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

Posts tagged ‘life changes’

A Light In The Attic



When we moved to the south three years ago, there were definitely a few fears I had to face.  I was up for the challenge and excited about what lay ahead,  but being the northern girl I am, there were little thoughts nestled in the back of my mind about what I was getting myself….and my child into.

First came the big fears.  My son, CJ, had a hard time being accepted by his peers….and by adults, for that matter…..when we lived outside of Albany, NY.  Would he have trouble with this southern move?  My husband and I are progressive thinkers in the matters of life, love and faith.  How would WE be accepted into this more conservative society?  It didn’t take long for those thoughts to be quieted.  Within months, CJ had found a couple of true friends and my husband and I had become a part of a wonderful circle of very accepting people.

Then came the silly fears.  Georgia has big bugs….and snakes….and tornadoes.   I have to say, I have not seen one snake near our home since we lived here (I did see one in the lake down the road, but it was far enough away that it didn’t even phase me).  There has only been one bad tornado….and it was about fifty miles away.  The bug thing I am still working on.  Two and a half years since we moved into our house and I still have not ventured into the attic for fear of an encounter with a brown recluse spider. In three years I have learned to face my fears of the unknown (well, most of them anyway)…..and this week I triumphed over another one….home schooling my son.

Since elementary school CJ has struggled with being in a classroom.  His anxiety has gotten so overwhelming that he can become physically ill….nausea, vomiting, chest pains.  He was afraid to let teachers know that he understood the work because he didn’t want to be called on.  If a teacher reprimanded him in front of the class, he carried it with him every day.  His struggles with his learning disabilities and sensory processing disorder has hindered the learning process….especially when he has come across teachers that don’t understand working with challenges. This has all been a part of living with bipolar disorder.  This has all been part of our lives since the first grade.  This has all been a part of our lives until we decided enough was enough.

In June, my company was forced to do some layoffs… being one of them.  I seized the opportunity to change some of my life goals by starting my own company.  I did so with the assumption that my son would be attending the private school we enrolled him in last winter.  Little did I know, on his first day of school that would all change.

We knew going in, that this was a Christian school, but I specifically asked what views they held upon enrollment.  I was told that the curriculum didn’t hold any specific point of view and that they had students from all faiths attending.  They held up to that for winter and spring semesters.  Not so much this year.  On his first day, CJ was told he was a sinner by his history teacher because he believes in evolution and that the world is millions of years old.  He also got in trouble after that history teacher said God wrote the bible and my logical thinker son said…”Um, no. The followers of God wrote the bible…..that’s why each book is named after them.”.  Later in the day he encountered his new biology teacher who literally struck fear into one of his classmates as she reached across the desk to hit him with a yard stick.

As soon as CJ got in the car at the end of the day, he told me what happened and said, “I am never going to be able to speak in that class because I am sure I will be hit eventually”.  Looking through my son’s notes that day, the only thing on a page from that class said DO NOT SPEAK….underlined five times.   Needless to say, he was a nervous mess.  That night, he woke up from a severe panic attack,  sweating, crying and shaking.  It took him a while to calm down and get back to sleep…….and then he woke up the next day the same way.  The next time I dropped CJ of at school, I remember thinking “School should never have to be a place you are afraid of.”.

By Wednesday of that week I had a long conversation with my husband.  What if I tried to home school him?  I know we had attempted on-line schooling before, but what if I created a curriculum that spoke to him? So, I embarked on a new adventure….trying to build the right curriculum for my kiddo.  Something that would teach him life skills as well as academic ones. Something that would engage his interests while educating him.  Something that would make him want to learn more.

CJ and I had a long conversation about it and I set forth the rules we would have and the schedule we would follow.  We determined to keep the same school schedule he had at the private school, four days a week of class and Fridays would be set aside for any catch up work or course work to help him understand something he is struggling with.  He would also be expected to pick some type of community program to volunteer with.

This week we started.  As before, I had fears going in.  I began with quite a bit of nausea, myself…especially because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure out which curriculum program we were going to use….so I created what I call a Frankenstein program…..  little pieces of different programs and some of my own.  I wanted to start by September, so we began with five subjects instead of the six I planned.  I am still working on the curriculum for history and will add that in the next couple of weeks.  This year, our subjects are Oceanography, Popular Literature(focus on comic books and manga), Sign Language, Accounting/Economics and Life Skills (my answer to Home Ec).  Each day I allow CJ to pick which subject he wants to start with.  Our classes are a mixture of reading, lecturing and hands on work so I can see how he learns the best.  He has not made one complaint.  He has completed every task I have set before him.  He even woke me up early on Friday asking me why I let him sleep too late because he wanted to start school.

After the first couple of days, I heard CJ on a telephone call to his grandmother.  He made a comment that struck me.  He said “I understand what I am learning because when I ask a question mama takes time to explain instead of just reading the same thing a second time like all my other teachers have done.  I mean, if I didn’t understand it when you read it the first time, how is reading the same thing a second time going to make it any better?”.  Because he and I are one on one, I have the time to explain things in detail to him and to answer all of the questions he may have, which is something his teachers never had time to do.  I think this will be the key to our success.

So, we are only one week in….but it has been an amazing week.  I wonder if it’s about time I faced another fear and venture into the attic….maybe I’ll leave the light on for a while first, just in case.

light in the attic


When One Door Closes Try To Not Jump Out the Window

good things happening

I know I have been MIA lately.  There has been so much going on…..and not with my kiddo, thank goodness.  He is actually in a pretty good place lately, ups and downs emotionally, but no rages and he finished the school year with the best report card he has had in years.  No, the craziness hasn’t been at home in the personal sense… has been in my professional life.

