Narrative – Bipolar Disorder

Holly Mckenna started to hyperventilate, imagining the worst. To try and catch her breath, she headed outside.

Once outside of Albany Medical center Holly Mckenna took out her rosary and prayed. She then started texting anyone and everyone to start a prayer line with her. Mckenna thought her daughter was gone.

Shortly after, the doctor came outside to get her.

Mckenna said “the room looked like a bomb went off.” There were all sorts of medical supplies and garbage covering the floor.


It was in the ICU where her daughter, Clare, was being treated. Earlier that day, May 15 2011, Clare overdosed on her prescription anti-depressant, Trycyclix. This was the fourth time she tested fate, attempting to commit suicide.

Clare was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her senior year of high school. As a kid she was very hard on herself. It became more prominent as time went on.

The National Institute of mental health says that Bipolar is a brain disorder that causes severe mood swings, and unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out daily tasks. Bipolar can cause damaged relationships, poor job and school performance and suicide. Bipolar usually develops in a person’s late teens to early adulthood, but symptoms can surface during childhood.

To try and manage her bipolar disorder Clare attends therapy every week, medicine management once a month, a chiropractor every two months, and regular MD every six months to check vitals and weight.

The chiropractor is an important part of Clare’s routine. She goes to The Family Wellness center where she see’s Dr. Tracy.

Dr. Tracy says that “We help people with physical and mental issues from newborn to the elderly.  According to the study done atIrvineCA’s medical school, Neurobiology Dept. Network Care quadruples quality of life.”


Earlier that day Mckenna was doing some grocery shopping in Price Chopper on Madison Avenue. While strolling through the cereal isle she received an email from Clare asking if she could buy tuxedo shirts online.

A few isles’ later she got a call from Clare’s boy friend, Vincent, crying. He said that Clare overdosed and was already acting weird, with tears in his voice.

She immediately rushed to the hospital to meet them.


Thomas Kennedy a psychology PHD says that someone with Bipolar disorder has mood’s of either can or can’t. They can’t deal with anxiety.

Say someone with this disorder was assigned a term paper. They plan to finish it the week it’s assigned to get it out of the way. They get a cold. They now feel as if it won’t get done at all.

They have no plan B.

Clare attempted suicide for the first time in tenth grade. She downed a handful of Tylenol in attempt to overdose, but awoke the next morning only feeling tired.

The second time was in April 2009, her parents wedding anniversary. They had to take her to the hospital because she had overdosed on her anti-depressants that were supposed to be helping her.

During the time of her third attempt she was enrolled as an English major at the University atAlbany.  Mckenna received a phone call from Clare, who was in the basement of their house, crying and saying that she had taken her whole bottle of anti-depressants.

Her medicine had been locked away and hidden but she still managed to get her hands on them.

Clare’s illness doesn’t just affect her. It also takes a toll on the people around her, especially her mother.

It can affect others by causing anxiety worry about them or having difficulty understanding and handling the situation.

“People catch moods. If someone is always down, it will bring down the ones around them” says Kathy Sweeney an RN atOrangeRegionalMedicalCenter.

For the ones surrounding, Tom Kennedy psychology PHD, recommends a program called alanon. Family members of someone with a mental illness would go to this in order to learn how to handle themselves in the situation, while also taking care of themselves. Alanon is kind of like what AA is for alcoholics.

Mckenna is a journalist and a professor at the University atAlbany. She is a movie junkie and loves to read. She also enjoys taking her dog for a walk to relieve stress.

Her favorite book is To Kill a Mocking Bird which talks about ugliness in society, relating to taboos kind of like what she is dealing with. Her favorite movie is the Great Gatsby. She really likes the character development and how they reinvent themselves.

When Clare was first diagnosed it made it real for her family and they saw that they needed to act together.

McKenna wasn’t totally shocked because she knew it was in the family and felt like it explained a lot about Clare.

McKenna said that her Aunt had Schizophrenia, while other family members abused substances.

“Have faith in yourself and in your future” is a quote by Ted Kennedy that McKenna says to Clare a lot.


Once McKenna arrived at the hospital she met with Clares boy friend, sobbing in the hallway. Clare was in the room, looking very pale and disoriented.

Clare’s blood pressure rose fast.

“thump thump, thump thump___________________”

Flat line.

A code blue was called.


When a doctor told McKenna that the issue with Clare needed to be taken more seriously she started to become proactive in the case of mental illness. She went on to get her Masters in health and communication with a concentration in mental health.

Once she received her degree she interned at the Mental Health Association of New York. Here, she got a lot of exposure to different things, like contact with parents going through the same thing. It was like a support group.

She is now putting this to use at her advisement job for the University where she works with students on terminal probation usually due to substance abuse or depression.

Mckenna’s first hand experience with a mental disability helps her to aid others.

“I know her meds like I take them, I was as sad as her seeing my daughter like that.” She said as she stuck and unstuck the post-it-note from the center of her desk, mindlessly.

Aside from the advising services McKenna provides on campus she recommends the counseling center as well as Middle Earth. Middle earth is student run.

Tess Nicholson, a junior at the University atAlbanythat is training to work for Middle Earth says they handle a range of things from “roommate issues and being stressed by finals, to eating disorders and potentially harming themselves.”


Crash carts zoomed into the ICU room.

20 or so doctors began working to bring Clare back to life.

The room was torn up in the process, but she stabilized.


Since May 15 2011 she hasn’t attempted suicide again.

Clare is now taking the right medicines and vitamins. She is working and going to school. McKenna believes that Clare’s boyfriend, Vincent, is somewhat her savior. For this she calls him “St. Vincent” because of all that he does for her daughter.

Cailan, Clare’s younger sister, also took the proactive route to deal with here sisters mental disorder. Cailan was only 14 when her sister first started showing signs. At the time, she would shut down and keep to herself about the situation.

Now Cailan, 17, goes to Albany High and is coordinating with the University atAlbany’s suicide prevention walk.

McKenna went on to use her experience as an adviser in her cover letter for a full time journalism position at the University.

She said that speaking about her struggle inspired her to do so.


Posted on May 8, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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