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

Posts tagged ‘Tantrums’

16 Steps Forward, One 17 Foot Drop Back

(more…)

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?

 

 

Don’t Take it Personally

I have been told by many doctors and psychologists not to take things my son says or does personally.  This can be nearly impossible to do at times.  It’s especially hard when he says cruel and hurtful things to try to get me to lose my calm. In the middle of major meltdowns or manic episodes, I am usually able to keep my cool and help guide him to a better place.  The times I have challenges in this aspect is when his actions affect others.  Like when I know he is going to make us late for an appointment, or to school, which will then delay his doctors or bother school friends that get upset if he is not in class.  I also tend to get more upset if I know that he has damaged property or hurt feelings.  These are the things I don’t process easily.

Master of Manipulation

My son knows how to push my buttons, he knows when I am at my breaking point and will use it to inch me over the edge.  I am well aware that this is not a bipolar thing…..this is a 13-year-old thing.  I joke all the time that I am the president of the ‘I Hate 13’ club.  I am pretty sure I hated 13 when I was 13. The problem in our life is that a normal teenage action can turn into something more.  There are days when something as simple as waking him up in the morning can become an epic battle.

My son is aware that I tend to be a bit frazzled in the mornings.  He knows that I stress about getting him out the door and he will use that to get me frustrated. Like a lot of teenage boys, there are mornings when my son will simply refuse to get out of bed.  How do you challenge that? He is not a little kid any more.  I can’t pick him up, get him dressed and put him in the car.  He is taller than I am and I can’t quite figure out a way to handle this type of situation….yet. We have attempted both reward and consequences.  In that time and moment, he simply doesn’t care what he might lose or gain. It’s also in those moments that he knows that I am at a loss. I am still trying to teach myself ways to stay relaxed in these situations. Until I figure that out, he knows he can use this to try to control my feelings……but I am not supposed to take it personally.

No Place Like Home

Ever since he was little, if my son is in the midst of a meltdown, he gets destructive.  It started with physical violence towards me.  Usually kicking and scratching until I bled. As he got older, he would punch walls or throw things. When I remarried, we moved into my husband’s house which was surrounded by many flowers.  If my son was in a fit of rage, he would go outside and behead the flowers, simply because he knew we enjoyed them……but we were not supposed to take it personally.

Growing up, my son would always tell me that all he wanted was a normal life in a normal house with two parents.  When we purchased our new home in GA, my husband and I were so excited to have this beautiful house that we could create that type of life in.  The day we moved in, we set up a game room in the basement for my son.  It didn’t take long for him to start taking out his anger on the walls. Within six months of living here, I had to spackle and repaint the walls in the basement and in his bedroom.  I have watched him when he takes a stick or golf club to the walls.  He gets this look on his face that challenges me to stop him.  He knows it will upset us to damage this home that we have worked so hard to have…….but we’re not supposed to take it personally.

Making it Personal

In an answer to our holey wall problem, I have taught my son how to spackle.  I also got him involved in a painting project in the basement.  We created life-size silhouettes of him and his best-friend all over the walls (pictured above).  My hope when doing this was that he would take personal pride in the space and will be less likely to damage it.  Since we have done this last November, he has only put one hole in the basement wall, so it seems to be working.

I know that I have been told time and time again not to take things personally, but sometimes I think it is important for things to be personal. My son needs to understand how his actions make other people feel.  He needs to know the hurt and pain he can cause to the people who love him.  Walls can be spackled and painted, but it’s not so easy to repair a damaged heart.

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.

Music

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.

Laughter

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.

 

Ask Before You Judge

I have read blogs about ‘things you shouldn’t say to an Autism parent’, ‘things you shouldn’t say to a pregnant woman’ or ‘things you shouldn’t say to someone with anxiety’.   We have to be realistic, people will always say things they ‘shouldn’t say’. People will always judge and try to tell you what you are doing wrong if you are not doing things their way or living a life they understand. Maybe instead of just telling people what they shouldn’t say, we should educate them. These are a few of the comments that have been made to me or my son over the years.  When all of our challenges started, I sometimes believed them.  They made me doubt myself as a parent. So here are my answers to them and to others that may have had the same thoughts.

“It’s just a discipline problem.  If you gave him a good spanking, he would be fine.”- family member

It is not just a discipline problem.  Children with bipolar disorder, and most other neurological disorders, have issues with impulse control. When they have tantrums, in their mind, there is a real reason for it, it is not just about getting what they want. Yes, there are kids that learn to use meltdowns for manipulation…..so parents, please be cautious.  I am not saying that kids with bipolar don’t need discipline. Of course they do, all kids do.  Without it they do not decipher right from wrong, or our expectations of them in our homes or within society.  I am saying that lack of discipline is not the cause of their illness or behaviors that go along with it.

