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

Archive for March, 2015

Walking On Eggshells Will Just Hurt Your Feet

walking on eggshells

 

In the past few months, I have been coming to the realization that I sometimes revert back to the ‘eggshell’ behavior of my past.  Not all the time, but in certain moments, when I know the kiddo is in a bad place, I have been letting him have his way.  Why have I been doing this?  I am not sure.  Maybe it is because I have been trying to get my own head on straight lately. Maybe it is easier than dealing with a blow up.  Maybe I have been trying to be ‘nicer’ to help repair the rough relationship he and I fell into while he was trying to home-school last semester.  Whatever the reason, I am over it now.  I am tired of tiptoeing.  Just to prove it, I had another one of my ‘meanest mom in the world’ moments a couple of weeks ago.

Since starting his new school in January, our mornings had been getting worse.  He was refusing to wake up and get ready.  The private school he is attending only has a 4 day school week….but he was missing 1 or 2 days every…. single….. week.  In the state of Georgia, it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure their child is complying with the school attendance law.  If your child is absent a specific number of days, they call a meeting.  If they continue to go miss school, parents can be fined (or go to jail, although I have never heard of that actually happening). In CJ’s case, his medical issues can be brought up in the initial ‘meeting’ and they drop the whole thing.  For kids that don’t have medical issues, the only way to take the consequences off of your plate and hand them over to your child, is to file a complaint against them yourself.  I kept thinking about this over the past few months.  CJ was turning 15 this month….I thought it was about time for him to have to take legal responsibility for his poor decisions.

A couple of weeks ago, after a particularly manipulative morning argument, I told CJ that if he did not go to school that day, I would be heading out to the courthouse to file papers.  He didn’t believe me……so he stayed home. Since I work from my home office, he didn’t venture out of his room all day.  When I logged off my computer, I called out that I was running an errand and left the house quickly.  I drove straight to the courthouse and filled out the paperwork needed….I didn’t want to stop anywhere in between, I wanted to maintain my determination. They gave me a court date and I headed home.

While I was driving home, I got a call from the bonus kid to pick her up from school.  When I got home, and Megan was with me, CJ assume that the ‘errand’ I ran was to get her.  He had a ‘know it all’ smirk on his face when he said “Ohhhh, that’s where you went”. I replied “You know exactly where I went and your court date is on the 12th”.  I never saw somebody’s face change so quickly (and given that I have a bipolar child, that is saying a lot).

He spent the next couple of weeks thinking that he was going to miss his birthday because he was going to jail.  My real mean mom moment came when I didn’t correct him. Up until the day of his hearing, I let him believe that there was the possibility of him going to juvenile hall. I knew that this hearing was just a part of an intervention program that our county had put in place….but I let him think otherwise.

The judge was soft-spoken, but tough.  CJ shook through the entire thing and promised, emphatically, that he would most definitely go to school……and he has. Last week marked the first time all year that he got up and went to school every day. It also marked the first week in years that we didn’t fight every morning.  He got up early, got dressed and was out the door on time every day.  He knew that manipulating me or fighting with me wasn’t going to help him…..it was out of my hands now.

As parents of kids with disabilities……any disabilities….we sometimes forget to step back and ask if the ways we ‘help’ our kids are really helping them at all or are they hurting them….and us, in the long run.  When CJ was little, his developmental coordination issues hindered him from easily tying his shoes.  I thought about it and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a big deal….it wouldn’t hold him back in life.  When all else failed, there would always be slip-ons.  I need to start doing that again….in every aspect of his life.  I need to start looking outside our house again and help him make decisions from the world’s perspective….not my mama bear, over-protective….sometimes, over-exhausted point of view.  Knowing that refusing to go to school would hurt him was an easy one….but there are other decisions that we make on a regular basis that aren’t as cut and dry.  For kids that deal with bipolar disorder, the slightest thing can send them into a manic tailspin.  Should I not say something that might upset my child?  Should  I not push him to clean his room or take a shower because he will flip out about my ‘controlling’ him?  Should I let him live with is illusion that the world revolves around him?  Those seem like easy questions to answer, but when you live with a child that could snap at any moment….it isn’t as easy as you think.  My answer to all of those………he is eventually going to have to learn to live by society’s rules. Society will not walk on eggshells for him…..why should I?

 

 

The Blame Game

dont-indulge-the-blame-game

One of the things being a part of a NAMI support group has taught me is to see a person and their illness as two separate things.  I think, in a way, I have always tried to teach CJ this by reminding him “You are not your illness”…..but sometimes I have a hard time grasping the concept when he is out of control or simply being completely disrespectful.  Throw in the challenge of differentiating normal teenage behavior from bipolar behavior and sometimes I am at a complete loss in regard to understanding my kid.

One challenge we have been dealing with for many years is CJ accepting responsibility for his actions and blaming others for outcomes that he could have prevented.  For example, we have been looking to move into the next county over from us.  Since CJ has started his new school, I have been spending about 2 1/2 hours a day commuting back and forth to his school.  One county doesn’t seem like a big move, but by doing so it will cut my driving time in more than half.  It will also put us closer to our church, where my husband is heavily involved and closer to the highway for his commute into the Atlanta area for work.  To make this change, we have to put our current house on the market. CJ is actually very excited about the prospect of moving, however, to put our house on the market, he has to maintain his bedroom and stop damaging walls.  Instead of stepping up to do what he needs to, he gets angry at us for not making this change happen fast enough. He simply won’t take responsibility for his actions that have caused this delay.  I have even offered to clean his room and maintain it daily…..but he won’t have it.  The thought of me invading his space sends him into a tailspin.  So we seem to be at an impasse trying to keep him stable enough emotionally that we can move forward with our plans.

This has been an ongoing problem for us.  I am constantly in a state of frustration trying to figure out ways to teach him to accept responsibility for his actions while still understanding that placing blame on others is a trait of many people living with bipolar disorder.  The inability to see the cause and effect of your own actions can hinder every aspect of your life…..especially relationships and work.

So, in NAMI, our first principle of support is “We will see the individual first, not the illness”.   I have found that one of the best ways to do this is to try to educate CJ about his illness…..and some of the road blocks that it tends to place in his way.  I hope by showing him ways to move past these roadblocks now, it might help him in his adult life…….or it could back-fire and he will use what I teach him as a crutch (sometimes you just have to take the risk).  Either way, I feel I need to educate him just as much as I try to educate others.  We have to remember that just because our kids are living with mental illness, it doesn’t mean that they understand their actions any better than we understand them.

 

*****On a separate note, WordPress has informed me that today is my 1 year anniversary of starting this blog.  I know it has been a bumpy road these past few months, but I want to thank you for sticking with me.  If I have helped anybody understand their loved one better, or helped to educate those in the dark about mental illness, then this blog is fulfilling it’s purpose.  CJ and I thank you for reading. *****

 

 

*** NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness) provides support to families, caregivers and people living with mental illness.  To find a support group in your area go to http://www.nami.org/