It is extremely difficult to understand the reality of a loved one with bipolar disorder, especially when we demand logic and coherency. It is heartbreaking when our loved ones with bipolar fall so ill that they are not able to know the difference between what is good for them and what is plainly destructive.
Before my own bipolar disorder diagnosis, I did not understand how anyone could give up on interacting with their children, or the reality that people with a mental illness would willingly fling themselves out of vehicles in hopes of ending their mental anguish. One of my earliest memories takes me to a place where I was being babysat around the age of 6 years old, and I was playing in the garden of my babysitter’s home. As I was digging in the soil playing with flowers only after being there for one hour, the babysitter roars into the backyard and tells me in a stern voice that we have to leave immediately. She told me that my mother had jumped out of a car and my father asked the sitter to bring me home in that instant. I was not given any more information, and I was totally confused as my mother had dropped me off at the sitter’s earlier that day and gave me a loving kiss goodbye. I realize now that she was actually shaky that day, but my family members had always told me that the tremors in her hands were just ‘nerves’. I never really understood what this meant, but I understood it as was nothing to worry or be concerned about. My family minimized and hid the reality from us kids that my mother had a serious mental illness – bipolar disorder. My heart dropped into the depths of despair upon hearing about the news of my mother, and I did not understand how, or why she would try to end her life. This is the same car where our family had so many fond memories of camping trips and evening runs to get ice-cream at the local convenience store.
My father did not offer my sister and I any explanation about my mother’s situation, but I could observe confusion, anger and worry all over his face. Mom was gone for a few weeks once again, and then one day my grandmother grabbed my hand and told me that my mom wanted to see me in my parents’ bedroom. I followed her upstairs, and upon my entrance to her room, I observed various members of my family standing around my mother’s bed as she was perched up on a number of pillows. Once she saw me, she immediately raised her voice with joy and said, “Andrea, my baby!” I immediately ran up to her and jumped on the bed and started crying while yelling, “Mom!” at the top of my lungs. I flung my arms around her, and even at this young age, I knew that she certainly had a brush with death, and I did not know if I would have seen her again. Mom had a cut on her lip and I will never forget the sheer terror that left my body as I held my mother that day.
My mother’s bipolar disorder tried to claim her life time and time again, but she never gave up. Mom tried extremely hard to accept her illness from that day forward and she always loved my sister and I unconditionally.
Forgiveness and bipolar disorder
There were many more destructive and
saddening situations with my mother as I grew older, which range from being on
my own at the age of 16 because she kicked me out of the house to not attending
my high school graduation. However, I tend to instead reflect on the more
favorable moments with my mother that include her dressing up so beautifully
for my grade eight graduation, or spending two hours in the grocery store to
ensure that I bought every single item that I desired. I often reflect on my
mother who taught me how to drive, or washed my hair on the couch after a long
airplane ride to see her because I was too tired to take a bath. My mother may
have bipolar disorder, but her heart shines brighter than this challenging
illness. She means so well, even though life with mom has been extremely
heartbreaking. Currently, I am happy when I hear from my mother on the phone,
and I feel blessed that she is still here with us, no matter how much we worry
about her wellbeing.
Life can be extremely difficult when you have a close loved one who has bipolar disorder or any mental illness, but we must embrace the time that we have with them. Instead of blame, regret or shame in our experiences with our loved ones. We ought to cultivate acceptance and understanding in ourselves, even when its the most difficult to do. It is important to love those individuals with mental illness even when we expect them to show up as they would have without the diagnosis. Bipolar disorder may attempt to steal love in our relationships, so instead, let these experiences help us embrace the challenges that we must face and forgive those who have any mental illness for no fault of their own.
Andrea Paquette is founder and Executive Director of the Stigma-Free Society, formerly the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC, and she is also known as the Bipolar Babe. She is a mental health speaker, published author, advocate and above all a Stigma Stomper. She created the Bipolar Babe Project in May 2009. Andrea has reached over thousands with her message of hope and resiliency in schools, workplaces, and throughout various community organizations and events. Her Bipolar Babe persona has reached great heights locally and internationally as she is a 2016 Bell Let's Talk Face for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH). Andrea is the B.C. Provincial 2015 Courage To Come Back Recipient in the Mental Health category, the winner of Victoria’s 2013 CFAX Mel Cooper Citizen of the Year Award and the 2013 Winner for Mental Health Mentorship given by the National Council for Behavioral Health, Washington, D.C. Andrea has also received the prestigious Top 20 Under 40 Award for Vancouver Island's Business and Community Awards.
She is grateful for having the opportunity to share her personal message that “No matter what our challenges, we can all live extraordinary lives.”
Feel free to visit her website:
Bipolar Babe. Connect with Andrea on Twitter @Bipolar__Babe and Instagram @bipolarbabe
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