"The Illness was the monster, not him." Wife shares story of husband's struggle with bipolar disorder

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

It is an illness, not a choice. It’s invisible, yet clearly present. And it’s a journey, not a dead end.

When Douglas Williams first learned that her husband, the love of her life, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she said many things began to make sense. The signs over the years began to gradually increase. She found herself walking on egg shells, unable to understand what the inner problem was with her partner of 33 years.

When the diagnosis came, the struggle did not end. It had merely begun as she and her family began to adjust to living with someone who had a mental illness.

But at least they had a name for it. At least they could develop a plan. Her husband was still her husband. The illness was what she described as the “monster,” not him.

“Our family will endure because Jesus is our rock, and He will never fail us,” Douglas said.

Douglas first met her husband Mark at Mississippi College. They were both freshmen with Mark going to school on a football scholarship. Douglas had just started college, figuring out what she wanted to do with her future.

But she knew Mark would be in it.

“The moment I saw Mark for the very first time, I knew that without a doubt he was the one,” she said.

Douglas said Mark was fun-loving, happy and a likable prankster. Athletic, he was always on the move and full of life.

After about five years of dating, the two were married on Sept. 28, 1985.

Mark and Douglas began their lives together in Benton, where they bought a house. He had accepted at job at Mississippi Chemical. She was teaching at Annie Ellis Elementary School in Yazoo City.

“Our life had just started, and everything was good,” Douglas said. “We were happy together, and we did a lot together. We fished a lot at local ponds. We cooked out a lot. We were really happy.”

A year later, the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter Kristin.

“She came into the world running,” Douglas said. “And she was a spitting image of her Daddy. It was almost like they did the same thing. Mark started running when he was nine months old. Kristin started walking when she was eight months old.”

Mark was extremely close to his little girl. She was athletic, just as he was.

“She was tough as nails,” Douglas said. “She didn’t fear a thing, just like Mark. Mark was so full of pride.”

Mark and Douglas would also welcome another daughter, Lauren Michelle.

But it was also during this time, amidst the joy of parenthood, that Douglas began to notice a difference in Mark. Small at first, but noticeable.

“Mark would begin to get angry at little things, develop into a rage almost,” Douglas said. “Hours later, it would be back to normal. There would be huge bursts of rage, and then it would go away. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even remember. We never could figure out what was going on.”

Mark began seeking counseling and connection through church. But a name was never given to what was going on.

And then tragedy struck.

Their daughter Kristin committed suicide on May 13, 2003 at 16 years old.

“Mark was so strong, and he was the one who was able to get me through the whole ordeal,” Douglas said, eyes filling with tears. “Through the whole family proceedings, Mark was strong. And then, we buried our daughter across the street from our house. And when we returned home from the burial, Mark fell apart.”

Mark was filled with extreme guilt over the death of his daughter. He felt he had failed as head of the house. He felt he had failed Kristin.

Soon, Mark and Douglas got in touch with someone who could help, Mark Ladner.

“After we met with him, he told us that Mark was overcome with guilt and had anger towards himself,” Douglas said. “At that time, Mark even said he would end his own life a month to the day. He had no concern about his own life after Kristin was gone.”

But Mark admitted he needed help. Still, a diagnosis had never been given to Mark’s condition.

Mark began attending a behavioral center to cope with his grief and anger. He was open to any and all treatments. But he was still unable to fully let go of his anger and guilt.

Mark had to keep busy. After working shifts at the chemical plant, he would come home and haul cotton. He could never sit still. And the bursts of anger continued.

“This went on for years, and we still didn’t fully know what was wrong,” Douglas said.

The rage increased closer to the anniversary of Kristin’s death.

“Every single year, about a month before the day of her death, it would escalate,” Douglas said. “It was almost like a countdown to that day. When you lose a child, you remember everything leading up to that day. You remember what you were wearing, the conversations you had. It’s like the waves of the ocean. It comes in and out. And you also began to think about what you could have done before that day to stop it.”

Mark would shut down about two weeks before the anniversary of Kristin’s death.

Even leading up to the graduation of their daughter Lauren Michelle, it seemed as if Mark was shutting down.

“He kept thinking about how he didn’t get to see Kristin graduate,” Douglas said. “It was eating him alive. It was killing him.”

More stress came to the Williams family. Mark suffered three mini-strokes. They lost their house to a fire, only able to save a few pictures, a rocking horse and a chest of Kristin’s things.

Finally, in April of 2014, an incident occurred with Mark that required local law enforcement to respond. The incident escalated quickly and resulted in ongoing litigation.

Mark was sentenced to jail time, but Douglas is hopeful that their appeal will be successful because they now understand what was causing Mark to act the way he did.

A hearing is scheduled for this Friday.

As a result of the incident and litigation, Mark was put in contact with Dr. Sudhakar Madakasira. And finally, Douglas learned what was wrong with her husband.

“He was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder,” Douglas said. “It is the most severe form.”

Bipolar 1 disorder, once known as manic depression, is a mental illness that involves vast, out-of-control mood swings from depressed to elevated moods.

Everything began to make sense to Douglas. The signs matched perfectly with the diagnosis. It was as if she pressed a rewind button and understood the signs over the years.

Douglas said it was a condition that Mark was probably born with, but the death of Kristin sent it into overdrive.

Mark began to receive the proper medications, and within three weeks Douglas started to see a difference. He appeared calmer, more relaxed and he slept better.

After almost three decades with his job, Mark was let go after the 2014 incident.

“We have no insurance, and the medicine Mark needs is thousands of dollars a month,” Douglas said. “But we are doing what we have to do.”

The important thing is that Mark is better.

“He is like a beagle puppy, sweet and calm,” Douglas said. “He is thoughtful, kind and has a huge heart.”

But Douglas said that was always inside of Mark. That’s who he really is. The illness simply reared its head.

“The illness is the monster, not Mark,” Douglas said. “I simply encourage people who may be going through this to seek professional help. You have go to seek help and be completely honest. Never give up on the one you love.”

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