For the past 5 years I have worked for a wonderful small company based in NY.  When my husband was offered his dream job here in GA, they were wonderful enough to set me up with a home office and alter my hours so I could be a bit more available for the kiddo, especially for all of his doctor’s appointments.  It was perfect timing, because within months he had his first hospitalization and finally received his formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

For the past 3 years since we have been in GA, my bosses and coworkers have been the most understanding and supportive group of people I have ever worked with.  There were no hesitations if I had to log off and go pick CJ up at school or if he was having a meltdown morning and it caused me to log in late.  I was never questioned if it hindered my work….the only question that was ever asked was “Is he ok?”.  I couldn’t have asked for a better job or coworkers for this stage of our lives.

In the past few months there have some major happenings going on at work.  Our biggest client is restructuring and it has wreaked havoc on how things were going to be done at our company.   Labor intensive projects started coming through my email and I knew that changes were right around the corner.

One day, a little over 2 weeks ago, I received a phone call from my boss. She was clearly distraught and I knew what was coming.  Due to the changes, they were going to have to do some lay-offs… being included.  I knew this was a possibility and tried to stay as positive as I could be.  I let her know how appreciative I was of the time that I did have with the company and all that she had done for me.

As that day went on it started to sink in.  What was my next step?  I have a child in a private school quite a distance away; how would I be able to get a traditional job and still get him to and from school? I have been working from home for 3 years; how would I adjust to working in an office again?……..and did I even want to?????

Immediately, I started doing a job search and a few came up in our local school district that fit my qualifications.  I had one week before the submission deadline.  I didn’t sleep that entire week.  I knew I didn’t want those jobs.  I knew I didn’t want to go back to any traditional office job.  How could I even consider the irresponsibility of not applying, though? Not only do I have a kiddo with extra medical needs,  but my 2 step-sons will both be starting college in the fall.  The responsible thing to do would be to apply for those jobs and deal with it.

My husband and I discussed the options and he told me he would support whichever decision I made……but I don’t think he was prepared for what I was thinking.  For many years, he and I have talked about opening a photography business in the future.  My thought was….why not start now?  I could lay the ground work while he was still working full-time and then we could just expand when he was ready to come on board……most likely, after all the boys are done with school.

Even when I came up with this plan of action, I still didn’t sleep.  That application deadline was looming over my head.  I had everything ready to go, should I decide to do so.  My husband asked me what the first thing I would like to do is.  I told him about a few photography workshops I was interested in, to get a little more comfortable with my new camera and equipment.  He immediately signed me up, no questions asked.  The next day, I didn’t send in my resume to the school district….I missed the deadline…..I had confirmation of my workshop registration…..and I slept.  The decision was made.

One minute ago, I logged off my work email for the last time…… the changes will come.  I am almost 40 years old. I graduated from art school, yet I have never had a truly creative job.  I have always excelled at other people’s businesses… it’s time to put all of that effort into my own. It’s going to be a hard path and financially things may be challenging for a while, but that is even more incentive to make it work.  It won’t be easy, but for the first time in my professional life, I will be putting all that hard work into creating something I love.

The Day Everything Changed

October 14, 1999……it started out as an ordinary day.  I got into my car and drove the 45 minutes to my new job as an acquisitions rep for a large investment firm. Once I arrived at work, I was feeling a bit queasy, but chalked it up to car sickness.  I had always had motion sickness and the long commute had been wreaking havoc on my stomach since starting this job a couple of weeks prior.  I walked into the building and up the long elevator ride to an upper floor.  I walked onto the floor and my trainer simply looked at me, told me I was green and to turn around and drive back home.  I told her that it was just car sickness, but she didn’t want to risk that it was the flu and spread it around to the new batch of employees that would be spending the day in a single room together.

Although I was dreading the 45 minute ride back home, I was relieved at the thought that I could veg out on the sofa drinking ginger ale for the afternoon.  After multiple ‘sick’ stops on the way home, my head started to pound.  Having dealt with migraines since childhood, it dawned on me I had never felt this kind of pain before.  As soon as I got home, I decided to call my doctor to schedule an appointment.  She happened to have a cancellation and told me to come in right away.

Once there, I chatted with a nurse I had come to know very well.  Over the past few months I had been going through a series of testing due to recurring ovarian cysts, abnormal pap smears and menstrual cycles.  The testing had determined that I probably wouldn’t be able to have children, so we had been in discussions about hormones and a possible oophorectomy (removal of ovaries)to fix the cycles and the extreme headaches I had been having.  The nurse, Quinn, joked with me about the fact that I did really look a bit green and proceeded to do some blood work on her ‘human pincushion’…..the lovely nickname that she had given me months before during the many pregnancy tests I had to endure during the testing process.

I was then sent home with the instructions to rest, but keep a phone near-by.  The doctor had a feeling she knew what was going on and might want to immediately refer me to another doctor.  I asked her what was happening and she said that we should just wait until the test results came in.

It wasn’t but a few hours later that Quinn called me.  She told me that I was severely dehydrated, which was probably the reason for the excruciating pain in my head. She then scrolled down the list of blood tests they had done and came to the last one, a pregnancy test.  I laughed when she paused.  As was my habit when she would call me with the pregnancy test results I said “Well, we know that’s negative”……..she was quiet for a minute and sounded like she was fighting back some tears and then she said “This time it’s positive.”

Women say that their lives changed on the day their first child was born, because that was the day they became a mother. I didn’t become a mother when he was born….I became a mother in that instant 15 years ago today.