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

Archive for January, 2015

Storied Past: The Fastest Way to Washboard Abs


In the past, I have told you all about my ‘Lucy’ moments. The times when I really think I have been trapped in a TV Sitcom. These moments started for me at a young age. For example, when I was 7, my older sister and I were playing circus and she convinced me that being a tightrope walker was easy…..and that I could do it on the clothes line.  There were also times, like when I was 15 and I slid halfway down our outdoor staircase on an icy day….only to get my bearings, stand up and slide the rest of the way down in a full split.  Now, one of these examples was due to naivety and trust….and the other one was total lack of judgement on my part…..but then there was the time I fell down the house…..which was due to both. I have mentioned before that I was raised by my dad in Connecticut and spent time with my mom in Pennsylvania on weekends and during summers. One such summer ended with a bang…..literally.


The summer of 1990 was coming to a close, there were only about 2 weeks left before I was supposed to head back to Connecticut for my first year of high school.  That summer, it was determined that my sister would be staying in Pennsylvania for her last few years of high school.  That meant that this would be the first time I ever traveled home on my own.  Determined to make the most of these last couple of weeks, my sister, her best friend, Leanna and I all decided to have as much fun as we could.  We convinced my mom to let us have a party. She agreed…..and allowed us the space to plan for it however we would like.  That summer, my mom and step-dad had started to put an addition on the back of the house.  It was not yet done, no insulation or sheet rock, but it was complete enough to be utilized in the eyes of teenagers.

Tina, Leanna and I spent and entire day setting it up with decorations, bean bag chairs and twinkle lights. When mom had gone out shopping for the party the next day, Tina ended up going inside to babysit our younger sister leaving Leanna and I in the addition to finish up.  At this time, my younger sister, Mel, decided to be a prankster.  Due to the fact that the addition wasn’t complete, the door to it was still an exterior door off of the kitchen…….that locks from the inside. With her 6 year old, high pitched laugh, she locked us in and ran.  We banged on the door, but apparently, Tina didn’t hear us from her room on the other side of the house. Taking matters into our own hands, we decided to climb out the sliding glass door that was meant to lead to a deck that had yet to be built.

Opening the door, we looked down to determine how far of a drop we had and saw the sill to the basement window below. It was just close enough that if I hung down, my toes would reach it.  We used a blanket to soften the bottom track of the door and I slowly lowered myself down onto the sill and then jumped to the ground.  Leanna slowly followed.  Feeling like we just had a great adventure and proud of ourselves for outsmarting a 6-year-old, we ran around the house and into the front door laughing.

Fast forward about 1 hour.  Mom returned from the store and we were very excited to show her all of the decorating we had done.  We all went into the back room….and again, Mel locked the door. This time, though, she came into the room with us and closed the door behind her.  Now we were all locked in.

“No Problem!” I told my mom.  We did this before.  I will just go down the same way and come around to unlock the door.  In a rush to get everyone out of the addition, I forgot to put the blanket down on the door track.  This time, when I tried to lower myself down to the windowsill, the track cut into my hands……and I let go. I slid down the side of the house and bounced off of the sill and ended up landing on my knees on the ground, stunned. The way my mother describes it, I looked like a cartoon character being pushed down a washboard.

An ER visit and almost 25 years later, it is still one of my biggest Lucy moments of all time.




The Sound of Silence


I have been telling myself that I would continue writing when I had something positive to say…..and that hasn’t happened lately.  I reminded myself this morning that the reason I am writing this blog is to let other people know they aren’t alone in this struggle with mental illness.  That being said, I know I shouldn’t be waiting for something positive…..and to just write what we have been going through.  Sometimes it’s just so hard to put my frustrations into words without sounding like a big old whiner……which I am trying very hard not to be.

Since this past fall I have been dealing with what is known as ‘Caregiver’s depression’.  It is something that has hit me so hard that I don’t quite know how to handle it.  Having dealt with CJ’s challenges for so long, it is something I experienced in very small amounts before….but never quite like this.  In truth, I am feeling like a failure as a parent, a wife…..and well, really just a failure in general.

I wonder if I didn’t get hit with this before because I always thought we were moving forward.  I have been advocating for CJ for years to get him the right medical care and educational opportunities….but I was doing it without a formal diagnosis.  It wasn’t until 2 years ago that we got his bipolar diagnosis.  It feels like I was fighting for so long to find out how to help him…..and now that we know, he is fighting me.  I know the steps we need to take to make sure he is on the right path…..but he doesn’t seem to want to take those steps. I keep wondering where I went wrong in this process.


CJ started his new school this week.  It is the perfect scenario for him.  Small classes, quiet setting, understanding staff.  He has even said how much he likes it, he has not had a problem with any students or teachers. He even signed up for spring baseball and seems very excited about it.  Yesterday morning he woke up and refused to go.  Having dealt with this for years, I know the signs when he is in the midst of anxiety, depression or a manic episode, one of which usually causes him to refuse to attend school….this time it was just because of a teenage ‘I don’t feel like it’ attitude.

Just when I thought I had convinced him to get out of bed and get ready, is attitude became obstinate….almost like he was now going to refuse to get up simply because I was telling him he had to go. He then forced himself into agitation.  He has a way of pushing himself over the edge. There is sometimes a fine line between normal irritation and irrational behavior.  Just like the saying goes ‘if you force yourself to smile, eventually you will be smiling for real’… can happen in the opposite way as well.  When he forced himself into this state he ended up getting aggressive with me.

It has been months since he has been violent towards me directly.  Usually it is during a manic episode.  When he has calmed down, we discuss his behavior and the consequences of that.  He is always remorseful and apologetic. This time, he made the choice to get violent. He chose to hit me.  It wasn’t an impulse control issue, it wasn’t a fight or flight issue….he was in no way threatened… why did he choose to hit me? I think he was hoping to intimidate me to feel like he was in control……which didn’t work because I stood my ground.  Actions like this make me worry for me, for any woman in his future and for him.  What makes him think abusing someone is ok?

He then pulled out the victim card, saying that I didn’t understand what it was like to be in his shoes and I didn’t understand what having bipolar disorder does to him.  I had to remind him, as I often do, that bipolar disorder doesn’t hinder your ability to make choices.  He chose to hit me. He chose not to go to school. These are choices, not a symptom of mental illness. He then told me to get out of his life…..this is something he tells me quite often……so I did.

Consequences by losing privileges doesn’t seem to affect CJ one bit, so the consequences of his action had to be something different.  I took away me……his constant, his comforter.  He has been informed that, for this weekend, he will not ask anything of me.  If he wants to eat, he must prepare it himself, if he needs clean clothes, he must wash them himself.  I will not drive him anywhere or talk to anybody’s parents on his behalf to make plans. There will be no snuggling when he feels alone, there will be no pep talks about life, there will be no emotional connection. He attempted to apologize to me following these instructions, but I would not accept it.  I told him to take the weekend to think about it so that he doesn’t give me a blanket apology just to make himself feel better.  I want him to understand how our choices affect other people…..this weekend I am making a choice.  I will be here in body, but not in spirit.

I don’t know if this approach will be good or bad.  In truth we have only spoken 2 sentences to each other since I explained the rules for the weekend.  It has been quiet….it has been nice not to argue…..but it has been sad.  I know it has only been 24 hours and he is probably enjoying what he considers freedom…..but I am hoping that the enjoyment doesn’t last and he starts to realize all that we do for him.  Maybe, just maybe, he will understand that abuse, in any way, shape or form, is unacceptable and will hurt those around you so much that they will eventually distance themselves from you.