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

Archive for September, 2014

Involuntary Mom-Slaughter

I read an article today that stated 50% of caregivers deal with ‘caregiver’ depression.  I think that has been me for the past couple of months.  It is hard to admit it though.  You never want to admit to yourself how much you are struggling with emotions when you are supposed to be the strong and healthy person in any given situation, but especially when you are dealing with someone diagnosed with mental illness.  I watch my son, CJ, struggle in his daily life, I see his moods swing and I say “so I am a little sad and frustrated, it is nothing like what he deals with all the time, suck it up and move on.”  Even as I say it, I know in my heart that I am not being fair to myself.

Lately, it has been hitting me even worse because I doubt just about everything my son does or says.  CJ is in those horrible early teen years.  I don’t know what is happening because he’s 14, what is bipolar and what is him manipulating a situation. Normally, I try to be positive when other people ask me how I handle all of this….which then causes them to say that I am amazing or some other ridiculous superlative that makes me feel like even more of a sham.  The truth is; I am a really good actress.  I have a smile on my face when I deal with the outside world, but in my own home, it is rarely seen.  The less I smile, the more he acts out….the more he acts out, the less I smile….it’s a vicious circle.

I am actually surprised that the percentage of caregiver depression isn’t more than 50%.  This isn’t depression that can be changed in your life by medication or by changing your daily activities.  The thing that is making you sad is in front of you every hour of every day; the fact that your life is not within your control; the fact that the person you’re caring for has a life that is not within their control; the fact that this is not going to change.  Even more sadness comes from the fact that, although we have worked with doctors and the schools to do everything we can to help CJ, I still feel like I am failing him in some way.   I am failing him because I am so tired of fighting the system and so tired of fighting him.

When you are the parent of a special needs child, you are also facing the change of your expectations.  I know I am 14 years in, but I still mourn the loss of the child I thought I would have.   My son is smart, creative, funny, and sensitive.  There are so many qualities I love about him, but sometimes I forget those when he is pounding holes into the basement wall or he is going into a rage because he thinks we hid all of the ‘good’ food in the house from him.  On a dime, he will change and have a lucid moment to snuggle up to me and watch a TV show together. That’s the boy I want around all the time, but it doesn’t usually last long.  There can be one little trigger and the happy calm is over…..and the sadness sweeps over me and I miss the boy that existed for that brief period of time.

I know that they say ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. There are days I don’t want to be stronger; there are days I don’t even want to get out of bed.  I just want to pull the covers over my head and ignore everything around me….but I’m not 5 years old anymore.  Pulling the covers over my head doesn’t make the bad stuff disappear; the bad stuff isn’t a figment of my imagination anymore; it is our world.  CJ and I may not have volunteered for it, but it is what we were given; it is the life that we will live, it is the life that will make me stronger……as long as it doesn’t kill me first.


We Bend or We Break

Over the past year, I have been finding myself watching Dr. Phil occasionally.  I don’t really watch it for Dr. Phil’s wisdom or his unabashed self-promotion. Where most of his episodes are about topics that don’t draw me in, I have found that the episodes regarding out of control teenagers have helped me to not feel so alone.  It also helps when I have CJ watch those episodes with me.  The biggest learning tool that seems to help is watching a video of a kid losing control, screaming at a parent, and getting incredibly violent.  Because I don’t take video of CJ doing these things, it helps to show him a reflection of how he acts when he is in the midst of a rage.  The lesson doesn’t always stick with him, but it usually helps calm things down for the next week or so.


The other day, I found myself watching Dr.Phil on my own.  He was doing an interview with Kelli Stapleton.  If you don’t know who that is, you may have read the headlines over the past year about the mom who attempted to kill herself and her autistic daughter, Issy, with CO2 poisoning.  This past week she plead guilty to child abuse and is awaiting the sentence that could be life in prison. I have read many articles about the case… well as many people’s comments on those articles.  I then watched her interview with Dr. Phil intensely before I formed my own opinion.  Although I can’t really wrap my head around someone attempting to kill their own child….the first thing I thought when I read all of this was “how desperate must she have been to think that was the only option?”.


I can’t personally speak to her case, simply because I didn’t live in her home, with her child.  I do, however, live with a child that can be abusive and aggressive.  My son isn’t autistic, but the rage that can come with early onset bipolar in children can mirror the same type of aggression found in autistic children.  So much so, that it is a common misdiagnosis, as was the case with my son at the beginning of our journey. What bothered me most after reading the reactions to the articles was the outrageous ignorance that came along with them.  It frustrates me that people pose such opinions on someone else’s actions and motives when they are not the one living that life.   So many comments stating Issy’s aggression could only be because she was mirroring her mother’s behavior or if they only taught her coping skills she would ‘be just fine’.  The one comment that I read on multiple articles said that Issy must have hated her mother, since that was who seemed to be her prime target.


Like I have said, I can’t comment to their life…..but here is the truth about many kids with neurological or mental illnesses.

*These kids have a brain disorder.  They are not aggressive or abusive because it is a learned behavior, they simply don’t have the same impulse control that someone with a normal, functioning brain would have.  When a person suffers from a traumatic brain injury that causes damage to the limbic system, we understand that they will have issues with aggression……. why can’t people understand that patients born with brain disorders may have issues with aggression, as well? It doesn’t have to be a learned behavior to exist.

*Teaching coping skills is a wonderful tool……..that doesn’t always work.  My son has been seeing therapists since he was 7……he is now 14.  That is 7 years of coping skills being taught.  Has it helped, yes……has it eradicated the problem, no.  The truth is, although the coping skills help in many situations it is not going to ‘fix’ him or heal him.  Bipolar does not have a cure, only treatment.  So if he is out of control or in a rage, he is not always in the right mind to use all of those helpful coping skills.

