Depressing Search Terms

Scanning the search terms that people use to find this blog is usually interesting, sometimes amusing, and occasionally like today, depressing.

The search was ‘What can a kid do when their mom is bipolar?‘. The mental picture that I got from that was of a early teen kid sitting alone trying desperately to figure out if there is any way he can make things better. While seeing those words would bring back painful memories for some, they really don’t for me. My past has already happened, and I very intentionally live in the present-future. The only use that the past has is if something can be learned from it that will improve the present or future. So looking at it that way, what have I learned that could be helpful to this kid with a bipolar mother?

Don’t allow yourself to be abused.

Abuse comes in many forms, and everyone has a different tolerance level for it. There is NO reason to permit someone to physically assault you. The verbal & emotional abuse are harder to see or prove. Your best choice there may be to inoculate yourself against it by recognizing that it isn’t good, right, or normal.

Choose a constructive rather than destructive escape.

For many it is drugs or alcohol. For me and others it was books. If I’m reading, virtually anything can happen and I don’t notice it. I recommend Sci-Fi.

Find someone you can confide in.

Preferably an adult. Someone that you can tell your experiences to who can affirm that it isn’t normal. A teacher, someone from your church, a coach, anything. A counselor at school may be able to help too. If your mom is in a support group, there are often corresponding support groups for family members.

Write it out.

Writing helps you sort your thoughts and put things in perspective. I suggest that you write your experiences. Record the date & time that things happened, and then record how you feel about them. If your mother goes through your stuff, don’t keep the record on paper. Computer files are easy to encrypt, and blogs can be made anonymous.

Don’t base your self-worth on what anyone says about you.

Even people that aren’t mentally ill will say or do things that are hurtful. And frequently the most hurtful things are the ones that are true or partially true. If there is painful truth in something that someone says, the only thing you need to do is to work on changing that aspect of it. Forgetting to pick up your clothes doesn’t make you an inconsiderate slob who can’t remember anything or do anything right.

Don’t allow yourself to become infected with it.

While most research has focused on the hereditary or biological basis for bipolar disorder, it appears that there is a significant environmental component as well. If you recognize that the behavior is wrong, and work hard at not adopting similar behavior, then you can keep yourself from being infected with it.

Don’t accept responsibility for the problem.

You aren’t the one with bipolar. Your mother will experience extreme mood swings, and they are not your fault. Nothing you have done has caused any of this. Just try not to make it worse intentionally.

You can’t force it to be better.

The choice to get treatment or not, and how well the treatment works is beyond your control. The only thing you can do is to be supportive. A lot of the behavior that you don’t like can easily be blamed on the mental illness. Even if some of the bad stuff isn’t caused by it, you can still blame it anyway. If your mother has already received a diagnosis and is getting treatment, then you need to be as kind, compassionate, and understanding as possible. This isn’t something that anyone chooses to have (at least not initially) and it is a difficult diagnosis to take. If your mom isn’t getting treatment, then there is very little that you can do to push her in that direction. Your father may be able to encourage it, but you are pretty much powerless to force any action.

Don’t give up.

And by that I mean don’t let yourself think that her bizarre behavior is normal or appropriate. If you do, then you’re likely to do the same thing. Don’t allow yourself to be goaded into responding in kind. If your mom is depressed and doesn’t have then energy to get out of bed, don’t let that drain your energy level too. Force yourself to remain normal, even if it is hard. If your mom is screaming at you, don’t scream back. Never argue with a crazy person, it is hard for people to tell the difference.

You are NOT alone.

I’ve been amazed at how many people are affected by family members with bipolar disorder. Many have had similar experiences to mine and survived with varying degrees of success. If you need help, there are places to get it. If you think I can be of any help, let me know. Comments can be left anonymously.


~ by namegoeshere on May 15, 2008.

