My post for the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation:
My babies have turned into grown-ups. Whether we call them “grown-ups” or “young adults” they are still our children. My mother once told me that as our children get older there may be less day to day problems but the problems that do need our attention are usually big ones. We may not have to deal with the non-stop parenting demanded by a two-year old or the tenuous yet diligent parenting of a thirteen-year old but the problems that are there are likely serious. Things like lost jobs, lost loves and other difficult issues demand our assistance. Parenting a child with a mental illness or any chronic illness adds its own complexities and worries. Our children take their mental illnesses with them as they move into adulthood. This can certainly complicate parenting. I know this intimately. I have been “writing” this piece in my head for the last two weeks which is generally the way I write. I start with a thought and eventually turn it into a paper complete with sentences that I write in my head in the middle of the night, while waiting in line and while on airplanes. Imagine my surprise when the piece I had been working on suddenly showed up on the blog my daughter writes for BringChange2Mind. I read it and decided not to write mine but then I thought again. Perhaps this particular time in our lives would be helpful to others when told from both the young person’s perspective and the mother’s.
My daughter, Linea, has bipolar disorder. She is now twenty-four years old. I have some degree of PTSD from her illness, particularly from almost losing her twice and from her lack of self-care during her sickest times. Her inability to care for herself during those years left a fear deep in my soul, resting yet ready to pounce if I wasn’t vigilant. I have finally learned to trust her ability to care for herself. I have learned to trust that she tells me when she needs me to help her with something. I have learned to trust that she tells me how she is feeling without me quizzing her. Trust has come from long talks, complete, total and sometimes painful honesty, and from time. She has been stable for a few years now and graduated from college last spring. We have sold a book together. We speak nationally. She works on various projects with various organizations in the field of mental health advocacy. She recently accepted a position with a project that was very exciting to her. But I began to see an increase in her anxiety. She seemed unable to ever relax. She didn’t look “okay” to me. She lost weight rapidly. I knew all the symptoms that had plagued her in the past and I was afraid. I gently probed but didn’t get much more from her than she was worried about the most recent project she had agreed to do. I spoke about my fears with her dad and we both agreed that she was moving into a dangerous phase. I talked to her again about her commitments and urged her to take something off her plate. I told her that if she didn’t, I believed she would be hospitalized again. I was honest with her. Within a couple of days it became very clear to me something needed to be done. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding and my worries wouldn’t rest. I knew something was seriously wrong. Her dad and I decided we needed to intervene. It was frightening to me because I didn’t want to make her angry or have her push us away. Yes, I trusted her. Yes, she was a young adult making her own decisions. But we had to do something.
We showed up at her apartment, not to take her out to a meal or go to an event but to have a heart to heart talk. She became very anxious but it worked. She listened. She asked for our help in sorting everything out. I told her she would feel worse before she felt better given she had to do something very, very difficult for her to do. She had to “disappoint” the people who had given her the opportunity to work on a very exciting project. I told her that the ramifications to her health were far worse and I think she believed me. Close to a full blown anxiety attack she made the decision to “quit” her job. We supported her in taking the next steps to resign from this position. It was extremely difficult and emotional for her and therefore for me but I knew without a single doubt that she was on her way to the severe side of her illness if she did not take care of herself.
Do you hope for words of wisdom from a mom who has a twenty-four year old daughter with bipolar? I certainly am not an expert in your own lives and I don’t know all the intricacies of your experiences.I humbly offer this: trust yourself as well as work with your child to trust him or her. It is so easy to second guess what to do, what to say. Listen to what’s going on in your own heart and trust that it is telling you what to do. Thankfully Linea agreed with us but she hadn’t just a few weeks earlier. Sometimes it may mean going back again and again but don’t give up. When someone we love is in the middle of symptoms of this illness, she or he needs the support that a mom, dad or other close support person can give. Build trust and be honest. In the long run it will lay the groundwork for the hard and big problems that will arise.
Now you should read my daughter Linea’s take on this. It has many similarities and some differences. I am so very proud of her!