“Sticking It Out” with Your Child’s Bipolar Journey

Last Updated: 18 Sep 2018

Patience, persistence and getting her own talk therapy helps mom navigate daughter’s seven year journey with bipolar. Michelle* encourages other parents to stay strong and never give up.

mom of child with bipolar says don't lose hope

Tell us when you first noticed mood changes in your daughter.

Our story began when my child became scared of storms at a young age. After becoming so irrational and anxious about clouds we took her to her pediatrician, who put her on medication for depression — that lasted a week. At one point, I was concerned she had ADHD because she couldn’t sit through a movie, book, or TV show but medication to manage this was also unsuccessful so we were referred to a psychiatrist.

I became frustrated with the lack of treatment and found another psychiatrist. She was diagnosed with bipolar II, ADHD and anxiety at age nine. We had her in therapy also, but the therapist kept saying, “when she gets older, we can try cognitive behavioral therapy on her.” But we desperately needed help then, not later. So began the medication and treatment journey…

Please describe your daughter’s medication and treatment journey.

The first psychiatrist did not want to medicate her because she was able to control herself in the school environment. It was as if she held the ability to control her moods and volatility in all day and could not hold it in anymore once she got home and in her comfortable place

My daughter did better once she started on an antipsychotic and a mood stabilizer, but something still did not feel right. A mom instinctively knows when something isn’t right with her child. I changed psychiatrists one more time because I found one who accepted my insurance and also did Genesight testing to see what medications her body would metabolize better.

Here we are, seven years after diagnosis, and still trying to figure out the right medications to help her get better. Trying to medicate a hormonal, chronically sleep deprived 14-year-old is like hitting a moving target. We believe a big piece of the puzzle is sleep deprivation, but it is difficult to fix when she won’t tell us the truth about sleep patterns.

How do you navigate your daughter’s moods today?

I regret that I let myself lose my temper. It is so hard to keep my head together when she disrespects and mistreats me, but I have to. Sometimes I don’t know how to describe to others the pain I am going through.

How have you dealt with your own work schedule?

I missed a lot of work due to therapy and medical appointments for my daughter. I have now adjusted my work schedule so I don’t have to miss as much work. I have a lot of anxiety due to her diagnosis and trying to keep the house peaceful.

What has been your experience with stigma?

I had so many people pass judgement on me—I was treated as if I did not know how to discipline my kid. I felt like people did not understand that even when I did discipline her, she would rage for hours and hours. At some point, a parent has to sleep, work and function. Normal parenting techniques just did not work.

How has your daughter’s mental health diagnosis changed your outlook on life?

I used to be so judgmental of other parents. Now I realize I have no idea what someone else is going through. I am a nurse and by nature I hated psych nursing, but I have more compassion for patients with mental health challenges because of the experiences I’ve gone through with my daughter.

What about the rest of the family?

My daughter’s diagnosis has been extremely hard on our family and marriage. We try to take everything one day at a time. My older son is actually very helpful with her. Sometimes she will listen to him when she won’t listen to anyone else. Her diagnosis is hard on him as well. I just keep talking to him about it and giving him time to talk about his feelings.

Where do you find inspiration, hope, help & support?

Honestly, I have bphope coming up first on my Facebook newsfeed, and it is a huge source of support to me. I also have a great counsellor, who has a son with autism, which I think helps him better understand children with mental health needs. I also take time out every day for self care. I walk, go to the gym, spend time with my pets, and read. I have to be strong so I can be strong for her, and my family.

What’s your message to the public about bipolar disorder in children and teens?

We have to talk and support each other. We all have to work together to erase the stigma and we have to treat mental illness the same as physical illness. Mental health is complex. Many people with mental health challenges exhibit manipulative behaviors, lie and abuse illegal substances. These factors make it hard for loved ones to stick it out and help those with bipolar and it is heartbreaking.

The mental health care system is very difficult to navigate through. I am a nurse and I have trouble, so I can’t imagine how a layperson feels. Mental health is expensive and often private pay, with long wait times to get seen. We have to do better.

What about a message to other parents of children/teens with bipolar disorder?

Therapy is just as important for the parent as it is for the child. Also, sometimes it is OK to remove yourself from the situation until everyone calms down. The best strategy I use now is ignoring or saying “when you can calm down, I will discuss this with you.” Ignoring negative behavior works better than anything, even though it is very hard to do when you are hurt and angry. It is really the only thing that works. And…never, never, never give up. We are all they have.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Be persistent. Be patient. Find a judgement-free support system, even if it means a therapist. Sometimes I use the therapist for me and sometimes it is for my daughter. It is used for who needs it the most at the time.

