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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole: On Parenting with BiPolar Disorder - Contributor Post

Today, Accidentally Mommy has graciously opened up about a challenge that faces many parents, and helps others in how they deal with it in their own lives.


In January of 2010, I wrote a post for my blog titled “Tackling Taboo: Bipolar Parents” and it was difficult, to say the least. At the time, it had become knowledge to someone in my life that I had Bipolar Disorder, and I was being vilified for it. Suddenly, I wasn’t safe to be around her children. Suddenly, my children might not be safe anymore. Suddenly, I was the monster in the closet, poised to spring at the most vulnerable moment in a child’s -- any child, according to her -- life. In my original post, I attempted to debunk some popular myths regarding people who have Bipolar Disorder, such as the ones perpetuated in the media via movies like Mommie Dearest and Sally Fields’ recurring role on the popular television series ER, using personal observations.  Here, my goal is to go a step further. Here, I want to share with you the further intricacies of being a parent with Bipolar Disorder, such as explaining to one’s older child why mommy or daddy has to take medicine every day, frequent doctor visits, and even the issues that arise when an episode of mania or depression strikes.

My daughter is eight. She first made note of the fact that I took a lot of medicine and went to the doctor a lot when she was about four. At the time, the explanation for her questions had to be watered down to age-appropriate responses. While Bipolar Disorder is an illness, I didn’t frame it to her that I was “sick.” Instead, I explained that I was different. A copout? Too politically correct? Possibly. It was important to me, though, that my child know from a young age that this difference didn’t diminish me in the same way many illnesses can diminish many people.

Recently, though, her interest has been piqued again. I’ll start from here by warning you that if you find yourself in a similar position in the future, it won’t be easy. Hell, writing this post hasn’t been easy. It’s taken me days to articulate my thoughts and get over being self-conscious about it. That self-consciousness seems to multiply when you’re explaining it to your child. In my case, she’s old enough to understand what people stereotype “crazy” as, and that’s the last thing one wants their child to associate them with.

So, how do you do it? You take a deep breath and you explain that everyone’s brain is wired differently. My daughter has epilepsy, so that was a perfect example to start out with. Then I went on to explain what Bipolar Disorder is. I told her that because my brain is wired the way it is, sometimes I get upset or angry for no reason. Sometimes I get really, really sad. Sometimes I get so nervous about things that I don’t want to or can’t do them. She accepted that explanation pretty readily. That led to the explanation of all the medications.

I didn’t go into what each medication is, but I explained that the mixture of meds I’m on controlled each aspect of my difference. One medicine made my sadness go away. One medicine helped me to get over being so nervous. It was at this point that she asked me if she would have to be on so many medicines someday. That was a tough pill to swallow. (See what I did there?) I answered her truthfully and said I didn’t know. I told her that I didn’t start feeling this way until I was older than her, so it was too early to know. She expressed that she was scared that she might be the same way later in life, and that she was upset because she was afraid people would call her, or me, crazy. I told her emphatically that I was not, nor would she be, crazy. I reinforced again that this difference wasn’t a bad thing, it was just a thing. Just like her epilepsy. I also reinforced that we didn’t know, and she migh not experience it at all.

From there, we went on to talk about what exactly a psychiatrist is. Again, it was a pretty easy explanation from a technical standpoint. Just like her neurologist, a psychiatrist knows all about brains. The difference is that a neurologist knows about the physical aspect of the brain, and a psychiatrist knows about the chemical aspect of it. (When I explained the medications and how they worked, I also explained that these feelings and mood changes I had were because of my brain not producing the right mix of chemicals, so that she would understand that it was a physical issue, not just something I imagined.) Obviously psychiatrists and neurologists share knowledge that is intrinsically linked, but I felt at this point she would have a better grasp if I pointed out their specialties rather than their similarities.

At the end, she was far less worried. She seemed to understand perfectly well that it wasn’t something that I could prevent or change in myself. For that alone I was extremely grateful. Like I said above, this wasn’t an easy post to write or an easy conversation to have. But I feel strongly that both had to happen. I know I’m not the only parent out there that struggles with mental illness. There are plenty of us that don’t talk about it but may need to in the future, and need the solidarity of a parent who has already gone there. That’s one of the reasons why this post exists. This is here for you to know you’re not alone. You can do it, and they will understand and think no less of you for it. And for the parents who don’t have the same hurdles to navigate, it’s here so that you can gain a little insight if you need it. To know that these are some of the things your friends or family may face, so that you can offer your support. Even if that means pointing them here.



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