The Bipolar Child: A Journey With No Boundaries

 

 

 

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“Why does he act like that?”  My oldest son asks, staring at his brother who at the time was curled up on the floor, freaking out and bawling and all because his brother was going to his friends house overnight.

“You know why,” I replied, trying hard to not only console my crying child who was refusing listen, but my oldest who had no understanding of his brother.  You see my son has bipolar disorder.  He’s only 7 years old, and it hasn’t been easy…

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar Disorder is a medical condition (disorder) caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes shifting in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function on a daily basis.

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Trace was diagnosed last year with the BPD. In his short 7 years of life, Trace has undergone, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physio-therapy, been hospitalized over a dozen times for falling, concussions, hurting himself and illness. Sunny Hill diagnosed Trace with bipolar disorder which is difficult to assess in young children. Trace also has Mild Cerebral Palsy and Sensory Processing Disorder.

I have bipolar disorder.

I am no stranger to the depressive mood shifts that occur with BPD.  The sleepless nights, the lack of concentration, energy loss, depressive symptoms and dramatic highs and lows that often accompany this illness.  I thank God every day for the medication I’m on. It helps keep me focused. It helps me stay balanced. It helps me through the mood swings and irritability that often plagues me. It helps me cope and be the best mom and wife I can be. But I did not want my son to have this illness.

A child with bipolar disorder can be vicious. They can throw tantrums, attack and have serious melt-downs for what seems like inappropriate reasons. There is no remorse for their behaviors or guilt for having performed violence against someone.

“He’s always hitting me. He’s always attacking me. He’s always hurting me. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t care. He just hurts me!” – JJ my 14 yr old.

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Trace’s response to hurting others is a nonchalant attitude, almost as if he has no idea what the big deal is, no matter how you explain it to him.  He yells and screams, he threatens to hurt himself, he threatens to hurt us. He shouts he hates me, he wants to hurt me and then just as quickly will say he’s joking and want to be close and give a hug. It’s my job to pay attention to the behavior and help to change or modify it.  It’s my job to teach my son no matter what — it is inappropriate to hurt others or himself.

How Is Having a Bipolar Child a Family Illness?

Having a bipolar child is a family affair.  The family is often left feeling bewildered, frustrated, exhausted and even afraid of the violent outburst that can follow with such a child.  Parents can become isolated. I know I did, refusing to the leave the house for fear of judgement by others, or having to take my son out into public places that may place me in a situation of humiliation.

I remember when Trace had his very first real horrible melt-down. A woman came up to me and grabbed my arm. She told me I was a horrible parent. I should bend him over my knee and give my son a spanking for his behavior. Trace had bitten me, drawing blood.  It wasn’t the first time. I did not spank him. Instead I sat on the floor of Walmart, holding him tightly, so he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else, until the melt down subsided. Both of us in tears.

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Sometimes it can seem as if in our house, we are constantly at wits end facing the demands of our bipolar child. In my house we are in a circus where we are constantly walking a tight-rope. It’s a zoo and like a caged animal, I am eager to be fed by passing visitors just so I don’t feel so alone.

Bipolar children often have a hard time filtering out noise and struggle with the ability to concentrate on things. Everything hits them at once. Noise around them, people talking, dog barking, a knock at the door. It becomes too much and the brain has no idea how or where to store this information. It’s like a volcano ready to erupt, and just one more thing can push it over the edge.  The information gets lost.

It’s painful watching your child suffer…

As a baby, Trace hated being cuddled. He hated being wrapped up tightly and yet hated being alone. He wanted you near him but not touching him. To this day he hates being held down or constrained in any way. Schedules are important we are learning. Meal times, bed times (which is always a struggle).  And if Trace can’t have something or is told no to something, he has no ability to understand the concept that “no” means “no”, which takes an emotional toll on those around him.

The hardest part is getting others to understand that my child is not spoiled. He doesn’t need a heavy hand or stricter discipline. It’s difficult, especially with family members who often tell us we just let him get away with too much. These are the same family members though who had no idea what was wrong with me, until I was diagnosed at 22 yrs old.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder. Trace is currently not on any medication and is by far mild compared to some children with this horrible illness. He is still growing and that makes balancing medication difficult. And for now we take things one day at a time.

