Navigating life with a teenager….who happens to have bipolar disorder

The Tornado

What is the definition of a tornado?

According to the dictionary it is a violent and destructive storm in which strong winds move around a central point.  These storms are categorized on a scale of 0-5 based on the damage and destruction left in its wake.  They are usually fast moving and can turn your life upside down in a matter of minutes. When the winds die down and the sky is calm, there are still the pieces to pick up for all of those affected.

Why do I compare my 13 year old son to this type of devastation?

My son has early on-set bipolar disorder, along with severe anxiety, sensory processing disorder and OCD tendencies. On any given day, our lives can be impacted by his illness in a devastating way.  Like a tornado it is unpredictable, there is no stopping it, just learning what to look for, brace for impact and learn to cope with all that comes our way.

What is early on-set bipolar disorder?

We have all heard of bipolar disorder.  For years it was thought that it was an acquired mental disorder in adults.  This can be true.  In adults there are actually 4 different types of bipolar disorder, depending on the cause and severity of symptoms. Early on-set bipolar disorder is the rare occasion that it is developed in children.  Most often children develop bipolar disorder due to genetics, abnormalities in the brain or an anxiety disorder.   One of the common differences in bipolar diagnosed as an adult and early on-set bipolar is the way the moods cycle.  It is found that most adult patients with bipolar are on a bit of a roller coaster with manic highs and depressive lows. These mood swings are usually on a cycle, sometimes weekly, monthly or seasonally.  Most children with bipolar disorder have what they call rapid cycling.  Their highs and lows can happen multiple times in a day. This mixture of emotion can result in an overwhelming urge to release energy along with sadness and frustration.  Most commonly this presents itself in a destructive anger or outburst, hence, the spinning tornado.

Why am I telling you this?

My hope is to help other parents out there living with this illness. Yes, it is my son’s diagnosis, but as his parent I live with this illness.  Bipolar dictates every aspect of my life and every choice I make.  I was never a strong person, I was never a leader, I always did what I was told (well, pretty much anyway).  I never stood out in a crowd or fought for my voice to be heard, but now it has to be heard.  I feel that I have to make more people aware of the fact that our children need our help to get the right treatment.  It is not something that can be fixed or cured, but it is also not something that should stop them from living a full life.  We should not be ashamed of our struggle with this illness. We should not have to hide away from our friends and family.  It’s the opposite, we need people in our lives that we can lean on. Bipolar Disorder is an illness that can destroy families, damage relationships and physically exhaust the primary caregiver.  Because of the fear so many people feel in regard to sharing the fact that there is mental illness in the family, the people that truly need a support system, aren’t getting that support. In that aspect, I am writing this to say, you are not alone. We are here. There are other parents living through this and we are willing to listen if you need to talk. Like I said, I was never a strong person……but I am getting there.  Having this child in my life has made me stronger than I could have imagined. If I can help one person out there find their strength, than writing this blog has served its purpose.


Comments on: "The Tornado" (8)

  1. It’s always amazed me how our children are capable of bringing out strengths we never knew we had!


  2. Shannon Stewart said:

    My son is 16 and was diagnosed in last summer with bipolar. I have had to take him out of school because he wouldn’t stay there and we were getting taken to court for truancy. The teachers and his IEP didn’t address his mental issues and his need to escape to control his emotions. I started him on an online home school program but he is not doing well on this. Considering having him take his GED. Anyone else have another suggestion or similar issue?


    • Shannon, I am not a doctor or counselor by any means, but here are my thoughts. My son attempted online school at one point….it didn’t work for him…..or for our relationship either. I am not sure which state you live in, but check into state IEP laws as well as federal ones. If he has a formal diagnosis, they HAVE to work with it. If necessary, I would get an IEP advocate involved. There are some school systems that will allow high schoolers your son’s age to participate in an open campus or switch to night classes to finish. Programs like that are usually less pressure.


  3. Shannon Stewart said:

    Thanks for your ideas. I am so happy to have found your blog. I would love to share experiences and ideas with others. Thanks!😊


  4. Reblogged this on Perichoretic Theosis and commented:
    For anyone interested, this is a new blog started by my wife just last month. She is writing about our journey with our son who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is the first post.

    Feel free to leave comments as you go. The hope is to create a network of people supporting one another as we support loved ones with mental illness.


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