By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC

According to the National Institutes of Health, bipolar disorder (formerly manic-depressive illness) is a “brain disorder causing unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” Affected people often have damaged relationships, poor school or occupational performance, and some commit suicide.

Sixty-seven year-old John Martin, who reads this column in the New Bern (NC) Sun Journal, has bipolar disorder 1, a form of the disorder in which the manic state dominates.

In a telephone interview, he said, “My symptoms started in 1966 at 18. I then made it through four years of the Navy, but boy did I struggle. I did my job, but (off work) sometimes stayed in bed for weeks due to depression. After the Navy, I put together two and a half good years at Oklahoma State, but the last semester I went crazy nuts.” After making up classes, he eventually graduated with a bachelor's degree in engineering.

Over the years, Martin said his untreated manic periods often lasted two years each and included paranoia and delusions, after which he would have a couple “normal” months before slipping into depression. The cycle would then repeat. During manic periods, he had racing thoughts and was irritable, angry, paranoid, delusional, had insomnia, and, during one cycle, he drank heavily to dampen racing thoughts. To cope with insomnia, sometimes he boated on a local river in the middle of the night.

Martin said bipolar disorder often hurts family members most. For example, he and his wife married in 1983, separated several times before divorcing in 2004, and in 2008 re-united after his symptoms had improved considerably. He attributed his improved condition over the last decade to the Veteran's Administration, exercise, a determined will, God, and a loving wife, Genevieve.

He said, “Over the years, I was in seven different (mental health) facilities in four different states.” To help others, Martin (using the name of John Lee Martin) chronicled his experiences in a 100-page book, Zero to Sixty in Sixty Years: A Bipolar Success Story.

He said, “Basically, I've outmanaged my symptoms. I read a lot about the disorder and got decent medication. I was always trying to get better. At one point, I was as bad off as anyone with bipolar disorder, but with some hard work, here I am. You'd be amazed how functional I am now (versus 2004).”

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