Jane Devin

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Bipolar Disorder: One Family’s Journey

October 27th, 2007 · 22 Comments

mommy.jpgIn so many ways, Kate McLaughlin’s life was the American ideal. Married to her high school sweetheart, Mark, both she and her husband pursued their academic and career goals. As Mark began to climb the corporate ladder, Kate taught school and attended graduate classes.  The couple soon purchased their first home, and had their first child, a beautiful little girl they named Chloe. Three years later, son Michael was born, and three years after him the couple was blessed with another daughter, Monica.

Wanting to stay home with her children, Kate quit her teaching job so she could focus on her young, active family. While Mark worked, she and the children took day trips, nurtured gardens, read books, and baked. As the children grew, Kate helped in their classrooms, and Mark became a coach for Michael’s Little League team.

“If you encountered us in the mall,” Kate writes, “you would have seen a happy, upper-middle class family enjoying the American dream. We had it all.”

In fact, they still have it all, but their definition of wholeness would be challenged and ultimately changed by a journey that was all at once frightening, heartbreaking, and overwhelmingly difficult. It’s a journey that Kate details in her groundbreaking book, Mommy, I’m Still in Here, which were the words whispered by a distressed seventeen-year old Chloe as she suffered one of the first (of what was to be many) episodes brought on either organically, by rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, or as side-effect to one or more of the many medications prescribed in an attempt to control her symptoms. It would only be a few years after this incident that Kate’s son, Michael, would also be diagnosed as bipolar.

With unrelenting and gut-wrenching candor, Kate revisits these episodes, describing not only her children’s battles, but her own raw emotions as mother and caretaker, and the effect of mental illness on the entire family. There are so many facets to this story —  psychological, practical, spiritual and emotional — that it would have difficult for any author to write, but Kate, aided by her dedication to keeping journals, manages to cover every facet in a way that is deeply stirring, often frustrating, and ultimately illuminating.

Readers will find themselves sharing in the family’s agony of trying to find the right combination of medications, and the long waits to see if they’d work. They will be moved by Chloe’s struggle with side-effects no teenager could easily live with, including weight gain, acne, and hair loss – and her valiant attempts to return to school, and recapture the academic brilliance and self-esteem that was often left sapped by prescription drugs. They will sit on the edge of their seats as Michael, intelligent, healthy and athletic, disintegrates into a suicidal teenager who attempts to self-medicate and mask his symptoms with drugs and alcohol.

Kate also sheds light on her own battle with exhaustion and depression, and a family history of mental illness that was kept in the closet. Without minimizing the toll that bipolar disorder had on her children and her family, Kate also shows us how unwavering dedication and love brought them each to a place of acceptance and, eventually, renewal.

In a way that was likely unintentional, Kate’s book also leaves the reader examining one of the most important issues of our day – which, for many Americans, is the lack of comprehensive health insurance. One has to wonder what other families, not as well situated, would do in similar circumstances. While there is no ideal time to be struck by tragedy, the circumstances of the McLaughlin’s allowed their children to be treated and hospitalized as they needed to be, and even to change therapists and doctors in order to find the ones best suited to their cases.

In addition, the McLaughlin’s income allowed Kate to stay home and be her children’s primary caretaker, and their education level was such that they were able to do a lot of research on behalf of their children which benefitted their care as well as the family’s understanding. Yet the McLaughlin’s journey was in no way easy, and at times so brutally difficult that it is painful to process, even from the distance of the written page.  If this is the effect of mental illness in a family with the “best case scenario” – insured, financially stable, and educated – then it does not take much imagination to guess at the struggles of those in lesser circumstances.

I would recommend Mommy, I’m Still in Here not just for those individuals and families whose lives have been effected by bipolar disorder, but for everybody who has ever had questions about mental illness, and for all of those who are left searching for hope, and some light, at the end of any long familial battle. Beyond the diagnoses, the challenges, and the pain, Kate McLaughlin’s story is ultimately a story that encourages and inspires hope.

Mommy, I’m Still in Here is available at Amazon.com


Tags: Mental Health · Other Writings

22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lynda // Oct 27, 2007 at 10:50 am


    Just your description of the book is enlightening, for someone like me. I was diagnosed 10 years ago, but suffered the illness since early child hood. I have to give Kate and Mark a hug for standing by their children. there are a lot of parents who don’t have the stamina or the where with all to do that. Bi- polar disorder is like living in Hell ,with no way out.

  • 2 LJB // Oct 27, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Jane, many of the girls I work with have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness and I just want to throw my .02 in here and say that getting the meds right is so hard, and at least 2/3 of the battle. Every system is different, and every illness is different. There’s no one panacea.

    I put this book on my list and will recommend it as a resource to parents.

