“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.
Trace was diagnosed last year with the BPD. In his short 7 years of life, Trace has undergone, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy, 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.
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.
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, bedtimes (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.
Kids like Trace exist for a reason. To teach us patience, love, and compassion. To teach us humility and love and understanding…