Waterman alumna writes ‘tell-all’ book
By Barry Schrader, senior columnist, Daily Chronicle Sept. 29, 2017
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)
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 could
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.
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; it’s 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 one’s 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.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O.
Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His past columns can be found on his website ,