*Of course, I have to respond to my favorite comment regarding ‘mother’ abuse.  In most cases, these kids do not abuse their caregivers because they hate them or because they feel abused by them.  It is actually the opposite.  They abuse us because they love us, and because they know we love them unconditionally.  We are their safety. They know that we will always be there, regardless of how they hurt us, emotionally or physically.  We are their constant in a world that is very scary for them.  They can’t navigate it on their own……and that can cause agitation of its own.

In a rage, a couple of months ago, my son said he hated me.  That used to upset me……it doesn’t any more, because I know it’s not true.  I simply looked at him and said, “No you don’t, you love me.”.  His response to that was “I hate how much I love you!”.  Sometimes that is the truth.  I think sometimes my son lashes out at me because he is so reliant on me and he wants his independence so badly….he just can’t function in a way to obtain that independence yet.  Maybe someday he will…..but I don’t see that happening any time soon.  I will pray that it does, sooner rather than later.

That last statement may be taken out of context, as I think many ‘venting’ statements were on Kelli Stapleton’s blog.  I am not saying I want my son to find independence because I don’t love him, or because I hate living with him……I am saying it because I wish a better life for him……and maybe for myself, too.  It would make me so happy and proud to know that my son faced his challenges and succeeded in spite of them.


There are going to be people who have negative comments about the choices that the parents of special needs children make. It frustrates me and saddens me.  All of the parenting advice in the world means nothing if you don’t live the life we live.   We are tired and stressed…even on the good days.  It seems like there is very little help out there for us…medical, financial, educational, or emotional…and what help there is takes tons of red tape and road blocks to obtain. Personally, I am also always on guard.  I am always wondering if CJ’s meds are still helping or if things are going to stay calm today or tomorrow or next week.  This can be an emotional trauma on a caregiver.  It is not only in the midst of the tornado that we feel the strain of this life…..the calm can feel pretty windy, too. We can either bend with the wind or let it break us. We need help so there aren’t more caregivers feeling the desperation and breaking the way that Kelli Stapleton did.

Run Away

I know we teach our kiddos all the time to face the world and not hide from it……but I think I might have to run and hide a little this weekend.  There gets to be a point where working from home and having my son do on-line classes (or rather, spend the day arguing with my son to do his on-line classes) is just too much.  I am usually very much the homebody, but I am starting to hate the inside of my house.

Last month we made an arrangement with the high school that, since their schedule is split into 2 days, CJ would take his A day classes at school and his B day classes at home through their virtual program.  My son begged for this schedule, and it worked for the first week or so. Now, getting him to even log onto the site is a miracle.  The other day he ‘completed’ the tasks set in front of him, I then got an email from his Algebra teacher saying that he entered Pi for every single answer. I don’t know if he thought this was amusing or if he is failing on purpose.  He knows that if he doesn’t do well this semester, our next option is finding a residential school for him, because dropping out is not an option.

I am truly out of answers.  I have been fighting this battle for 14 years now and it is taking its toll on me.  I feel like I am losing the war.

So, although I don’t suggest this to my son, tomorrow, I am waving the white flag (temporarily, of course) and I am running away from home.  I will drive down the highway and hide in my best friend’s living room and pretend that no body will be able to find me…..for a few hours any way.

I just kind of wish she had a tree house, I think that would make this plan even better.  Running away just isn’t as much fun without a tree house.


I Challenge You to Face Your Fears

As much as I appreciate the ALS ice bucket challenge. I am offering up a new challenge…..the Face Your Fears challenge. People living with mental illness have to face fears every day, just to function. In an effort to spread awareness and erase the stigma of mental illness,please post a picture or video of you facing a fear (nothing dangerous or harmful, please). Once you have posted it, share with your friends and challenge them to face their fears.  Maybe together, we can erase the stigma. #fyfchallenge, #act4mentalhealth


If you would like to make donations to NAMI or Treatment Before Tragedy, please use the links below.



Me and Samwise Gamgee

If you have been following me for a while, you have probably learned by now that I live in a house comprised of nerds.  Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Big Bang Theory and pretty much anything anime are routinely viewed around here. This weekend was no different. Saturday night I fell asleep watching LOTR and it made me make a few comparisons about my life.

I have always had issue with the fact that Frodo is hailed as the hero in these stories. Sam is the one that is always there to help and support. He is honest to a fault, he tries to get Frodo to see the truth about Gollum and is tossed aside because of it.  When he fears that Frodo is dead, he protects the ring so the orcs can’t get it.  When Frodo realizes this, he questions Sam’s intentions. When Frodo can’t walk up Mount Doom anymore, it is Sam that carries him……and when the power of the ring finally calls to Frodo and he ends up going over the ledge with Gollum, it is Sam that makes sure he doesn’t give up and pulls him to safety. Through all of this, he continues to call him Mr. Frodo, never letting on that he should be anything but subservient to his previous employer.

There is one line that Sam says as they climb Mount Doom that I love, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”.  This line speaks to me as the mother of a mentally ill child. I can’t take on the pain and struggles that my child has, but I can do my best to carry him through it in an effort to help him reach his goals.

As parents of special needs children, we are the Sam’s of the world.  We know that we will share the blood, sweat and tears of these challenges with our children.  In a way, we will also always be subservient to them. As parents, everything we do, every decision we make is for our children and for the betterment of their lives. It happens when we are honest with them and they condemn us, when we are doing things to protect them, and especially when we lift them up and carry them because they don’t feel like they can do it anymore.  We know that our efforts will probably not be appreciated or understood by them. Really, in the end, their achievements are our achievements, so we sit in the background and smile as everyone cheers them on….because we know what we have done to get them there.

So, I am Samwise Gamgee….and I am ok with that. He is one of my favorite characters, after all.