Staying on the level with bipolar disorder

By Robin McCormick
West End Correspondent

No matter what the weight of pressure, I will stay level.” That statement is a promise Doug Cridland made to himself several years ago.

Doug was struck with bipolar disorder at the age of 18; bipolar is a chemical imbalance that someone is born with, and can send the sufferer on an emotional roller coaster of grandiose highs and crippling lows. The struggles of living with the disease inspired Doug to write a book, which he titled “Striving for the Leafs.”

Doug remembers vividly the trigger to his first manic explosion, which he shares in detail in the book’s introduction.

He was attending a spiritual weekend retreat. He remembers how a feeling of sheer despair came over him throughout the two days and an overwhelming sense of paranoia and depression.

But a unique change in his feelings took place at the end of the retreat. It was as though God had answered all of his prayers. He felt he was a representative of God and that everything in the world was going to be free and that all the people in jail were going to be let out. He felt like a genius. He felt everyone around him seemed to enjoy his personality; this was the most comforting feeling to him, because up until then, Doug’s self-esteem kept him pretty quiet. Doug wasn’t able to sleep – he was having a blast. He remembers feeling that he was given the power to change earth into heaven. Doug himself could not understand it, but he did feel it.

He had experienced his first grandiose idea.

After the retreat was over, Doug continued to feel on top of the world. It was the mania that followed the weekend low that sent him swinging – that was his trigger experience. At this time, Doug was working at Safeway. He was in the store talking his head off to the midnight crew, but they kicked him out, so they could get some work done. Doug had more stories to tell so he opened the door himself – with a shopping cart through the window.

What followed was Doug’s first trip to the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital (the LPH). The police were the first on the scene and Doug was cuffed and taken to jail. He spent most of the night there. He was released around 6:00 am. and taken to the clinic to see a doctor. Doug’s mother and three others accompanied him to Thunder Bay, but in his mind he wasn’t seeing a psychiatrist. He felt he was going to see the President of the United States. He felt the trip was fun. It wasn’t until they arrived that he realized he was being admitted. At that time Doug felt he had super human powers. He remembers getting a physical and mug shots. He was taken to psych (2 North) and after a quick goodbye to his mother, he was on his own. 

He was overwhelmed and remembers feeling he was in a loony bin. He remembers walking the halls with a man who said he worked there undercover. It soon dawned on Doug that this wasn’t the place for him. He went to the nurses station asking to talk to his doctor. They said no. He asked to call his mom at the hotel. They said no, she had driven home. Doug was told to go to the day room. Doug’s happy mood changed to anger and he became scared. He was about to blow his cool. He went down the hall screaming and yelling “I want to go home.” This was drawing a crowd and the halls began to fill. Doug couldn’t tell who was who as hospital staff didn’t wear white as he had seen on T.V. and in the movie One Flew Over The cuckoo’s Nest. Doug didn’t know who was coming at him. Doug started swinging, kicking and eventually connecting, one guy after another. There was a code 222 “All Staff Called EMERGENCY DANGER!”

More men came after Doug until they had a team of eight or nine. After getting control of Doug, he was taken to a cement room, fighting with all his might the whole way. Down he went to the bare plastic mattress. Doug received needles full of tranquilizers. He had just had another manic explosion in the yellow halls of the psych ward. They got up and left and the door was locked. Doug couldn’t move. He felt the devil had arrived, although Doug could not see him. All he could see was the little window and the strange faces looking in. Doug spent the night with the devil at the Gates of Hell. When he awoke, he never again felt that he was some representative from heaven.

Since then, Doug has had similar feelings many times, yet he eventually released himself from the grips of the grim reaper. That was Doug’s beginning, but much has happened since then. 

Today, Doug has three children – Jeff, Dana and Danielle – two grandchildren, and he’s happy to be having a third grandchild born in July. Doug has four siblings; sadly his brother Duane passed in February. Doug shared with me that he will carry on Duane’s legacy. Duane was a kind, caring man as is Doug. Doug is a butcher and has used his butchering expertise at Safeway, The Place, and Sunrise Meats, and Rainy River Meats. Doug has also worked at Walmart. Doug gives all his places of employment credit for their understanding and for educating themselves about his disease.

Dana shared with me, “Our dad has always been the best dad. We have lots of amazing memories with him and we are grateful for him every single day. There have been many ups and downs throughout our lives but it has made us who we are and we wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

At the present time Doug is not working; he underwent surgery on March 6. He had his thyroid removed, along with cancerous lymph nodes, as part of his battle against thyroid cancer. The surgery took place in Toronto, followed by a five week stay in hospital. Doug experienced a few setbacks in Toronto. Due to swelling he underwent an emergency tracheostomy. Once back to Fort Frances he spent time in hospital here. Doug was grateful that his three children accompanied him to Toronto during his surgery and stayed with him for support as long as they were able too. There is a high success rate with this surgery, and Doug will take medication the rest of his life. Doug is hopeful he will regain his healthy. 

