place day by day. "She's making plans in her mind and speaking verbally of those plans of going back to school, getting back out into the public, into the work force. She's making good decisions that any parent would be proud to have their child make."