Thursday, September 1, 2011

Should I have known?

I am immersed in the edits of the book that my daughter Linea and I have written together about our journey through bipolar disorder. As I work back through more than 300 pages of writing, I am struggling with the questions that the editor keeps throwing at me in the margins.

“How did your daughter convince you she didn’t need to see a therapist?”
“How did she talk you out of seeing a psychiatrist for two more months?”
“What were you thinking when she convinced you she was feeling better and that she should go on her planned trip outside the U.S.?”
“How were you so shocked by a potential diagnosis of bipolar disorder when you teach about it?”

I had to give a lot of thought before formulating my response. How had I not known?
When an illness is beginning its invasion, it can enter quietly, mysteriously, or with great fanfare. Reading back through the chronicles of the years leading up to her diagnosis, yes, I can now see it coming during those early years. But at the time, we never suspected a severe mental illness was on its way and that it would try its best to destroy her. I am sure you know exactly what I mean as I struggled with this.

In that time and place, I think we convinced ourselves that it (this depression, soon to be diagnosed as bipolar), was due to stress from school, worries about her future, fears for her struggling friend, all wrapped up in her drive to do and be her best. In looking back, there were indicators of what was to come but at the time these were merely hazy suggestions, whiffs of a more serious illness lurking.

After many discussions of a diagnosis and a major crisis, we met again with Linea’s psychiatrist. Linea sat there without speaking and I finally asked him, “How will we know if it is bipolar disorder?” He said, “We will have to wait and see.” I felt like I couldn’t breathe and my heart hurt as we left his office. Wait for what? It felt frightening and overwhelming and I didn’t know if I could keep from simply lying down on the floor and weeping. But I didn’t, and together we all “waited”. Eventually the pieces came together, the diagnosis aligned with her symptoms, and the treatment began to work. There was hope and recovery and stability.

I share this because I know now that we did the best we could given how this illness unfolded into her life. I also know that we wouldn’t have done anything differently had we known. We were present to her and with her, we listened, we waited and we trusted her to ask for help when she could, and when she couldn’t we made decisions for her. It has been painful, and I would give anything for my daughter not to have this diagnosis, but I also know that it has changed us all in many incredibly positive ways. She is an amazing young woman and every day I am so very grateful for her life. I wish you peace in your own journeys.
(posted on the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation website under Blogs)