4 Responses to “Depressing Search Terms”

  1. You have given such excellent insight and advice to kids that are struggling with a bipolar mother. Kudos to you! I am now an adult, but I too grew up with a bipolar mother. My teenage years were tormenting because of it. I am glad that there is so much more awareness these days and that kids can benefit from the sound advice you have offered. If you approve, I’d like it if you can post my comment as they might also be able to reach a kid in need of support…
    My mother was not diagnosed until I was about 25 years old. The Eminem line holds so much truth for me…”my whole life I was made to believe that I was sick when I wasn’t til I grew up…” People have tried to compare my life experience to growing up with an alcoholic parent. There may be some similarities as far as the neglect and unpredictability and abuse, but otherwise it is much different. At least with alcohol you have physical evidence that something is wrong with the parent. You never question whether or not you are in fact the alcoholic (unless you’re drinking as well). You have the benefit of knowing the problem is the parent’s but with an undiagnosed mental illness, you are made to believe that you are the problem and you question your own sanity. Especially as a kid, who is just learning about the world and themselves and the role that they will play in the world.
    I went through the overly pleasing phase but realized that didn’t change anything. I went through the rebellious phase and that didn’t change anything either except to make my life even more miserable with lasting consequences. What I had to realize which is still difficult to accept is that NO MATTER WHAT I did/do, it will not change her and the way she is or the way she treats me. That can sound very discouraging in the beginning but it actually gives freedom. Stop trying to alter your behavior to have an affect on her, it doesn’t work. I refer to the Serenity Prayer often…”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”
    As a kid, I did a lot of observing of other people…my friends, their parents, teachers, coaches, store clerks, etc. I would notice their behavior compared to my mothers to realize that her behavior is not normal. This is key, to realize what is normal and what is not. I also was blessed with great teachers whom I could go to and just really gravitated toward the adults in my life that believed in me. I chose to hold on to who they told me I was, rather than who my mother tried to tell me I was. BTW, she still doesn’t know me. Also, as a great friend told me once, just focus on school. That is your ticket out and once you are away from her, your life will be better and you are ok and you will be ok, just focus on school and go to college. He was right. I know it is difficult to concentrate when living in chaos but hold on to school, it will be your lifeline and your ticket out of the hell and into the peaceful life that you deserve.

  2. Phoenix:
    Thanks. I tried to remember what someone could have told me that would have helped. Hopefully it can help others.
    I can’t believe that I missed the ‘focus on school’ thing. It’s so obvious that I must have just overlooked it.
    I also observed other people, but my mother could control herself quite well when she was in public or when we had company. Because of that, I really didn’t know just what went on in a ‘normal’ home, and just how much it differed from mine. In some ways that was the hardest part to figure out. Mom could go from screaming hissy fit to dead normal the instant the phone or doorbell rang.

  3. Wow Phoenix….thank you for sharing your story. My husband came upstairs and told me that I missed one. How could we have missed the obvious of focusing on school. That was one of the things that saw me through my own turbulent and abusive childhood. That was a no brainer and we both missed it. I am glad that you seem to have a healthy view of who you are and what you can do. I hope you have a wonderful and fulfilling life. I am sure what you have shared will be an encouragement to others who read this blog.

    Be weary though and don’t allow yourself to get sucked back into the cycle that a BP parent exhibits when you start your own family and protect your children. It is important to make them aware that this is a mental illness though. Much of the destructive behavior cannot be controlled with out counseling and proper medication.

    Good luck and God bless you in your life……

  4. NGH and Wife of NGH,

    Thx for your reply, it is very healing to hear from people who actually understand what you have and still are going through. I think the reason the “focus on school” thing helped me so much was b/c my mother was daily telling me that I was such a loser that I’d end up pregnant, a high school dropout and working at a fast food chain the rest of my life. She had no basis for her claims as I loved school and was doing well academically and involved in extracurricular activities. So my friend’s advice provided me with a plan of escape and counteracted all her negative claims about me. Even after I entered college and was maintaining a 4.0 GPA, she still tried to tell me that I couldn’t do it and would be better off dropping out and working at another minimum wage job.
    You mentioned keeping a journal to record dates and events. That is something I am going to commit to doing. It is easy to question your own account of events when she tries to convince you and others of a completely different version. I find that I have done this at times when I was even there to witness the questioned event! It is easy to start doubting yourself so I think the journal records will really help with that.
    And thank you for the warning of getting sucked back into the cycle as I realize that I have just been sucked into another one of her episodes. I am still learning how I can keep her at arms length and still have her be a part of my life without getting sucked back into things. It is an ongoing battle.
    Keep up the great work you do here and thank you.

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