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Surviving the Storm and Embracing Life When Living With a Child with Bipolar Disorder

My friend just called me last week and through tears and catching her breath she began to tell me the story of her 21-year-old son, straight A senior at Arizona University, now confined to the psych ward at a hospital in Arizona. My friend shared that her son had a “manic” episode and was throwing himself in front of cars, tackling people, and threatening people and had police pick him up and “there was nothing I could do”. My friend became more emotional as she shared “he did not remember and he is begging for me to get him out, so he can complete school, but I can’t” ….

This story was way too familiar to me.

My oldest daughter came into this world with a little defiance; after going into the delivery room to find out “your child is breech we will need to turn her or we could do a C-section”, she was coming in the way she wanted to J We have always joked about this, and what I do love about my oldest was her spirit, her creativity, and her sense of wonder!

When we begin our families, get married, buy a house, and have kids – the part of life that I was not prepared for was the “picture” perfect idea of how it should look does not always play out the way we always want it to.

Fast forward to my oldest entering middle school, I would find her up at all hours of the night reading. “What’s up? It is late! You have school tomorrow” – “Mom, I can’t sleep”.

My daughter was in a gifted and talented program at school: straight A’s, could read a novel from front to back in one night and draw the most amazing piece of artwork within moments. However, when it came to processing all that was going on her head she could flip on a dime and immediately become emotionally distraught.

The calls from the principal began rolling in. “Your daughter skipped class”. Her impulsivity increased, and was it recommended for her to get tested for ADHD. There was no formal education on “what does a Mom do now”?

The slew of therapist, psychiatrist, and doctors’ visits began in middle school.

The challenge for someone who has bipolar is to be able to work through their emotions. It is difficult to hear that your 1st heart throb in middle school breaks up with you – it is challenging… but my daughter decided to take a whole container of Tylenol that ended her up in the ER and then Mental Hospital.

It was around this time that I noticed the scars from cutting.

As a Mom trying to understand and make sense of “what did I do wrong” and/or “what can I do to reach her” took over my mind. The questions of “But we had the perfect little family” arose.

Mom was at home to help with homework. Love was spoken daily.

The kids were on the neighborhood swim team and took piano lessons.

Yet, the invisible crept in and started showing up more frequently.

My ex (daughter’s Dad) decided to leave and then the difficult situations became extreme. The day I found out he was leaving was the same day that the principal at school called me and let me know that “your daughter has been suspended for skipping”. The pattern was beginning to follow the highs (mania/impulsivity) working into wee hours getting much done and then slip into a depressive state ….

The call from the police “Ms. B your daughter is at the top of the water tower at Boylan Ave, a police officer is trying to get her to come down”. The repercussions for this behavior were being sent to a holding space downtown until they could find a place that could Involuntarily Commit her.

The biggest struggle for a Mom with a child having bi-polar, is to have to tell your daughter that you love her but there is nothing you can do and watch them put her in a back of sheriff’s car to be swept away to a Mental Hospital.

This was not in the handbook and each storm still hit hard.

The call on Mother’s Day – “Mom, I got kicked out of my apartment and have been cutting and I am really scared”. “Mom, I am in the ER I jumped into the bush and split my head open”, “Mom, I think something is wrong I am hearing voices and it is scaring me!”

Two years ago, I received a call at 3:00 am from my daughter’s partner, “Ms. B I don’t know what to do ___ has just taken a bottle of Seroquel and drank a bottle of whiskey and I can’t get her to wake up” –

Once again, another storm.

Her partner ended the relationship, and it was too much. I did race to New Hanover at 3:00 am, sat by her side until she woke up, and was fortunate that she survived. Unfortunately, she once again needed a Mental Hospital with a bed. Knowing that this is “not” what she wanted, she prepared to run out of the hospital (with her hospital gown on) and was detained by security and put into another Van to go to another Mental Hospital for a stay.

Last words “Mom, please don’t let them do this” …. the storm had come again, and we would need to ride it out….

There have been many storms over the years, too many to share all but what I have learned is that this invisible illness shows up and erupts when you least expect it. It can be undetected by passing that person on the street as it could be someone you know or someone sitting right beside you at work.

The piece that I would like the reader to take away from this read, is to know that my daughter is beautiful, loving, kind, would help a stranger, caring, generous, intelligent, and creative. She has worked through her demons and continues to manage this insidious illness. I hope that giving an insightful glimpse of what it looks like for someone to manage this mental illness and how it impacts the entire family is real.

It takes years of storms, many therapist, DBT groups and working with different medications to find the right cocktail of meds that would control her moods, and lots of late-night talks.

There is a need to seek support, understanding and educating yourself and any friends or family members that might look at this illness as “bad behavior” but rather as an invisible illness that is treatable and can be embraced.

There are support groups in the area and as this invisible illness creeps in it can be very scary for those who witness and or have experienced emotions/moods that come from mania and/or depression.

Here are a few resources to help the reader understand and become educated and for those family members that live with a loved one with bipolar disorder – please seek a support group as well!

My daughter was Vocational Rehab Counselor in Wilmington and is now living in Asheville, NC. Thriving and managing her mental illness. Storms still come, but with each one “she” braces and leans into it – I am proud of how she has accomplished and managed through her storms.

This too shall pass


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