  • 3 Greg // Oct 27, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Wow. I’ve had a very similar experience. I was a straight A student, Ivy League grad, wife, kids, money, big house, etc. and my family was then hit with bipolar. But, in my case it was ME who is bipolar and nearly wrecked the family. I have started writing a blog (The Bipolar CEO - http://www.bipolarceo.com) and am concurrently writing a memoir novel with the same name. It’s great to see that people like us are finally able to share our stories.

  • 4 Lonnie // Oct 27, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    I’ll make the third “L” name in a row, LOL. :-)

    My niece, who’s 19, was recently told she had bi-polar disorder. It was actually a relief to my sister and family because about four years ago, Jana changed drastically and everybody said it was a behavior problem. She was sent to juvenille hall for four months, she was drinking, smoking, had this blank look, didn’t listen, would hardly shower, and just refused to leave the house for weeks on end. She failed school. My sister’s health plan kept sending her to counselors and social workers, no doctors except one in the bunch, and she prescribed wellbutrin (?) which didn’t do anything at all. They kept telling my sister she had to be more consistent and stricter. Their house became miserable, and my nephew ended up moving in with roommates because he couldn’t stand it anymore. Prior to all this, Jana was a good student with a great sense of humor, and she took pride in her self. It was sad to see what she was becoming.

    She’s only been in real therapy and on medication for about two months, but my sister says she can already see signs of the real Jana coming out. I talked to her on the phone and she even laughed. She wouldn’t even come to the phone before, or when she did she wouldn’t say anything.

    I’ll pass the book on to my sis, and I’ll be interested to read it too. Thanks Jane, for another meaningful subject!

  • 5 Lonnie // Oct 27, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    ooooops, make that two l’s and a g. :-)

    Going to check out your blog, Greg. :-)

  • 6 rose // Oct 27, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    greg, read several posts and the one about yuor son. i wished
    that i had parents when i was young wwho were better educated,
    because i was a lot like barry, and they used to say the same thinsg
    about me. and i got spanked at home alot even though i could hardly help
    it. and what the doctor said about a good day is so true. people think
    one good day is just possible all the time but some days that switch was
    just in the off position and nothing could turn it on. i lived so much inside
    my head.

    as an adult i was much better, but i’m lucky too because i get to stay
    home and my husband works. some days i get a ton done, others i don’t,
    but i’m a great mom and a good wife, even though i do ’space out’ on

    bless you and your son. and please be as patient as you can! i know
    you are trying.

  • 7 BarefootJoe // Oct 27, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    I emailed you my story Jane, and don’t really want to repeat it here, but just to say thank you, again, for writing about issues that are so important to so many of us.
    God bless you always for doing what you do.

  • 8 Lynda // Oct 27, 2007 at 5:29 pm


    I haven’t been to your site yet but want to say I admire so much anyone that can come out of the black hole and do something for others. Now I’m headed to your site.

  • 9 Lynda // Oct 27, 2007 at 5:47 pm


    I was on your site and I can see it is going to be helpful to many people. I don’t know how to get on to make a comment. At any other time that would be to embarrassing to say.

  • 10 Barbara // Oct 27, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Lynda, I agree with you so much. There are many runaway/throwaway kids out there, and I have heard the statistic that up to 60% of them have some form of mental illness, depression or something else. Maybe they were behavior problems, maybe their parents were the problem, but so many parents in either case just can’t or don’t know how, or don’t care to, help their kids.

    I do not know much about bipolar disease, but it sounds very difficult to get a grasp on. Lynda, may I ask questions of you, or is that too personal? If it is, just don’t answer.

    My questions are, besides being up or down, what are the symptoms? How many medications are there to try? When you find one that works, does it keep working or lose its effectiveness? Can a person with bipolar still work regularly? Greg’s blog said he had something like 13 jobs in 25 years…is that normal for someone with bipolar?

    Okay, sorry for the long list. I am just curious to hear from someone who has the first hand scoop.

    Jane, will Kate read this or comment?

  • 11 Freida // Oct 27, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    Dear Barbara,
    Marbe it’s the top 40% to blame.
    Love Always,

  • 12 Lynda // Oct 27, 2007 at 7:57 pm


    Your questions are not to personal. I will gladly answer them to best of my ability. The symptoms of bi-polar disorder (BPD) are very hard to get a grasp on. In order to be diagnosed you have to have been clinically depressed and manic. this is in Canada. I was at first being treated for Post Traumatic Disorder (PTD), I had never been manic. The meds they gave me made me feel better so they kept upping the dosage. This pushed me into a serious Manic state. If I had not seen an old family Dr. that was treating two family members and knew the signs I would be seriously dead. I will give you a short version of symptoms. Depression is not just low, it is dead but still breathing, I almost stepped in front of a semi, the pain was so bad. There are much to many differences from person to person to say exactly what is happening.
    Manic is much more than happy and self confident. To say it is extreme is an understatement. and if I went there again there is no doubt. if it didn’t get stopped in time I would be dead. Manic for me was, happy, vivacious,confident, strong physically, short tempered,filled with rage,quick to act on that rage (slammed my 200+husband against the wall, I weighed 115) I not only believed in a higher power,I was one with that power. Most people that are BPD are also suffering from other disorders. I will answer your questions latter, I get serious headaches and it is hard to concentrate.


