I love my children.
It’s ironic how I feel the need to open with a disclaimer…but parenthood has not turned out to be the fairytale experience I’d imagined. Maybe it’s never wise to go into any situation with pre-conceived ideas of how it should go…you’re just setting yourself up for a whole lot of confusion.
I’d always wanted children, so after two surgeries to correct infertility and two unexplained back-to-back miscarriages, I’d begun to wonder if motherhood was something I’d ever get to experience.
The irony that our first-born son was diagnosed at 2 ½ with autism is not lost on me. Neither is the quirk of fate that led me to discover I’d become pregnant with our second-born son right around the same time.
The night T was born, he lay on the table as they cleaned him up and he screamed as if in excruciating pain. It was alarming. I remember asking the nurse if something was wrong and she replied, “No honey…nothing’s wrong. He just wants to be picked up. You are going to have your hands full with this one.”
Truer words were never spoken.
T has always been a willful child. I’d chalked most of his mood swings up to being a second-born, especially since his brother required quite a bit of attention. It wasn’t until around age 10 that we first heard the word bipolar. By this time, he’d become obstinate, irate and at times, downright belligerent. I remember wondering how a child so young could feel everything so…deeply. And, if he had to feel angry and upset…then so did I. He gave new meaning to the phrase “you always hurt the one you love”. I felt like I walked around with a permanent knife sticking out of my back…with a sign that said “twist here whenever you like! I’m here for you, babe!” He’d perfected early on the ability to use his words like weapons. That, combined with his above average IQ meant a whole lot of hurtful words that almost always hit their mark.
One day, around his 11th birthday I was taking him for a “Part 3” of a psych evaluation. He initially refused to get out of the car. When I finally cajoled him into entering the medical center, he refused to follow any of the doctor’s directions. He then made a crucial mistake: he casually announced to me that he’d rather kill himself and me…than ever deal with any of this again. He’d said it so matter-of-factly. If this was a mood swing, we’d hit rock bottom.
The doctors took his threat seriously and sent him to a psychiatric hospital for an unprecedented (by today’s insurance get ‘em in, get ‘em out as quick as possible practice) 7 ½ weeks of treatment. During that time, they tried an array of medications, talk-therapy (the doctors and parents talked, T simply sat there and dozed) and group therapy. In the end, he was released with a diagnosis of bipolar and was on several medications for the mood swings, including lithium.
Today, T is almost 18 years old. He graduates from high school in June and plans to go to college. Medication and diagnosis are always in the background, but he’s still done well in school, has a circle of a few very good friends and even has a serious girlfriend.
Still, the mood swings persist. I’d say 80% of the time he’s a fun-loving, witty, dynamic, creative, fabulous kid. But if he’s tired (and he often has trouble sleeping), he makes Jekyll and Hyde look like Bambi and Thumper. He’ll become challenging and combative and will argue circles around you…seemingly reveling in the experience of the argument more so than looking to make an actual point. His frustration and sense of entitlement are palpable…and intense. Arguments with him leave me feeling bloody, exhausted and immeasurably concerned for his future.
And then, it passes. Hours later, he’s calm…will probably have gotten in a long nap…and he’s apologizing for the outburst. My witty, loving son has returned. It’s like the sun peeking through the clouds after a surprise, intense thunderstorm…and the air is fresh and sweet…and full of…hope.
I’ve got a good feeling that he’ll be okay. As for me, my love for him allows me to practice the parental-refined art of selective amnesia when it comes to healing the emotional scars left by his razor-sharp words. That, and a lifetime supply of antibiotics…and I hope to be just fine as well.
This is the first of a couple of guest posts on loving someone with bipolar. The second post is Loving Someone with Bipolar. Thank you Kathryn!