Demons chasing, taunting, voices screaming kill yourself, you’re worthless and ugly, throwing furniture, punching walls, crying uncontrollably, and cutting flesh. No, this isn’t a description of a horror movie; it’s what my 11-year-old daughter was suffering through for almost 2 years, before being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
My blog is about healthy living so you may be thinking this post doesn’t exactly fall into that category, but it should. Mental health is a large and vastly overlooked aspect of a healthy life. My hope is that my story will help anyone that’s going through something similar, and start conversation on a topic that isn’t talked about enough.
My daughter was born with Bipolar Disorder. She showed signs of it the minute she was born. I didn’t realize it until 11 years later when she was diagnosed. I was 28 years old when she was born and basically on my own. My relationship with her father was already on unsteady ground and the pregnancy toppled it. Despite the difficult situation I was thrilled to be pregnant, I had always known I would have a daughter and I was excited to start our life together.
From the moment she was born she cried uncontrollably, she didn’t stop for an entire year. I was told it was colic, acid reflux, allergies, trauma from being born; the list goes on and on. It was none of those things. I spent a lot of that first year in a rocking chair and burnt out numerous hair dryers, as that was the only sound that would soothe her. In addition to the crying, she refused to sleep. Her body never stopped moving. The only way I could get her to go to sleep was by holding her down while she kicked and fought herself into a stupor. I gave up fighting for her to take a nap when she was 18 months old.
She refused to drink from a bottle or from anything other than my breast. If I left her for an extended period, she would go hungry and scream until I got home. This made getting a babysitter quite difficult as you can imagine. I kept telling myself it’s a phase and she’ll grow out of it, but that never happened. She did eventually stop crying but she still never seemed happy. She didn’t smile or laugh easily like other toddlers. People would constantly ask her to smile or comment on how solemn she was.
When she was 4 years old I met the man who would become my husband. We moved to a new community to start a life as a blended family. The struggles with her continued and magnified. The drastic change of taking her from the life she was used to, and the few friends she had made, was traumatic.
When she would finally fall asleep at night she would wake with disturbing night terrors. She would shake, scream, cry and say that she could see monsters coming towards her. The night terrors eventually subsided but it took years.
Elementary school presented it’s own difficulties as she tried to maneuver in her social circle. She never made friends easily and when she did there were often problems in the relationships. She would complain that kids were mean to her, or that they left her out. I was constantly feeling angry with the parents of those kids for not seeing that their children were treating my daughter poorly. It didn’t occur to me until later, that she was the problem. She stopped being invited to parties, kids stopped playing with her at school and play dates were few and far between. She was very lonely.
When she was in 6th grade her behavior took a radical turn. She began to act out with more ferocity. I saw evidence that she had been cutting her arms and legs. When I confronted her about it, she told me that she could hear voices in her head that told her to hurt herself.
I immediately took her to a child psychologist who suggested that she be enrolled in an outpatient program for troubled kids. It was in this program that we met the psychiatrist that would diagnose her with Bipolar 1.
I was stunned. I don’t know why I was surprised, my father was bipolar, I was no stranger to the disease. When I looked back at her life up until that moment, it all made sense. She was bipolar; she had visible symptoms the first days of her life. They say that bipolar doesn’t present until the teen years, but I don’t believe that, I experienced it first hand.
I accepted what I realized to be true and breathed a sigh of relief. I thought now I know what the problem is and thank the Lord there’s a solution, medication. I now laugh at my naïve self. Little did I know, the maelstrom was just beginning.
I did my research and found the best doctor for adolescent bipolar in our area and got a second opinion, the diagnosis was confirmed and medication was started. She continued in her outpatient program as well as attending regular school. I felt hopeful that we were on the right path. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Her symptoms became cataclysmic. It was a nightmare and it was terrifying to witness. During this time, I had just given birth to my son, which added that much more stress to the situation. Contending with feelings of jealousy didn’t help her emotional roller coaster. Our family was spinning out of control.
Things continued to go down hill. We added more medication, changed dosages, but nothing seemed to help. During this time she was so volatile that we were living moment to moment. I never knew what the day would be like, everything revolved around her mood. We walked on eggshells around her, fearing any little thing would set her off.
Finally after about 18 months of this tumult, and many failed tries to get the medication correct we decided to find a new psychiatrist. The new doctor adjusted her medication, and we finally began to see some progress. It was a very slow process. Over the course of the next 6 months we began to have more control over the situation. She stopped acting out and even started to smile once in a while. It took a long time but we finally got her to a place where she was feeling and acting like a regular teenager.
There will always be challenges. Just recently, she decided that she didn’t like the way the medications were making her feel, so she stopped taking them unbeknownst to me. By the time I found out it had been long enough to throw her into a cycle of rage and severe depression. We’re still working to bring her out of it.
Bipolar is a life sentence. There is no cure but it can be managed. Bipolar people can live happy and productive lives as long as they stay on their medication. Living with a bipolar child is challenging to say the least and I wish there was more support for families. Even in the big city that we live in, there is very limited support for children and teens that are afflicted. I’m hoping that more awareness will bring with it more support and more outlets for people affected by bipolar.
If you think your child could possibly have a mental illness, take them to get evaluated. Too many teens aren’t diagnosed because they are simply written off as “bad kids”. I feel lucky that we found out when she was young. This gave us a chance to contain it while she’s still living at home. Bipolar is complex. I’m still learning everyday how to help her manage her condition and hopefully find a balance where she can thrive.
Please comment and share your thoughts or stories. I would love to hear of anyone else that has gone through something similar and how they are dealing with it.