  • 13 Lynda // Oct 27, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Montana Man;

    Sounds like hit the nail on the head. I was extremely paranoid and worse at times.


  • 14 Cynthia Carter // Oct 27, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Dear Jane,

    I know I don’t post often, but I read your site daily and was devastated to
    learn that it was “a little bit ending”. I am very happy that you will be turning your
    talents towards a novel, which is sure to be more rewarding than blogging, but I
    will miss your presence. You have been a calming, reassuring voice of reason throughout each of your stories and your series. I have forwarded so many of your
    articles to friends, particularly The Forgiveness Trap and Cruelty is Not An Art. You have, through your words, empowered me to stand up against the bad instead of
    giving it silent space in the santuary of my spirit. I know that I am much stronger and more self-assured now than I was before I came to your site. And if that’s weird, to take so much from a stranger, well it is what it is. I think fate brought me here to read your words, and I think God has a hand in fate.

    May God bless you always, Jane, and may your book writing be swift and joyful. I hope you will return on occasion to let us know how you are doing, or send us update emails.

    Until then, know that you have made a difference, and many will miss you!

  • 15 Lynda // Oct 27, 2007 at 9:56 pm


    I too have learned a lot from this site. In this time of everyone working and trying to keep up with families, there is little time left over. I know I can go on line and find people with old fashion values.


  • 16 Barbara // Oct 27, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    {{{{{{{Lynda}}}}}}}}} Hugs for you. I am so grateful that you answered my questions, and I think I can’t imagine anything more scary than not having control over my emotions or where my mind goes. It sounds like you’ve really had a difficult life. You’re obviously stable now…is that all due to the meds, or do you also use other methods of coping?

    Thank you for talking about this with me!

  • 17 Lynda // Oct 27, 2007 at 11:49 pm


    There are hundreds of meds and thousands of combinations(cocktails). I was in hospital for 5 months in04. the cock tail we came up with kept me stable until just recently, we have made some adjustments, we’ll see what happens.

  • 18 Jane Devin // Oct 28, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Lynda, thank you for being so open and willing to talk about what you’ve been through. To live with an illness is never easy, but in reading Kate’s book and hearing your story, it seems one of the worst frustrations would be the medications, and all the experimenting that has to happen to find the right combo — only to have it not be as effective a few months later.

    The perserverance that you and Kate’s kids and family have is just remarkable.

    Barbara, Kate has read the article and I received a wonderful email from her yesterday.

    Montana Man, I’d keep it in mind, except it’s very much off my mind right now. :-)

    Cynthia, thank you. It means a lot to me that you took time to post and encourage my work.

  • 19 Joni // Oct 28, 2007 at 10:54 am

    Jane: Best wishes for your future and the book you are writing. I hope you will be able to enjoy your time off here, but you will be missed. Take care.

  • 20 allison // Oct 28, 2007 at 11:21 am

    To Lynda and Greg, all of you that suffer with this, my heart goes out to you.
    We lost our best friend in 1982 to this. His family was in denial about it. His wife couldn’t handle it all alone, and finally filed for divorce. A month later on Christmas Eve, he hung himself in his garage. He left four children, and a totally guilt ridden wife, who couldn’t get him into therapy, and couldn’t get his family to help her. We didn’t even know what it was then, but we knew it was extreme ups and downs, we witnessed it. Kevin was one of the sweetest most compassionate people I had ever known. I wish so much he would have had some support. That title “Mommy I’m still in here” is haunting.

  • 21 Lynda // Oct 28, 2007 at 1:57 pm


    I lost a brother and almost a sister to mental illness, there is no way you can tell a grown man or woman, they need help. It cuts to the bone when someone tells you that you are in effect (crazy, no offence meant to anyone). A person can be committed involuntarily, but the criteria is very stringent,and it did not help my brother.

    Tell your friend even after all this time that there is nothing anyone can do. In my experience at least, when we are ready to go, we go. I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, this only in my own experience. there are many, many success stories and I am thankful to know that.


  • 22 Freida // Oct 28, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Dear Lynda,
    I’m treading gently here…but I know…the depths…the breathing death…the lowest, most dreadful feeling…when I really just wanted to die, to end the misery, and the pain.
    It wasn’t physical pain, it was pure anquish, and I still go there, and have a hard time pulling myself back…to feeling something worth being alive for.
    Please, help me and tell me more.
    I think you underestimate, how important you are, to me, and others that may experience that ‘feeling.’
    Do you know what I mean?