An African-American mother’s frank account of coping with an adult son with bipolar disorder.
Pierce-Baker (Women's and Gender Studies/Vanderbilt Univ.; Surviving the Silence: Black Women's Stories of Rape, 1998), who acknowledges that she was naïve about her son Mark’s teenage behavioral issues, received a brutal education in bipolar disorder when he was in his 20s. At age 23 he went completely and frighteningly out of control on a family trip. She and her husband were disturbed by his rage and later by his evasions and constant requests for money, but they had no idea he was suffering from mental illness or that he had been self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. When he became paranoid, insisting that extraterrestrials were watching him, they arranged for a psychiatric evaluation. He received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and from then on his life took a steep downward turn. He dropped out of graduate school, his young marriage fell apart and his psychotic rages landed him in jail more than once. To tell her son’s story, Pierce-Baker draws on her own journal of that time, on what she learned from her research and, most surprisingly, on her son’s writings, including his poetry. It is a disheartening tale of trying to maintain contact with Mark, of bailing him out of jail and of searching desperately for treatment centers that would accept him. A stay at a center offering a 12-step program for alcoholics was a bad match, but he tried another center, worked seriously at rehabilitation and met the woman he would marry. A happy ending is not on offer, however, for Pierce-Baker is realistic about her son’s needs and his chances of a fulfilling life.
A dark narrative brightened by a devoted mother’s commitment and resilience in the face of an only child’s strange and terrible illness.