I am a special needs mom. Aka a childhood Bipolar mom.
We all know a special needs mom. When we hear that we typically think of something like autism or cerebral palsy. Rarely, do we think of mental illness. Which makes a hell of a lot of sense, because I try like hell not to mention that I’m a special needs mom… because it’s due to Bipolar 1. It’s no surprise that mental illness carries a huge stigma in our society, despite the massive amount of work to change that.
Depression and anxiety have a done a wonderful job of being exposed, discussed, and dare I say accepted, over the past several years mainly due to the fearless sufferers sharing their lives with the rest of us. But what about mentally ill children? I think we have a ways to go there. My son, now 6, has a severe mental illness: Bipolar I. He has also been handed other diagnoses of ADHD and Conduct Disorder to boot. It is NOT easy to be his mom, so I can only imagine what it’s like to actually be HIM. Childhood Bipolar disorder is still a controversial diagnosis, and I am so glad we had the psychologist we did. She saw it and helped us get the right answer.
Watching my son can be hard
It’s so hard to watch him interact with peers, who are also young children learning social skills. I don’t blame the other kids or their parents when they get overwhelmed by him. They do know about being inclusive and compassionate to kids with special needs, but with my son, it’s not readily apparent that he’s different. They don’t see my son as having special needs, they see him as being a ‘bad kid’ or ‘THAT kid’. Usually, he can hold himself together long enough to get through the door before melting down … but not all the time.
Sometimes we have to tell people, which sucks
Because he doesn’t respond the way you’d expect to what SEEMS totally harmless (Like someone asking him to be quiet) he can go from everyone’s best friend to the outcast no one wants to play with within minutes. I’ve watched it happen time and time again. At taekwondo practice, at the playground, while playing a sport, at school… when his ‘special need’ rears it’s ugly head there is no acceptance and understanding unless I quickly label him. Then we get some smiles and a friendly-esque retreat.
Sure kids accept him back into the fold in the generous-hearted way only kids can, but he’s become an easy target. Kids run to tell me what he’s doing. If someone does something wrong or bad, it’s easy to point the finger in my son’s direction because it’s believable. The harm here is, my son already hates himself for the things he DOES do. Add in things he DIDN’T do, or accidents, or retaliation for being intentionally provoked and you get a 6-year-old telling me he ‘wishes he was never born and will do anything to leave this world.’
Childhood Bipolar disorder and its ramifications are no ones fault
I’m not placing blame on other children or people here, but it’s an ugly truth of my son’s mental illness. He’s an easy target. A big, bright red X is on his back for all to see once they know he is Bipolar, or have witnessed him having a meltdown even once. I never let him off the hook for poor behavior, but it’s fine line every day between trying to discipline him and not fuel his self-hatred for the way that he is.
I see the looks people toss our way when they hear him verbally berating me in a store and I keep on walking, ignoring it completely. Or when he isn’t wearing shoes because I just didn’t have it in me to battle him on it. People are quickly endeared by him when he talks to everyone we come across with his adult vocabulary, but then confused and put off by his oversharing. He just doesn’t have the social skills you’d expect for such an ‘advanced kid’.
Bipolar 1 leaves me with so many questions and so much fear
I fear for his future, for the days when I can no longer scoop him up and remove him from a situation. For days in public school when he totally loses it. You only get so many clean slates, and I am so scared for when those run out.
Because his condition comes with such a negative connotation, I don’t rush to tell people. But when I don’t tell people they simply assume he’s just a rotten kid. And he knows this. That might be the most painful part, his awareness of ALL of this.
Even the child knows the impacts of Childhood Bipolar Disorder
It breaks my heart every time he asks me if I ‘see or hear it too’ when he’s not sure if something is real or in his head. It’s even sadder when he calms down after an outburst and between sobs can only manage ‘ Why am I so bad?!’
We spend time teaching our kids about bullying and feelings and that what they feel MATTERS. But for my son, I have to evaluate every threat he perceives and gently try and convince him some of them aren’t real. Do you know how hard it is to filter a child’s feelings for them in a world where we are told to NEVER do that? It’s impossible! I fuck up everyday!
Not only is it difficult to watch his interactions with the outside world, but it wreaks havoc on our family life as well. He has a younger brother who absolutely ADORES him, but is developing his own issues due to the stress. It causes friction in my marriage and doubts within myself. Our dog can sense when he’s going to explode and goes to hide. It just never ends. He is aware of ALL of this.
Despite everything, he is still my beautiful boy
It’s not all bad though. His mind, although very different, is absolutely beautiful. He has the most creative imagination, is whip-smart, and actually fun to talk to. He loves with every fiber of his being and feels so deeply that it sometimes keeps him up at night. With therapy and medication, we sometimes hit that sweet spot where he is happy and balanced. Those days are the days I live for because he is so perfect. It is amazing!
I realize that this post mostly streams of consciousness, and for that, I apologize. But it’s a glimpse into our lives with childhood Bipolar disorder. Our journey will never end, but I do hope it keeps getting better. Regardless, I’ll do what I can to keep him physically healthy and support him in all the ways that I possibly can. I’ll continue with my own therapy, get our other son some support, and do what I can to handle all the other crap.
To all the other parents out there dealing with childhood bipolar… we got this. Even on the days we think we don’t, We got this.