Tuesday, July 8, 2008

So...Where Have You Been?

Most blogs I read are happy, funny, pretty light on seriousness. I usually don't like to be serious when I write blogs either, but I didn't answer email or the phone or even the door for about a week a while back. So why was I in the zone of non-presence?
Because my brother was missing. He just left the house one day with a car and an ATM card. It's not something 54 year old real estate lawyers do very often. But he is bipolar and he went off his meds. When something like that is going on, you just don't care about much else. And it's not exactly a secret since the Staten Island Advance published this:

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Thomas Spollen is soft-spoken, friendly, introspective and brilliant -- the engineering visionary in the plucky duo of brothers whose homemade, eco-friendly bicycle is the centerpiece of the current exhibit at the Staten Island Museum.

The 54-year-old real estate attorney turned up yesterday afternoon after disappearing Thursday from the Dongan Hills home he shares with his brother, Chris Spollen.
Spollen apparently had been wandering around Staten Island, staying in motels, camping in parks and sleeping in his Toyota Matrix.

"When you have somebody missing close to you, it's awful," said the elder Spollen. "We were all traumatized."

Spollen has bipolar disorder and had been prescribed medication that made him chronically drowsy. So, several months ago, he decided to stop taking it entirely, his brother said.

As is characteristic of the upswing side of bipolar disorder -- a mental illness sometimes referred to as manic depression and characterized by periods of intense highs and intense lows -- Spollen's energy started to escalate.

But along with his increased stamina and activity, Spollen also became agitated and delusional -- behavior characteristic of the mental illness often associated with Spollen's brand of uncanny genius, and said to have also plagued such intellectual luminaries as Mark Twain, Ludwig van Beethoven and Winston Churchill.

"He's very, very bright, but with the brightness came the other," said Chris Spollen, adding that his brother needs better medical supervision to live more comfortably with the very treatable condition. "I want to get the bright back."

Whenever people tell me not to worry because, omg, Jane Pauley has bipolar, and Dick Cavett, and...I want to tell them that they also have medical insurance whether they work or not.

In any event, when Tom returned, he said, "I was never missing. They were missing me."

It's a line I wish I had written, and the simple truth of it haunts me.


KateK said...

I am wondering if this is a common illness or a rare one? How is it diagnosed?

Anne Spollen said...

I'm not sure about either of these answers. I do know that a lot of kids previously thought to have ADHD are now being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But there's no one specific age when it becomes apparent.
If someone is having frequent mood swings, it's a good idea to get checked, especially if there's any kind of family history.

Jacqui said...

Anne, that is so hard, though I understand what he meant in that line at the end.

It is so difficult to cope with illnesses where the symptoms are behaviors...

Mary Witzl said...

This really is hard, and I feel for you. To be sure, many talented people are/were bipolar -- I know Dickens was -- but we never hear about how their families coped, do we?

Anne Spollen said...

No, you never hear about that. The person's struggle sort of takes over the family, at least emotionally and psychically.
But the more talented people who are diagnosed with this, maybe the more likely they will discover meds that work without terrible side effects.