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Writing A New Chapter

Carol Horan, a retired teacher from Glenbard District 87 in Illinois says that when she first saw her husband in 1961, his dashing good looks reminded her of Wally Cleaver from the hit TV show “Leave it to Beaver.”

Even their first meeting sounds like something from a movie. She first spied him as a high school football player walking near the lake with admirers on each arm. She was a sophomore at the time, and only watched him from afar. Eventually they won each other’s hearts and began their journey as a married couple.

Today, the fond memories of their meeting remain, but they wear a patina of pain and loss.

Horan and her husband Paul were married 26 years. During that time, she raised their two children and made a career shift from elementary school education to psychology. She also watched her beloved develop bipolar disorder—a debilitating mental illness.

Horan recounts this painful time in her new book, A Family’s Secret: Bipolar Disorder on Tree Top Lane. Weaving through years of violence, fear, and hopelessness, Horan tells the story of what it is like to live with someone who is mentally ill.

Horan describes when she first felt Paul slipping away:

“We had Paul’s business partner and his family over for a pre-holiday dinner. I noticed he was drinking far more than usual and I think his friends noticed as well…. After they left, he grew furious and started bashing his head against the floor until it was bleeding. I was scared for my life and for my children’s safety, but the next morning he woke up and couldn’t remember a thing. It was like it never happened.”

Despite the red flags, it was difficult for Horan to accept Paul’s deteriorating health—mainly, because of the sporadic nature of his manic episodes. She also acknowledges that love can alter perception.

“He would have weeks of normalcy. And then I would think maybe I was making too big a deal,” explains Horan. “I did a lot of rationalizing and excusing. They say love is blind and I think that it can be.”

Horan’s memoir is her way of coming to terms with her experiences with Paul. She’s happily remarried, and credits her husband John with helping her find closure through writing.

“The emotional baggage became less and less as I put it down on paper. It’s like it’s there, I validated it. I don’t need to obsessively think about it,” says Horan. “Rarely do I have any kind of time where I think back to those days. It’s like a new life! I am a new person.”

Horan hopes that by putting her painful experiences on paper, her words will close a chapter and promote a message of support in a time when stigma against mental illness is all too present.

“We don’t have the same level of compassion,” she says. We need to have better treatment options; not incarceration or homelessness. It is not a good way to treat people. If we can catch it earlier and get them treatment earlier,” Horan says, we can spare our country a lot of grief and families a lot of grief. It just makes sense that way.” 

A Family’s Secret: Bipolar Disorder on Tree Top Lane is available on Amazon.

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