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.
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.
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