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

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.


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