Melanie: The Perfect Storm

Family life grew more complex during the children’s teenage years when Melanie’s brother Paul, younger by a year and a half, began showing symptoms.

I think it was a perfect storm of my father raising teenagers because there were three of us as teenagers at the same time. Terry, my older brother, and I followed the rules. We took our schooling seriously. But Paul was a totally different person. In fact, he had been a very difficult child from the get go. My parents knew that there was something different about him initially. He was very rebellious. He was displaying behavior that was so unlike the rest of us. He was getting into trouble at school as a young child. . . It sounds like they were looking into ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) back then. That was in the late 50s. They just didn’t have any kind of diagnosis for this kind of behavior.

Paul’s rebellious behavior escalated while he was in high school, leading to many arguments. Melanie’s father became very upset and the family did not know what to do. She described Paul’s behavior as very disruptive and believes he had early onset bipolar disorder.

I can see now that this was probably bipolar. It was manic. I suspect when I look at what a hard kid he was to raise. My dad—I bet he was thinking that Paul might be bipolar. I never asked him. Maybe he was just so upset that Paul had this and maybe some guilt. I don’t know.

Melanie’s father had side effects from his medication. Her father did not look healthy and in old photos looked like he had gained weight. He had two heart attacks in later life and took medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He also had several psychiatric hospitalizations, usually due to stopping medications because he thought “everything’s good.”

Her father’s last years were his best years when he was done raising children and had grandchildren. Tragically, he died at age 73 in a traffic accident. Although Melanie never talked with her father about his illness, she wished she had talked with him during the good years at the end of his life. Since in the past talking about mental illness seemed like a taboo, she speculated that her father felt shame about his mental illness and believed it was “a weakness.”

He needed help to get out of it. I wished we had talked about it. He was just a wonderful human being. He was the finest person I ever knew at that point in my life. I saw him as overcoming this horrible obstacle. He was just tremendous.

More of the Story: Trying to Help Her Brother