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

Archive for August, 2014

Sharing Spaces

I have learned something about myself this week……I don’t like to share.  You would think, being raised with a sister just a year older than me, that I would be good at this sharing thing.  She and I went through our childhood having to learn how to share a room and toys.  Although we argued…… a lot, I think we both came away with some life lessons.  I have found that, as we age, some of the lessons of our youth fade away.

The past few weeks have been challenging ones in our household. My son, CJ was determined to drop out of school. With the help of some amazing administrators, we were able to work out a new schedule for him that combines some classes at school and some online.  This gives him a little down time during the week from the stressors that affect him at school.

My biggest challenge was that, while he is working on his online classes, I will also be working from home.  Due to the fact that he has focus issues, I have decided to set up his computer in my office. I have a large desk/craft table in my office and we are now working on opposite sides of that desk.  This means that there is additional noise during my work day, random singing and talking and constant fidgeting.

Over the past 2 years that I have been working from home, I have been spoiled.  My office has been my refuge.  I even painted it lilac to make sure it remained the ‘girl’ space in this house. My days were peaceful  and quiet.  I could get my work done with few distractions. I could play music if I chose…..what- ever music I wanted to hear.  I could keep the thermostat at my comfort level and adjust accord to my mood.  You see? Spoiled.  This week that all changed.

I have found that CJ is more comfortable working this way since he doesn’t have the stress of  dealing with other kids or classroom anxiety.  The challenge is that, once again seeing to his comfort and making sure that he can accomplish school over-all is disrupting my comfort.  This is something that all parents face……it is definitely something all parents of special needs children face.  Unfortunately,  I have found myself a bit resentful this week.  That is not a good feeling to have.

I will try to work on this feeling and I will try to make this situation work, since it seems like the best solution for my son…..but I don’t think it will be easy for me.  I will have to dig deep and find compromise in me and hopefully he will do the same.

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Words from my Father

I had a Facebook friend comment recently “You’re strength is awe-inspiring”.  It made me feel like I was doing something right…..and then this past week, it all went wrong.  There were challenges with CJ’s  IEP which had to be fixed, scheduling issues which had to be fixed and a kid that, although he was enjoying his classes, was finding it impossible to leave the house in the morning.  I ended up questioning everything and wondering if all of this fighting was worth it…..would we be fighting for the next four years only to find that my son still will not have achieved the ability to function in society?

I found myself spiraling downward, feeling useless and hopeless.  Feeling like I didn’t have anything else to give,  I tried to reach out to some friends, hoping that talking to my cheerleaders would help me feel more positive…..but they weren’t available.  I ended up calling my dad this morning…..I don’t know why I didn’t call him first.  I should have known that he would help with his matter-of-fact way of thinking.  He verbalized things that were already in my head, I just needed to hear them out loud.  He said “If you don’t keep fighting, you will never know if it is worth it or not, because if you don’t try, you have no chance of a good outcome.”.

Being a parent can be really frustrating.  I have to remember that it helps me to talk to the person that molded my idea of what a great parent should be.  My dad is quiet and calm……..and stronger than I could ever hope to be, but if I can strive to have even a little bit of his strength, I will make it over this hurdle and all the hurdles yet to come.  If I find myself losing that strength, I just have to remember to pick up the phone, because I know my dad will share his with me.

One Mean Mama

When my son, CJ, was little, if he got sick it would almost make me ill at the thought of him feeling poorly.  Now, as he has become a teenager, I find that I am no longer empathetic.  I now question him every time he says he has some sort of ‘medical problem’.  Initially, this made me feel like a horrible mother….but as time wore on, I found that I have to stay on my guard so he doesn’t use my emotions as a way to manipulate a situation.

It has become a challenge to differentiate between what is a real ailment and what is anxiety driven.   If it is anxiety driven, he really does end up physically sick, but I am always trying to figure out the triggers so we can work on coping situations for the future.  I also have to be on the lookout for medication side effects that can cause real physical illnesses.  Who knew that being a parent would require me to be a diagnostician?

So why do I not empathize with him when he is complaining of aches, pains, nausea or headaches?  You see, my son cries wolf……a lot….more than the average teenager. He will say he doesn’t feel well to get out of school, to get out of chores, to get out of going places with the family……pretty much to disconnect from life and hide from the world around him and the expectations in it.  I have found that for me, the only thing harder than raising a child with a mental illness is raising an intelligent child with a mental illness.  They learn how to use their illness and symptoms to gain what they want…..even if what they want is to simply stay in bed all day.

Last week, CJ started high school.  After a rough start, he ended up having a pretty good first week….but I had a feeling it would be short-lived.  Last night, he started to complain of muscle aches (you see, he has learned to plan his feigned illnesses in advance).  This morning, when I went to get him up, he said he couldn’t even move to get out of bed.  He is now taller than me and I am no longer able to get him up, dressed and out the door without his cooperation.  So he is home and in bed, but I can’t bring myself to coddle him or play into this ‘sickness’ as I would have when he was younger.  However, while he is home, he will not have computer time or sit in front of the television.  He says I am being mean, but  I will not make staying home more fun than going to school. Hopefully he will learn that you can’t just drop out of life whenever you just don’t feel like participating.

I think a big challenge of parents with kids that have neurological disorders or mental illnesses is that we tend to baby them and give them what they want without consequence.  Sometimes it is because we feel bad that they are living with these challenges, sometimes it’s because we don’t know another way to handle the situation, sometimes it’s simply because we are tired and it’s easier.  The problem is that we are not teaching them what to expect in their adult lives.  They will not always have us around to make things ok for them.  They will not always be able to get what they want, when they want it while still being able to live within normal society.

For today, although I don’t believe him, I have scheduled an appointment with CJ’s doctor, I wouldn’t want there to be a real medical issue and miss it because of my lack of trust in his honesty.  I don’t always know what I will do tomorrow or the next day….as these incidents keep happening. More than likely, I will keep being skeptical of my son’s actions.

My ex-husband has told me that I have become cold-hearted.  I don’t like to think that I have…..I rather say that I have become tough.  Living with my son’s illness has toughened me up and I am trying to pass that along to my son.  He is going to need to be tough…..after all, he will be living with this illness for the rest of his life.