‘I’m the town crazy man’

Bude Fondurulia seems like an average guy as he walks down the sidewalk in Isle, stopping to visit with neighbors or to shop at Main Street stores. He doesn’t look different or sound different or act different — most of the time. Maybe a little friendlier at times, or louder, or angrier, but for the most part, pretty average.
But he is different. Bude (pronounced “Boody”) suffers from bipolar disorder — a mental illness he was first diagnosed with in 1990.

fondurulia_bude_1

“It’s tremendously hard to live with,” he says, “because it’s an illness that can’t be seen.”People say to him, “You don’t look or sound mentally ill.” He responds, “What am I supposed to look like? What am I supposed to sound like?”

It’s an “invisible illness,” Bude says, but that doesn’t mean no one’s noticed. He’s aware of his reputation as a little bit crazy, or erratic, or not quite trustworthy. And it hurts.It hasn’t been easy living with mental illness in a small town. He’s been given funny looks, he’s overheard judgmental comments, and he’s been kept at arm’s length by many.

A few years ago he offered to speak in a classroom at a local school. He thought the presentation went well, but he wasn’t asked back. Later he was told it was because parents complained about having “that crazy man” talking to their kids.

fondurulia_bude_fullAnother time he was depositing a disability check and had to listen to a bank teller make a wisecrack.

He’s been called lazy and lucky because he’s on disability. But he’s far from lazy and doesn’t consider himself lucky — especially when depression takes hold.

Most people have seen Bude when he’s been in a manic phase — talking incessantly, making big plans, or working on a succession of projects. He’s famous locally for his barbecues, which he used to host with his trademark high energy and nonstop banter.
His son tells him he would’ve made a great general. “Yeah,” he responds. “If I could’ve attacked eight places at once.”

That kind of energy looks healthy to most of us, but for Bude, it’s part of a cyclical disease with lows to match the highs. “I have a disease where if I’m feeling too good, they want to increase my medication,” he says.

Symptoms of bipolar include grandiosity and delusions, and Bude freely admits he suffers from both. He has an all-or-nothing, black-and-white outlook. His thoughts never rest, and they bounce around like pinballs.

When he’s depressed, he stays home in bed or stares for hours at the wall. He’s had thoughts of suicide for decades, ever since financial problems and drinking — self medicating, he calls it — led him to rock bottom the first time, in 1986.

He ended up in a psych ward on suicide watch.

For the next 10 years, he went back and forth between treatment and denial. “I always believed I could outfox this illness,” he says.

People gave him advice that never worked: “Think happy thoughts,” “Quit thinking about the past,” “Get over it.”

The depression came back, along with a mixture of nostalgia and guilt about the past. Food wouldn’t taste right. He’d stop bathing, shaving, going out. “Snap out of it,” people would say.

“You can’t,” he says. “There’s not enough antidepressants in the world to make a person stop thinking about suicide.”

He was back on a suicide ward in the mid 1990s. When he got out, his kids were teased by their friends —“Your dad just got out of the loony bin.”

He’s still looking for the right balance of medication and therapy to keep his illness in control. Meds are not a panacea, he says.

After growing up in a Serbian community on the Iron Range, Bude joined the service, as his father and grandfather had done. He did a hitch in Vietnam and came back with post traumatic stress disorder — which Bude says can often trigger bipolar. He had some bad relationships and a series of tragedies, which he dealt with by drinking.
In the mid-1980s, he was living in St. Cloud with his wife Judy, raising his three kids and running an insurance company. When the business went under, his partner took his own life, and Bude considered doing the same.

After his stint in the psych ward, he ended up in Isle, working as an insurance agent and an outdoor cook at Izatys, then running his own barbecue business. Eventually he had to give up steady work because of his illness, but he keeps busy around the house, caring for his grandkids, and hunting.

Thanks to the VA and his PA — Jill Larsen from Mille Lacs Health System — he’s feeling pretty good lately.

He quit drinking for 12 years but fell off the wagon a few years ago. He knows it’s not good for him, but says he “copped an attitude” after years of sobriety.

He’s considering going on the wagon again. The alcohol makes him sick and doesn’t react well to medications.

He’s suffering from other illnesses as well, including diabetes, hepatitis, heart problems and eye problems. Some of his health problems have been connected by the Veterans Administration to his service in Vietnam. Others were caused by prescription drugs.

It’s a constant struggle to fit into a small community. His disease causes him to say some crazy things. “The outrageous statements have gotten me in a lot of trouble,” he says. “It scares people. I’m the town crazy man.”
Bipolar Disorder requires lifelong treatment
by Tenlee Lund, Mille Lacs Health System
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that affects about 5.7 million people in the United States. It is characterized by extreme mood swings, which make life difficult for the person suffering from the disorder — and their family and friends.
Formerly known as manic-depression, bipolar disorder is a brain disorder caused by a true chemical imbalance. It is diagnosed in both men and women, children as well as adults.
“Bipolar disorder patients have mood swings from depression to mania,” explained Dr. David J. Lopez, psychiatrist with Mille Lacs Health System (MLHS). “When they feel depressed, they have symptoms of sadness, anxiety, guilt or anger. Their appetites and sleep get disturbed. They also lose interest in activities they enjoyed before. They can become socially isolated and cry easily.
“When they are on the other spectrum of the disease, mania/hypomania, then they feel that they are at the top of the world and they can conquer anything. They have high energy levels, they need less sleep, their speech is fast and pressured and they have many ideas going in their minds at the same time. They are easily distractible and will take risks, like driving too fast, sexual indiscretions, shopping sprees or increased use of illegal substances.”
Ron Hunt, psychologist with MLHS, added that patients often try to self-medicate, using drugs or alcohol in attempts to “manage their mood with chemicals.” This can lead to substance abuse and addiction problems. “It’s a very poor way to try to treat their own illness because illegal drugs and alcohol aren’t designed for treating bipolar disorder.”
There are, however, many mood-stabilizing medications that are designed for that purpose. Dr. Lopez cited traditional mood stabilizers — Lithium, Valproic Acid and Lamotrigine; antipsychotics — Olanzapine, Quetiapine and Risperidone, and antidepressants that are prescribed to help regulate and stabilize patients’ mood swings.
“The psychiatrist is the first line of defense,” said Hunt. “The psychologist is the second line, because we help people with their coping skills and getting through traumas of the past. A lot of times bipolar people have traumas in their past, for a variety of reasons.”
He said the best treatment includes the patient and “the circle around them,” their family and friends.

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