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

Posts tagged ‘Laughter’

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.




Storied Past: Blankets of Stars

Sorry for the silence, everyone.  I needed some time to gather my bearings with lots of changes that are going on around here.  Since my month of blogging in November, I have been thinking hard about what I am writing on this blog.  My intent when I started this was to share my experiences as the parent of a child with mental illness.  My hope was to help other parents in the same situation feel less alone….and to maybe open up other’s eyes to how society treats people with neurological challenges. My plan is to keep on doing that.  However, during my month of writing, I found that people tend to like my silly or sweet stories about people who have touched my life.  I have decided that I will continue writing those as a series I will call Storied Past. I think I will try to post them on Thursdays….you know, my way of celebrating Throw-back-Thursday. I thought I would initiate my return with just such a story that came to mind while I was decorating one of my Christmas trees.


When CJ was a baby, I got an administrative job in the GI department of our local hospital.  Due to the nature of the office, most of our patients didn’t come on a routine basis.  Because of this, you didn’t have a chance to really get to know that many people well.  We did have a small handful of people who came for monthly appointments……and one of those people was Jane.

I met Jane the first month I started working at the hospital.  She was in her late 60’s, sweet in nature, always had a smile on her face.  The reason I remembered her among the hundreds of faces we saw every month was the fact that she always brought us chocolate.  She would say “Eating chocolate every day keeps the doctor away.  Clearly I never ate enough in my youth, so I am trying to help you learn from my mistakes”.  She and I always exchanged pleasantries as she checked in for her appointment, but our conversations never went beyond that.

After working there almost a year, I came in late one day following the court hearing to finalize my divorce from CJ’s dad. I walked in to find flowers on my desk from my co-workers.  My office mate, Lacey, made a point to tell everyone who asked that ‘no, it was not my birthday….the flowers were to celebrate my divorce’.  This usually got odd looks and sometimes apologies, but not when Jane came in.  The minute she heard that I had gotten a divorce she said “Good for you” and proceeded to tell me hilariously inappropriate stories about her past husbands. This began a very interesting friendship.

I worked in that office for four years and saw Jane almost every month the entire time. When she came in, instead of being seated in the waiting room, she would sit by my desk and chat. She would tell me stories of her life.  Her shop girl years working at the NYC Macy’s during the 60’s and funny stories about men she had dated or married….but it was when she told me stories about her daughter and granddaughter, her eyes would light up and she would get sentimental.  She would always tell me that I reminded her of her daughter, who she rarely got to see, due to distance.


Now, every time I make a quilt, I embroider a small star in the bottom corner.

One day, I had brought in a quilt that I made for a friend’s baby shower to show Lacey.  As I was putting it back in the bag, Jane walked into the office.  She insisted on seeing my handy work.  She looked at the yellow and blue celestial print and proceeded hug the blanket.  She told me that every time her granddaughter would say ‘I miss you’, she would tell her to look up to the night sky, because all of the stars in the sky were filled with her love and good wishes.  Jane looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “you are covering that baby with your good wishes”.

As Christmas approached, I decided to make Jane a gift.  I sewed her a lap quilt covered in stars.  The day she came in for her appointment, I handed her the gift.  After opening it, she asked why I had taken so much time to do something for her.  I told her that I had made the decision to move away in the next few months and  I wanted to make sure I gave her my good wishes before I left. Jane asked when I would be leaving. I let her know probably by March or April.  Her response was “Good, I plan on moving to my daughter’s in February and I couldn’t imagine coming in here even once without seeing your face. “. She then reached down into her bag and handed me a gift box. Inside it was an antiqued metal Christmas star and the note attached said, ‘With love and all my good wishes’.

tree pics

I make sure to put my star onto one of my trees every year. This year it’s on my kitchen tree, because it reminds me of a cut-out cookie.

Music, Laughter, Furry Friends and Ellen DeGeneres

When you have a child with bipolar disorder, or any neurological disorder, it is important to know what their triggers are.  It is also very important to find regulation tools. A regulation tool is a means to allow them to reorganize their brain in an effort to calm down.  If you find effective ways to do this they, in turn, will start learning how to self-regulate.


One of my son’s favorite ways to get ‘out of his head’, as we put it, is to lose himself in song. He loves to sing, dance and simply listen to music. I know this is common of most teenagers, but for him, it is a way to shut off all of the excess, anxiety-riden thoughts in his brain and relax.

