My daughter is 15 years old and was diagnosed Bipolar with psychotic features when she was 11.
The last three years have been the most difficult times I’ve experienced in my life. I grew up with a bipolar father, but with him the disease was on the periphery for me. With my daughter it’s front and center. It dominates my thoughts, emotions and actions. It holds me in a state, where I feel a constant sensation of free falling, never knowing where I’m going to land.
Despite how difficult this has been, I have also found strengths in myself that I didn’t know existed. I have evolved as a mother, a wife and a human being. My daughters bipolar is part of who she is, but it’s also part of who I am, and who I will become.
Here is what I’ve learned from having a bipolar child.
1. I am strong.
With adversity, you either gather your strength to do battle, or you crumble under the pressure. Through my daughter’s illness, I have found incredible strength inside myself. I still have days where I cry and feel hopeless, but I get through them and soldier on. This strength came to me through education, determination and an incredible support system. When she was diagnosed, I researched and learned as much as I could about what to expect moving forward. I found the best adolescent psychiatrist in our area, and a therapist that worked well with my daughter. With each new medication I researched and learned everything I could about how they worked, possible side effects and efficacy. Arming myself with knowledge has felt like the best defense and has empowered me.
2. I’ve learned to control my temper.
I have worked hard to be a more calm and understanding mother. This is not to say that I don’t have moments of failure, I do. However my previous methods of yelling and being reactive, brought out unimaginable volatility in her. I try not to be the spark that ignites her rage and instead be a calming influence.
3. I have learned how very few things in life matter.
We are all guilty of it. We desire, we covet, we burn with jealousy over what someone else has. We make looking good, having the right clothes, the right car and the right friends our priorities. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Over the last three years, my thoughts have changed, my priorities have shifted. I’ve had moments of jealousy over different things, like happy kids and peaceful households. However, I then remind myself that everyone has challenges, some more apparent than others, but challenges nonetheless.
4. I have learned to give up control.
This has been exceedingly difficult for me. Any feelings of being in control are fanciful at best, and I have spent my life fighting for this to no avail. Control over my life, my body, my children, my parents, my husband and even my friends. Having a child with a mental illness has taught me more than ever that I cannot control other people. Over time I have come to accept this. I’m learning everyday how to take things as they come, and how to be brave in the face of uncertainty.
5. I have learned to take it one day at a time.
This sounds so cliche but it’s absolutely true. I have always been a planner. I thrive within routine and familiarity. When my daughter started showing symptoms of her illness I quickly learned that I had to become flexible. Unlike adults with bipolar, children usually cycle rapidly. Their moods can literally change moment to moment. This causes a lot of uncertainty in her life and mine. Being unyielding only adds more stress to the situation.
6. I’ve learned to be thankful.
There are many things that I’m thankful for, and it took this upheaval in our lives for me to realize some of them. I’m thankful that we have the financial means to get the best possible care for our child, and that we live in a big city where care is readily available. I’m thankful there are medications she can take that will hopefully help her live a normal life. Also for the incredible support we have from our friends, family and her school. The thing I’m most thankful for, is her. She is an amazing person, and maybe she wouldn’t be who she is, if it weren’t for her bipolar. My daughter is creative, talented, intelligent, passionate and I know she will do great things with her life, and for that I’m grateful.
Having a child with a mental illness is overwhelming and scary, but I have faith the future is brighter. Bipolar is complex. I’m still learning everyday how to help her manage her condition, and to find balance and stability for her and our family. Someone once told me that the only “cure” for bipolar is acceptance and love and of course some really good meds. I couldn’t agree more.