2Polarities is the response of a special education teacher who was diagnosed with manic Bipolar Disorder at 57 years of age after struggling his whole life with something he could not articulate.
"When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I experienced how lonely this disease is. We started 2Polarities to be an outlet of hope for those affected by bipolar disorder."
— Lloyd Brown, Founder
The first time a mental illness touched my life was when I was 7 years old. I was sitting in my 2nd grade class chatting with my best friend when my teacher received a call from the front office that it was time for me to go home. Considering it was still early in the day, I knew that something was wrong. As I walked down the main hall, I turned around to see my brother coming from the 5th grade hall and instinctively picked up my pace. My stomach dropped when I saw my dad - he was a teacher so he normally was not the one to pick us up from school. I immediately asked him...“who died?”. He didn’t speak until we got into his truck. We found out that my Granddaddy Don had committed suicide. As a 7 year old, they explained it to me by saying that he was in pain and went to live with Jesus. He was my mother’s stepdad and we loved him dearly. We found out later that he had been hospitalized and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia before he had met my Nana, but he had never told her. He was a proud man and did not want to seek help. There was no note - no goodbye. It’s something that you never really have closure with…you push it aside and continue on. But it still hurts…every single day.
My Grandfather Brown was born at Fort Benning and was son to Major General Lloyd Brown. He was a graduate of Georgia Tech and a World War II Army veteran. He never spoke about it, but I cannot begin to imagine the images he carried with him from the war. After returning home from the war, he married my grandmother and they started their family in Savannah, GA. My grandfather had a very Type-A personality and sought perfection. As a child, my father dealt with physical, verbal, and emotional mistreatment due to my grandfather's internal struggles. My dad’s drug use began at the age of 11 as a form of coping with the abuse. He was eventually able to make peace with his past and wrote my grandfather an 18 page letter which led to a reconciliation, however, their relationship remained reserved. My grandfather passed away when I was 11 years old. Even though we weren't close, I know that he loved me. He never sought help and therefore was never professionally diagnosed with any mental illness; however, we believe that he may have been struggling with alcoholism, PTSD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
After months of testing, my dad was diagnosed with bipolar at the age of 57. He lived in a manic state for over 30 years as his mania would cycle. It was like a never-ending adrenaline rush. So, when he did crash, he crashed hard.
I was home from college for Christmas Break when it happened. There were signs of something coming, but we didn't recognize them at the time. Those weeks of what I can remember are like a whirlwind…I was watching TV when he came home early from work. When he walked through the door I didn't have a chance to ask what was wrong before the phones started ringing - the house phone, his cell phone, my cell phone. People were calling to see if he needed help. They were asking him if he was having suicidal thoughts. My mom called to tell me she was on her way. My dad wouldn’t look at me.
…suicidal thoughts? My dad? What were they talking about? He is the happiest person I know - he’s the happiest person anyone knows! Everything was happening so fast and I was scared. I called my boyfriend (now husband) sobbing, unable to process or explain what was happening. My mom came home and I remember them both crying. I called my brother, who was in Tennessee, and told him come home.
In the following days, we found out from my dad's teaching assistant that he had been blacking out at work. He was not able to remember things that had happened and was having trouble putting thoughts together. The school system granted him a medical leave of absence while he was getting medical tests done. I remember him lying on the couch with a blank stare; he was so tired. He slept for what felt like weeks. He barely moved, talked, or looked at anyone. He was a completely different person from the one I had known my entire life.
My brother eventually went back home and I went back to college. I didn’t talk to many people about what happened over my break. I didn’t even know how to explain it; I was still trying to make sense of it. After some difficult months, the diagnosis finally came. A name for what was happening. Bipolar Disorder.
At this time, my dad was a special education teacher, my mom drove a special education school bus, and I was getting my degree in special education. We were not a family who was new to mental illness. This, however, hit us like a ton of bricks. Bipolar Disorder. How was it possible for someone to go 57 years of their life not knowing they have a mental illness?
All of the stories my dad had told me about his childhood were starting to make sense. The stories of my grandfather seemed to line up with the definition of Bipolar. But, I still didn't believe it. My dad couldn’t have Bipolar disorder…
That’s the thing with mental illness. It doesn’t care who you are, what your age is, or how much you think you know. It’s not something you can see or control on your own. And it can take over your life…if you let it. Neither one of my grandfathers ever spoke about their troubles, they let it control them, which had a negative impact on the lives of those who loved them.
My mom is my dad's biggest supporter. She has never left his side - through a long manic cycle, a crash, and all of the craziness in between. She has stayed strong even when it has been incredibly hard. Not every day is perfect and there are still ups and downs. As a family, we still have a lot to learn about bipolar disorder, but the most important thing that we have learned thus far is that we have to talk about it. It isn't something you can hide from. We were able to rebuild when we acknowledged that bipolar does exist in our lives. My dad takes his medication consistently and is proactive when he feels like he needs to talk to his therapist. My mom, brother, and I are very open about how this diagnosis has affected our lives. I truly believe that if we tried to ignore it, we would be in a very different situation right now.
It isn’t easy. We are by no means experts and take each day as it comes. There are good days and bad but we face them together. No one should feel alone in this journey. There are, quite literally, millions of people who are facing similar struggles. Don’t sit in silence because your story could help someone else.
Acknowledge. Be Proactive. Rebuild.
- Rachel Fernandez
Executive Director, 2Polarities
RACHEL FERNANDEZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Rachel Fernandez is the Executive Director of 2Polarities, a non-profit that exists to empower those affected by Bipolar disorder. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband, Shayn.
LLOYD BROWN, FOUNDER
Lloyd Brown is the Founder of 2Polarities, a non-profit that exists to empower those affected by Bipolar disorder. Lloyd was a special education teacher for over 2o years before retiring in 2016. He lives in Canton, Georgia with his wife, Renee.