Parenting a Child with Bipolar Disorder

Amy was a beautiful baby.  She was different than her older sister as a baby, but each child is different right?

Amy cried loudly, she cried more when she was driven in the car; she had such a hard time settling down that we used to take turns holding her, rocking her, with the blow-dryer on and resting on the counter behind us, for hours until she could go to sleep.   She began to have night terrors between the ages of 6 months and 2 years old that scared her momma to death. As a toddler, sometimes when she was told ”no” the temper tantrum that erupted after that was so loud and so long (not your typical 15 minutes) that it was physically and emotionally exhausting for the whole family.  There was a time after I came home from work to this that I turned around and got back into the car and drove off for another half an hour.  

I would ask other parents and her pediatrician about this and they would tell me it was just a phase and that I needed to discipline her better.  It was really confusing because when she would be at preschool or at Gramma’s house they wouldn’t see this side of her very much.  I began to feel a bit crazy. 

When Amy was about 4 or 5, I began to notice that refined sugar would make it worse.  I begged her Dad to stop buying her treats when they would go out.  He didn’t think it was really an issue.  One day, he came home with her, and I could see her blue tongue. He admitted that he had got her a slurpy.  After witnessing what she did, he finally could see my point.  Within about 5 minutes she was hysterically laughing and alternating crying loudly for about an hour. I would try to hold her and that would work for a few minutes but we just had to ride that out. The look of desperation in her eyes would break my heart.  She looked at me with eyes that pled for help and nothing I did helped her at all.

She began to have social problems early on.  I noticed that she wasn’t getting the same amount of friend’s birthday invitations that my older daughter would get.  There was even a couple of times that her friend’s mom instructed her daughter not to play with Amy anymore (without talking to me or Amy) and Amy came home crushed that Coral wouldn’t talk to her anymore.  This was second grade and it became apparent that my daughter’s self esteem was suffering greatly when she was the “star student of the week” and was to put together a poster of herself.  After finding a few pictures and gluing them down, she was to write a few words about what made her special and she burst into tears and said she had nothing to write and no one liked her.  It broke my heart.  

Amy had suffered a few losses at this time, her older brother who worshiped her passed away, her Papa who she saw at least three days a week passed away and her Dad and I separated for a time (he  was an untreated bipolar at the time).  She would wake up each morning and cry hysterically and I couldn’t get her to go to school.  I called a therapist and began treatment for her.  She was able to express a lot of the grief at that time, but something was still not right.

I took a trip with my oldest daughter (who is 13 years older than Amy) and Amy to Monterey to hang out with my girls.  The trip was not what we expected.  Amy wouldn’t let Tiffany and I talk, continued to interrupt, complained about everything we did, was fidgety, irritable, and pretty miserable.  When it came time to go to sleep I tried to make Amy comfortable; I had brought her nightlite, her blankets, her stuffed animals and nothing worked.  The sheets were not right, the material bugged her, she wanted the light on, then off.  This went on for an hour.  I would get up and go try to help her and plop back into bed to try to go to sleep and it would start over again.  My oldest had moved out by then, she was probably 18 or 19.  She used to tell me that I was a way different mom to Amy than I was to her.  “Amy gets away with a lot of things that I never did.  You need to be sticter on her, etc”  After about an hour of this behavior from Amy, I began to cry.  As I sobbed, Tiffany looked at me and said, “Mom, you have to do something about this”  She finally saw what I was dealing with.

I made an appointment with a psychiatrist as soon as we got home.  I had changed her diet already, began  about 80 sessions of neurofeedback  (which helped the ADHD behaviors quite a bit) but told the psychiatrist that she still did this “angel for a few days, then mean and rageful for a few” and as soon as I had said that sentence I burst into tears.  I knew what I was dealing with and I was sad.  

Through this journey, I experienced grief – this was not the plan I had when I imagined my second child, guilt – how many times did I get frustrated with her when she could not control what was happening to her, anger- for many things, exhausted – from riding this roller coaster of emotions and chaos for years,  and completely alone – I didn’t know anyone else who had this to deal with.

The good news is that my husband finally got the treatment that he needed and our family is back together,   Amy got the help that she needed and is doing well today- I appreciate her humor, her artistic ability, and love for animals;  her older sister has the understanding about bipolar disorder and has increased patience for both her step dad and her sister, and I have learned how to set boundaries, take care of myself, and parent my daughter in a way that works for us both.  It is my hope that if this is your story, that you seek help as well.