Before you judge… watch the video below as this is the same little girl!  This same little girl who wears a t-shirt that says… “I’m diagonally parked in a parallel universe…” and that sums up bipolar disorder in children…

Kids like Sky and Trace exist for a reason. To teach us patience, love and compassion. To teach us humility and love and understanding…

Thanks for reading!

Comments

  1. Great post and Jodi and I can't imagine parenting a bipolar child my dd with everything going on with her is enough, I bow down to you my dear.

  2. My heart goes out to you! You would have enough even if your son was healthy!

    Have you seen or read anything by Doris Rapp? http://www.drrapp.com/
    She is incredible! I am involved with environmental health issues and have known out of bounds kids to get better with avoiding chemicals and mould and such.

    I hate to advise when you clearly have had a lot of advice but I just thought I would put the idea in your head. I know people who go into a rage from dryer sheets and kids who regress considerably with perfume. This stuff is neurotoxic and kids can handle much less than even grownups can.

    Most doctors won't go near this stuff because they aren't trained to account for it, although the good ones will say they don't know and often encourage you to try cleaning the environment because it can only help.

    I am really sorry to bother you with this, but I just wanted to open the idea.

    If you want to read more about getting chemicals out:
    🙂

    • Those are two great links! Thanks for sharing them. And yes we know that most likely the black mold in our home is a contributing factor to some of my son's issues. But he was born with neurological problems from day one because his care was mis-handled at the hospital and at one point we had a lawsuit for it. We decided his care and love and attention were more important than numbers or money. So we gave up the fight and now I fight for him every day to just know and love who he is and accept everyone has something about themselves they don't like. Perfection is attainable by understanding it is the imperfections that make us special 🙂

  3. Wow. This post was hard to read. My heart breaks for you, your family, and especially your boys. It is so important to read things like this to be reminded that we don't always know the stories behind the behaviour we see out in public. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks for your comment Laura, no heart breaking. If I can help one person understand that we are all different in our own unique ways, then that's good. Before we rag on the cashier at the grocery store for being rude, maybe she lost her husband that day and had to go work because she has to feed her kids and has a mean boss. That old saying we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover is so true, and for my son I guess I just want people to make it past first chapter before they decide whether or not to read his story or toss the book in the trash…

  4. Your little guy is absolutely adorable and you are an inspiration! Thank you for sharing your struggles with bipolar disorder and for all of the great information. The Walmart story made me cry. Thanks for the reminder not to judge other mamas – we need to be compassionate and kind to eachother. 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post Jodi! I can only imagine the ups and downs and it's so important for people to be more aware. He is SOOO adorable and is very lucky to have an awesome mom like you for support xo.

    • Thanks Brandi! Yes the ups and downs are there, but each day is a new day. I just really want to help and engage with others who may be experiencing raising a child with BPD so they know they are not alone 🙂

  6. You tell his story perfectly and he is adorable! I don't know a lot about bipolar disorder but I do know a few adults who have been diagnosed with it. It sounds like you have an excellent understanding of it and are doing a great job with him.

  7. Thank you for this insight. While my son doesn't suffer from BPD, we went through a few years of wild/erratic behaviour and I can empathize with grocery store meltdowns and violent behaviour. He would actually BEAT me. I would have to lock myself in the bathroom with the baby until he calmed down. People couldn't understand how a 4 year old could do that, but other than lashing out violently at him (which I would NEVER do) there really wasn't a way I could stop it. In our situation, it was directly related to sleep. Once we had his sleep settled, everything else fell into place for us.

  8. What a post. Thank you for sharing. I can't and don't know what you are going through as a parent as I've never known anyone who is bipolar or have seen a child in "action" in their mental state.

    Thank you again for sharing. Such a powerful post.

  9. Very nice post Jodi. I can barely understand my own issues with bipolar. I can't imagine a child going through it. My heart breaks for your son. I do want you to be reassured you are doing a fabulous job of teaching him how to handle bipolar, in addition to teaching your older son to be understanding, patient and kind. Hats off to you girl!

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