In recent months, his anxiety attacks have been getting worse during the school day.  He is a regular in the nurse’s office and I get a call to pick him up at least once a week, if not more.  I have taken to turning up the radio in my car as I pull up to the school.  This way, as soon as he gets in, the first thing he hears is a song. It will relax him and actually be a tool to start a conversation in an effort to divert his brain from the stressors that caused his anxiety attack at school. He will ask “What do you think the person was thinking about when they wrote this?”.  That will give me a chance to dissect the lyrics with him and talk about love, relationships and friendships as seen through the eyes of the song writer.  I will then apply it to his life and sometimes it will help me get to the heart of his challenge that day.


It is true what they say, laughter really is the best medicine.  We have come to find that, even on the worst of days, if my son can find a way to laugh during a manic episode, it will immediately stop his actions.  There is a trick to this, I have found.  I can’t be the one to try to make him laugh.  If I attempt to be humorous while he is in a rage, it will agitate him even more.  He feels as though I am making fun of him, and that goes over like a lead balloon.

We have realized that funny or stupid videos are the key.  Once I learned that episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos were on Netflix, life got a little bit easier.  If I look him in the face and tell him that he needs to go downstairs and watch AFV, he knows that I feel he is on the verge of losing control. Sometimes, I don’t have to tell him.  There are times when he will say “I can’t talk to you” and go down to his game room in the basement.  Shortly after, I will hear gales of laughter coming up the stairs and I know that the direction of our day has changed for the better.

Furry Friends

Animals are another outlet for my son.  Although he is very articulate and can communicate extremely well, he much rather talk to the animals.  When he was younger, my mom used to take him to a local farm.  He could sit for hours and converse with the goats.  He recently had some equine therapy sessions and even though he loves horses, he rather sit in the goat pen playing with the babies.  It has taken some convincing that we can’t have a goat at home.

One of the options we have been considering, that was recently suggested by his psychiatrist, is a therapy dog.  There are some programs that provide service dogs trained specifically for bipolar patients.  The dogs can wake them up in the morning, remind them to take their medication and help calm them during an anxiety attack or manic episode. We have weighed the option of simply adopting a dog to keep him company against going through the process of applying for a service dog. This morning my son told me that he would prefer a service dog because it will be trained to stay calm if he is melting down.  He is concerned that an average dog would get scared and bite him if he is out of control.  We are still discussing this since, even though we know it will be good for him, it is still a big responsibility to bring a dog into the home……especially when we deal with more than the average family on a daily basis, both emotionally and financially.

Ellen DeGeneres

Where is a place where you can find everything I mentioned above? That’s right, on Ellen.  She always has great music and funny videos…..especially funny animal videos. My son and I have always enjoyed watching Ellen together, but I didn’t realize how much her show helped him until last year.

After a meltdown that culminated in a suicide threat, my son had been taken to the hospital by the officer on duty at his school.  They wanted to evaluate him before sending him on to a mental health facility. The work up included bloodwork.  As I have said in a previous post, my son has an immense fear of needles. When he realized that they were going to take blood, he started to panic.  I asked him if it would help if I turned the TV on.

It just so happened that Ellen was on and doing one of her pranks with Dennis Quaid, which my son loves.  He kept his eyes glued to the screen.  The nurse came in and he barely flinched when she took his blood. As the nurse was heading out, she said “You should get some rest, do you want me to turn the TV off?”. My son got a worried look on his face and in a desperate voice said “No, I NEED to watch Ellen today.”.

In the year and a half since, I have used Ellen as an ally in my daily battles.  Her show airs at 4 pm here. I make sure it is on when my son walks in the door after school at 4:30. I know how his day has been by how he shuts the front door.  If it is a loud slam, I tell him to come to the living room and sit for a minute.  I don’t talk or ask him how his day went.  I just turn up the TV a bit. As he catches a glimpse of it he will visually relax into the sofa and start smiling.  That is when I will ask him about his day.  Since he is now calm, he can relay his frustrations of the day to me without getting overly worked up.  We will sit and watch the end of the show together and then move on with our evening.  I have found that our days end a lot smoother when I do this. So thank you, Ellen.

Trial and Error

Although my son has many other interests and hobbies, they don’t all help him refocus his negative or manic energy.  It has taken us a long time to find the tools that work.  Most of the time you will know immediately if something is helpful or hurtful.  My suggestion is to take the time to simply watch your child in their daily activities.  Look at their face……really look at it.  You know your child.  You will know when they are truly happy or content.  Pay attention to what they were doing when they had that look.  You may find regulation tools that you weren’t even aware of, if you are trying to seek them out.