Doug isn’t new to intensive medical care. His bipolar disorder has required care from both a local doctor and a psychiatrist (two throughout his illness). Although there have been meds changes, Lithium has been Doug’s main staple drug over the years. Kenora oversees all treatments. There have been times Doug has been hospitalized every couple years, in either mania or depression, sometimes hospitalized in Fort Frances and sometimes in Kenora. Just this past summer, Doug was in mania and he was sent to Kenora hospital, 4 North, psychiatric ward.

Doug shared he is happy with the health care he has received over the last 40 years. His local doctor is easily available and both Fort and Kenora hospitals treat him well. Dr. Nugent has been his local doctor for many years along with psychiatrists Dr. Zahlan (who had retired) and Dr. Krookall (his present psychiatrist). Doug shared he has also had excellent councillors over the years.

The chemical imbalance disease of bipolar involves depression, mania and hypo-mania. 

Doug shared the most difficult issue with bipolar disease is keeping up your self esteem and to keep communication open with friends and family. Doug feels fortunate that his children and siblings understand the disease.

Reading is difficult, as is watching T.V. because of Doug’s short attention span. It is difficult to know what to do with his time. Doug is hoping after he recover’s fully from surgery, he will have more energy to do tasks around home and get out walking.

It’s hard to sleep when you’re in mania; you just don’t want the day to end. The longest Doug has gone without sleep is four days. Doug remembers in his younger days, hanging around the bars, especially the Flame – he didn’t drink he just wanted to socialize.

When he’s in mania, life is really enjoyable for him, but he feels bad for other people in his life because he feels he becomes really obnoxious. At times when Doug has been in the mania stage he’s sure he could rule the world, receive the World Peace award or the Mother Teresa award. When he comes down and the depression part of the disease hits, he feels he has nothing. Everything seems to be gone.

At the present, Doug feels he’s level with his disease, though over the past few years, he has felt weak in between episodes. He shared that two years ago while working at, The Place, “I was so weak, I couldn’t even lift a pork loin.”

The depression part of the disease is the worst, he said. This can cause suicidal thoughts, which used to last for months. Thankfully Doug’s severe depression has seem to have subsided. 

The mania still comes and the hyper -mania is the strongest.

Hypo mania is mild to moderate. 

Thankfully Doug’s hyper mania has been controlled over the years, he shared with me, “Thank goodness, that’s when you wreck vehicles and drive out of control!” Which in his earlier years Doug has done! 

The difficult thing about bipolar is, it hits you when it hits you. You always know that it can happen, and each episode can last a couple months.

Doug Cridland has realized a long-term dream of writing a book about his struggles and triumphs with bipolar disorder. He was diagnosed at 18, and has learned many lessons along the way, and has led a happy life, thanks to the love and support of his family and friends, and the skill of his medical team. – Robin McCormick photo

Doug shared his words of advice for people with bipolar disease

  1. Do what the doctor says
  2. Stay on your meds
  3. Try to get proper sleep
  4. Try to eat healthy
  5. Keep in good communication with family and friends. 

Doug is comfortable in any surroundings, he doesn’t allow people to make him feel less because of his illness. If there is a stigma or shame he doesn’t allow that to effect his life. 

He’s very involved and finds great joy with the Evangelical Fellowship Church. Pastor Alain and Doug meet for coffee every Tuesday along with other church functions. 

Doug has been a volunteer worker for over 30 years at Community Living Fort Frances, and has enriched many a life by spending time with people, fishing, going to cabin, attending hockey games car races, golfing and many other activities including sharing a cup of coffee. 

I met Doug over 25 years ago at Toast Masters, where we shared writing speeches, learning new words and hopefully we both increased our communication skills and sparked an interest in each other’s lives.

Doug is a huge Toronto Maple Leaf fan, he’s attended about ten games over the years. Doug’s bipolar led him to believe he could play goal wearing #33 for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He did everything he could to make that dream come true. Years went by and that dream did not evolve. Today Doug’s dream is striving for happiness!

Doug also loves to watch the Bluejays baseball team.

Doug’s desire to write a book struck him at age 19, after he was first diagnosed. It was at that time Doug knew he had a story to tell. Doug’s happy with his book so far, he has heard many positive comments. He’s printed a preview of the book and has sold some and has given away several copies, with monies raised being donated to Canadian Mental Health. He has journaled his experiences throughout his life and that is all being compiled into Doug’s book, titled “Striving for the Leafs!” It is currently being edited and will be out soon. it will be for sale at Ski’s Variety, with all profits being donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association. For more information about the book, call Doug at 275-5500.

Doug was extremely grateful for members of his church, family and friends who organized a spaghetti supper to raise money for expenses while he and his family were in Toronto. Over 200 people attended this event. 

When asked what he would do if he had his life to live over, there wasn’t any pause as he replied, ”I’d of been born without bipolar.”

It is without a doubt that Doug strives to achieve the words he has printed on the back of his book “NO MATTER WHAT THE WEIGHT OF PRESSURE I WILL STAY LEVEL” and that is something this strong, caring man does!