Peggy Jo Henry might not have attended any of her Class
of 1977 reunions at Waterman High School, but if classmates read
her book, Climb or Descend: The Rantings of an Ex-Air Traffic
Controller/Bipolar/Suicide Survivor and a Game, they will
probably be startled to find out about her troubled life.
Peggy Jo lets it all hang out: The good, the bad and the
downright sad. She had a promising career as an air traffic controller
in southern California back in the late 1980s and early 90s
when she went into a tailspin crashed and burned, one
For some unknown reason, maybe job stress, she had a manic
episode and was hospitalized after displaying suicidal behavior.
A doctor diagnosed it as bipolar disorder, a mental illness that
causes one to go from deep depression, along with suicidal thoughts,
to an elevated mood known as hypomania, acting out irrationally
and making poor decisions without thinking of the consequences.
All this happened to Peggy Jo. Of course, she lost her
job as an air traffic controller, got divorced, lost many friends,
alienated some family members and found it hard to function on
a daily basis.
Her book tells it all, revealing intimate details in the
second of two parts, with day-by-day diary entries sharing her
innermost thoughts, fears and manic behavior. The first part
of the book is a conglomeration of family history, movie and
song titles, TV programs and documentaries woven into her rambling
style. There is even a game to pique your interest she
calls it an internet crossword puzzle. She includes something
for everyone poetry and even her favorite recipes in the
second part, known as Episode II.
Peggy Jo Henry, a Waterman High School Class of 1977
alumna, holds her pet, Smokey, an 18-pound cat she said is her
best companion. The painting in the background is a portrait
of her son and daughter. (Photo provided)
Explaining how she became a delusional psychotic, she also
shared details about her hospitalizations, treatment, medications,
making a comeback so she can now hold a job, be accepted by her
son and daughter, and even enjoy social pastimes such as playing
pool, which she does frequently with friends at a local bar.
In a phone interview, she told me she loves the camaraderie
there; its a godsend. Her description of the place
reminded me of the tavern on the TV show Cheers,
where everybody knows your name.
Now employed as a clerk in a local drug store, she probably
reveals more about her employer and her family than they would
prefer. But I found it to be an honest, forthright look at mental
illness and its effect on a person and ones family.
Plus, the game she offers is a bonus for trivia buffs. The book
can be found for sale on amazon.com. She sure could use the money
after her years of spending binges scores of purses, shoes,
belts, makeup and thousands of dollars in jewelry. She also had
a fetish for ties she has more than 100 and now
enjoys wearing them to work as a conversation starter.
I asked whether she had any thoughts about dealing with
a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, and she offered this:
Get help; listen to your doctor, always stay on your medication
(if it is working for you), and never give up on life.