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

Get A Life

Over the past few years I have had many people tell me that I need to find something ‘for myself’.  Friends, family members, my doctors, my son’s doctors, so many people say ‘just do something YOU enjoy to do’.  My whole life revolves around my son, CJ, and his illness.  I am constantly telling him that he is not the center of the universe…..but truthfully, he is the center of mine.

Who Needs Therapy

Honestly……. I do.  I have attempted to see a therapist for myself, to deal with my stress.  I have found that therapists don’t quite understand that I actually have more stressors in my life than just my son’s mental health.  It seems that when I tried to talk out my feelings the doctor always brought it back to my son.  Yes, CJ is the center of my world, but seriously, if he is taken out of the equation I have so many other things I need help with.  Her advice to me, ‘Find something you enjoy to do….just for yourself.”.

Hit the Gym

In an effort to work out these stressors on my own, I got a membership to a local gym in February. My thought was that even if I don’t work out all the time, I have access to unlimited hydro-massage.  If I am having a bad day, I can just drive up the road and get a quick massage, right?  Wrong, I have been there once.  I went to schedule an appointment with a trainer, which I then had to cancel the next morning because CJ had a manic episode.  I have yet to go back. He has anxiety attacks when he is home alone and gives me a really difficult time about going with me.

Missed Opportunities

When I was in high school and into my early 20’s, I marched color guard and winter guard.  First I competed and then I taught at the high school level. Last fall, in an effort to find something ‘for myself’ I offered the local cadet level guard some of my time. I walked into it thinking that I could be an extra set of parent eyes at the competitions.  As it turned out, their instructor was leaving and they needed someone to take over.  I really did consider it seriously, but it just so happened that CJ had a really bad week and I realized that there was no way possible for me to be at practice 3 days a week and competitions most weekends.  It bothered me to know I couldn’t choose something that would make me very happy.

Seized Opportunities

When I realized I couldn’t be out of the house on a regular basis, I tried to find something I could do ‘for me’ while I was at home.  The answer came in an email from CJ’s chorus teacher.  She was looking for volunteers to help with the spring musical. I signed up for the costume committee.  I thought it would be perfect, I could go to some meetings, but do most of the work at home.  For the most part, I was right and it has been a good experience, so far.  This coming week is dress rehearsal and show week.  The costume committee also does hair and make-up.  We’ll see if I still think it was a good idea by the end of the week.

Another thing I enjoy doing is party planning.  A friend’s daughter was turning 16 and I offered up my house and services to help plan and cook for her party.  The morning of, CJ had a meltdown at the thought of other kids invading ‘his space’, even though we had discussed this at length in the months before.  I told him he could spend the party in his room if he would like.  He ended up participating and had a great time.  The party went well and the birthday girl seemed to enjoy herself.  By the end of the night I was a mess, exhausted and requiring a long hot bath.

What I did wrong was that I was so excited to do these things I love ‘for myself’ that I didn’t take the time to look at the calendar to realize that the party was happening on the same week that the 5 costumes I was making had to be ready for fittings……..and during testing week for my son.

These past 2 weeks, while everything seemed to be happening at once, I was spending more and more time in my office/craft room.  When I wasn’t working for my actual job, I was sewing costumes or working on something for the party.  During this time, CJ’s episodes got worse.  The more time I didn’t spend in the CJ universe, the darker his moods were, his temper got more violent and the more stressed he got…….which means the more stressed I got.



If people are in romantic relationships with an all-consuming partner, we say they are abusive. We tell people it’s not healthy and you should remove yourself from the relationship.  We say that everyone should be able to have interests and a life of their own. What do you do when that relationship is with your special needs child?  You can’t walk away, you want nothing more than to care for them and make them better…..but they are not going to get better.  When do you get to have a life of your own?

Everyone tells me to find something ‘for myself’, but what if finding that something causes me more problems than it is worth? It doesn’t make my life easier or more fulfilled. It makes me not want to do things I love because I can’t truly enjoy doing them fully. Do I have to wait until my son is grown and out of the house before I can commit myself to things, to have interests of my own? What if he isn’t able to live on his own?  Where is the balance? How do you find it? How do you get a life when your life is so wrapped up in someone else?


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