At 14 years old, your daughter is still young; how is she doing today and do you have dreams for her future?

She still has terrible mood swings. If she can’t learn life’s lessons from me, she may have to learn them the hard way out in the real world. I pray she can live a “normal life”, i.e. go to college, have a job, have a family, etc.

* Michelle, not her real name, has been happily married 21 years. She and her husband live in the United States with their teenage kids. She urges other parents to be patient, persistent and never, ever give up.

  1. Thank you!! Reading your stories have calmed my anxiety a little. My son is 10 and he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It’s very hard to keep the peace. He is the oldest and trying to keep my two other kids who are 8&6 is very hard. My 6yr really doesn’t understand why her brother is acting they way he is. Every episode I have to explain why. I also have bad mom moments and ignoring and the behavior helps. It helps to know I am not alone. I am happy to express my feelings and know you all understand. It’s really hard but I won’t give up.

  2. My daughter is 16, diagnosed with ADHD early on and now it is apparent she has BP 1 with episodes of mania, depression & rage. It’s a struggle EVERYDAY. Your words really hit home, like someone else actually knows & feels what I go through. I have a therapist because I can’t rely on my friends & family for support because although they are trying to offer good advice, their ignorance of my reality with my daughter, often leads to misguided advice & comments that actually increase my anxiety.

    In my state (NJ), I’ve been able to access Perform Care, which offers free therapy & support to my daughter & our family, even an advocate to attend IEP meetings. “Sticking It Out” with my daughter has been & will continue to be my greatest accomplishment in life, wherever that may lead. Definitely not the life I set out for, but I will never give up. After many failed medication attempts, she is now titrating up on Lamictal, which seems to be helping, & also Vyvanse for attention.

    Our #1 goal at 16 is for her to graduate high school in 2 years. She would like to get a job & her driver’s license, but she can barely maintain responsibilities placed on her at home & school. My anxiety at this point stems from the fear of what will become of her. Will she ever be stable enough to hold a job and lead an independent life?

    We are not alone. Mental healthcare has come a long way in our country. I can’t imagine what how my daughter and I would be managing if it were 1949 & not 2019. But there is still so much more work to be done. Thank you for this article and this website.

  3. Thank you. I have a 9 year old son with bipolar and he is very verbally abusive, manipulative and controlling when he is dysregulated. I have had so many bad mother moments and have come to the same conclusion you have. Ignoring the bad behavior seems the only way, but I constantly get stuck between the thought that I am allowing my child to abuse me or that it is the illness not him. The agony this illness places on my son and all those that live with him is unbearable. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone.

  4. To listen to others, who are in the same situation as I am is for me a kind of a blessy moment. It gives me much more than hope only. The enrichment given makes me feel well and gives me comfort and strenght to go on. A major reason is embedded in the fact that I can navigate our life in a much more better shape. I take care of an adopted daughter as of 31 years. Her diagnosis was made at the age of six, in her early childhood. She came to us in her late teenage life, as she was nineteen. Together with her our family went through hard times, including periods were she suffered over some years bipolar I periods combined with anorexia. She was so close to heaven that our family was paramountly happy as she came through safely. Ofcourse, scars were left on her soul. Since then, I know the meaning of to give love to your child, to face the dark side of her life and still to have patience until her period of anorexia was over, to be persistent at 24/7. Well, we live in Germany. Nonetheless, I was seeking for help globally, just to find hope and help. I am a scientists, a molecular biologist and physicist, so I know that the chances to find a remedy for the moment is little. I told myself a child you have it a lifetime long, which means that I have to take care of our daughter with all the love I have for the rest of my life. The words of many parents give me so much hope to deal positivly with her broken life and finally with our life. After every swing mood period her smile makes me forget the pain I had. She is so life-affirming, it’s just amazing. These are the moments I thank the Lord for all periods we went through and still came out “a life”. I’ve cried many tears for feeling helpless, for being helpless not to be able to take off her inner pain, to carry it instead. Since our daughter came into our life I started love driven my research in our bio-chem labs in Asia, hoping that someday we find a key solution to heal mental illness finally in order to help all the 60 million people world wide, who are suffering too under these horrible mental illnesses.

  5. Omg. Thank you. We are looking at A BP Dx for my 15 year old son. He already has autism, anxiety and depression. We have a few relatives w BP and this article spoke to me. Like we were having coffee and spilling our guts thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have hope.

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