Bipolar General : My Forever War With Mental Illness by Gregg F Martin

Bipolar General : My Forever War With Mental Illness by Gregg F Martin

Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin was an impressive figure in the Army. He had a strong physique, keen intellect, strong faith, and a studious nature, making him a natural leader. With his engineering expertise and leadership skills, he was chosen to lead the combat engineers who paved the way for 100,000 Army troops in the battle for Baghdad in 2003. Observing Martin in action was awe-inspiring; his focus was laser-sharp, and his energy palpable.

Martin had a gift for making swift decisions and anticipating and solving problems, often before receiving orders. Little did he know that the immense pressure of orchestrating multiple life-or-death missions each day would later affect the biochemistry of his brain. Throughout his life, Martin had exhibited what psychiatrists refer to as a “hyperthymic personality” – defined by exceptional positivity, energy, and a can-do spirit. However, the Iraq War triggered a chemical imbalance, resulting in a diagnosis of late-onset bipolar disorder. This condition caused him to swing between grandiose imaginings and suicidal depressions.

As his behavior became increasingly erratic, Martin was ultimately forced to resign as president of the National Defense University, abruptly ending his military career. Bipolar General presents an honest account of Martin’s personal journey, living with undiagnosed mental illness while climbing the ranks of the U.S. Army. The author shares insights into the various treatments available for bipolar disorder, ranging from powerful medications to electroconvulsive therapy. Additionally, the book explores the reasons behind the long delay in Martin’s diagnosis and delves into the potential actions to be taken within and outside the military to improve mental illness diagnosis and treatment.

Bipolar General is a valuable resource, not only for individuals with mental illness but also for their families, friends, and caregivers. It sheds light on the challenges and realities faced by those affected by mental illness, encouraging greater understanding and support within communities.

After the Storm: A General’s Journey with Bipolar Disorder | Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin | #talkBD EP 37 ️

Welcome to the Talk BD Podcast, where we delve into the science and strategies for living well with bipolar disorder. I’m your host, General Greg Mossin. Today, I’m thrilled to have a conversation with my good friend Martino, discussing his journey and the big picture of his story.

Early Life and Army Career

Martino and I became friends after meeting at the International Society for Bipolar Disorders conference. As we got to know each other more, our friendship solidified. I’m excited to dive into Martino’s story and ask him some questions.

Martino, when did you realize you wanted to join the Army? Was it something you always wanted as a kid?

Martino explains that he had military service in his family and initially thought of joining the Coast Guard or Navy. However, he ended up getting accepted into West Point, which was a great opportunity for education, leadership, and a full scholarship. He fell in love with the soldiers and the mission, which kept him in the Army for over 30 years.

During his early twenties, Martino’s days varied depending on whether he was at the base or out in the field. In Garrison, he would focus on training, maintenance, and helping soldiers with personal problems. He would also run four miles to work, lift weights, play basketball, and engage in farm chores or work at a German guest house.

When out in the field, Martino would live in tents and engage in live fire exercises and construction projects. This period of his life was filled with energy, positivity, and a strong sense of purpose.

Bipolar Disorder Onset

I ask Martino about the onset of his bipolar disorder and how it affected his mood during this time. He explains that he had a near-continuous level of low-level mania, which gave him energy, enthusiasm, and drive without becoming dangerously high. However, over the years, his mania increased, and his depression decreased. By the time he was in his early 40s, he was in the sub-bipolar spectrum. In Iraq, at the age of 47, he experienced a full-blown bipolar disorder.

Martino describes the mix of mania and depression he experienced during this time, including paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. As his symptoms worsened, he faced difficulties in decision-making, control, and interacting with his workforce. This period eventually led to his firing, retirement, and hospitalization.

Challenges with Diagnosis and Treatment

I inquire about the diagnosis and treatment process Martino went through, including any challenges he faced. He shares that it took two years from diagnosis to finding the right medication. Initially, he was misdiagnosed and given medications that made him sleepy without relieving depression or psychosis. However, when he started taking lithium, he experienced significant improvement.

Rebuilding Relationships and Compassion

We discuss Martino’s journey in rebuilding relationships and offering himself compassion throughout the process. He explains that he apologized to colleagues for his behavior, even though he now understands that bipolar disorder is a physical disease beyond his control. He had mixed responses, with some people still not talking to him, and others being supportive. Martino also reflects on the importance of being kind and patient with oneself during mental health challenges.

Lessons Learned and Advice

I ask Martino what he would say to the medical doctors who initially missed his bipolar disorder symptoms. He believes it’s essential to raise the possibility of bipolar disorder and discuss how his behavior deviated from his usual self. He also emphasizes the significance of deeper conversations and understanding about mental health in senior military positions.

In the final parts of our conversation, Martino reflects on the darkest times of his journey and offers a message of hope and perseverance to himself and others facing similar struggles. He also discusses the importance of communication and awareness within relationships, especially with loved ones.

Current Life and Future Goals

We transition to discussing Martino’s current life, which includes a healthy routine of fitness, bipolar work, reading, and quality time with his wife. He mentions his upcoming book, which focuses on suicide prevention, and his plans for speaking engagements and events.

As our conversation comes to an end, I express my admiration for Martino’s advocacy efforts and his commitment to sharing his story. We both look forward to future opportunities to meet in person and share a hug.

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