“He just likes to be in control of situations, this shows a lack of maturity. If you let me hold him back, I’m sure it would fix the problem.”- elementary school teacher

Yes, this was said to me by his 1st grade teacher who didn’t want to put him through to 2nd grade.  At that time, he struggled with reading and writing, but not enough to hold him back. Her only reason for doing so was because of his ‘need to be a leader’ all the time.  My answer to her was “I believe you just described every President of the United States.”. Yes, bipolar kids have controlling personalities, but I don’t think it is that they want to control people, it’s more or less that they pretty much think the world revolves around them.  It is a bipolar trait to be very self-centered.  I am not saying that they are selfish.  It can actually be quite the opposite.  If things are going right in their world, they would probably be the first ones to help you or give you the shirt off their back. If things are going wrong in their world, however, they usually feel that everyone needs to stop regardless of what they are doing and make things better for them.

“Boys will be boys.  This is normal behavior for little boys.”- family member

If people out there think that physical and verbal abuse or destructive behavior is normal in a child, it makes me sad.  It makes me wonder “What type of life did this person have to make them think this is normal?”.  No, it is not normal for a child to tell his parent they want to watch them die.  It is not normal for such violent behavior that you have to create a ‘safe room’ in your house with no breakables or sharp corners. It is not normal that I have to keep spackle on hand for the vast number of holes that end up in the walls of our house or that we had to lock up my son’s archery equipment, because we just couldn’t trust him with it anymore.  I guess in a way, it became true…..because this is now our normal.

“Some people just don’t know how to take care of their kids.” – Doctor’s office staff member

This one wasn’t said directly to me, but about me.  My mom happened to be in the waiting room while I had my son in an exam room.  You could hear his meltdown throughout the office.  My mom immediately stood up, walked over to the window and in an angry voice said “She is here BECAUSE she is taking care of him since clearly there is something wrong.  Do not judge people when you do not know the situation.”.   I’m so glad I have my mom on my side. I am very cautious now when finding doctors.  My first question is, “Do they deal with special needs kids?”.  If the answer is yes, then I know that not only the doctor, but the staff might be just a little more understanding of our situation.

“Saying he has a problem is just an excuse for his bad behavior.” – co-worker

I have come to create a separation in my mind between bad behavior and bipolar behavior.  Generally, my son behaves pretty well.  He has amazing manners when out in public.  He is very charming and personable with people that he meets. Since being in the south he has taken to saying ma’am and sir.  He also has bad behaviors. He can be very disrespectful when asked to do homework or chores. He refuses personal hygiene practices and, when around his friends, I know that he swears…..although he is smart enough to not do this around me.  These are teenage things. They are the headaches that all parents go through when raising a teenage boy who rather be on the computer playing Minecraft than doing just about anything you ask of them.  No, I don’t excuse his bad behaviors, but I do attempt to explain his bipolar behaviors.

“You’re wrong. You can’t just have bad feelings.  Change your mind and you will feel better.” Short-lived therapist

This was said to my son by his first therapist here in GA.  I was sitting outside the office door one day and I overheard his session.  I realized that everything he said during session seemed like hearts and rainbows.  On the way home I asked him why he was pretty much lying to her about everything.  He said, “Mama, I have to lie.  If I tell her the truth she says that I am wrong. “.   I approached her about this and she said that the power of positive thinking was more effective than I realized.  Hey, I know that being positive is powerful….believe me, it takes a lot of positive thinking for me to get out of bed some mornings, but you can’t smile bipolar away.  That’s not how this illness goes. For parents going into this struggle, know that not all therapists are going to be a good fit for your family. Don’t feel bad about moving on.  The most important thing is your child and finding someone who can communicate well with him/her and with you effectively.

“I just don’t want to deal with you.” -middle school teacher

Yes, another teacher comment….but this one was said to my son.  I don’t know if it was meant the way he took it.   She may have been having a bad day and like all adults was frustrated and just ‘didn’t want to deal’. He felt that it meant that she didn’t want to be his teacher and she rather not have him in her class at all because she hated him. Here’s a note to all teachers out there, we tell kids all the time that words can hurt.  Well, for kids with mental illnesses or neurological disorders the perception of words can hurt more than the actual words.  These perceptions can be fueled by the tone of voice or look on someone’s face when they’re said.  If you have a kid come into your class with an IEP, don’t just read it, look at what the diagnosis is and then study up a little on the illness. Find out symptoms, common behaviors and possible triggers. Take some extra time to talk to that child’s parents, they will be a wealth of knowledge on what motivates their child and what shuts them down.  It may not only help the child you are teaching, but it just might give you a greater understanding and compassion for your co-workers that devote their careers to special needs kids.

 *******************

I know we tell people all the time “Think before you speak” maybe we should also include “Ask before you judge”.  Some people may shoot you down and tell you it’s none of your business, but you also might find a parent that appreciates that you took the time to try to understand and you might just learn something.

The Winds of Change

For those who have lived in both the north and the south, you will know that the wind is different down here.  It seems to circle a different way than I ever experienced before. It tends to be louder and blows stronger.  It sometimes comes out of nowhere.  That’s how I felt about our life during the first few months after moving here.

My son fell in love with life in the apartment complex.  There were dozens of kids that he could hang out with.  He was out riding his bike and playing football every afternoon.  We had never lived in a place where he could walk out the door and have any number of kids right there, ready to hang out.  The problem was, he enjoyed it so much and relished in the freedom it gave him, that he fought any rules regarding coming home. Once he did get home, he would fight everything that was said.

I know, I know, all kids buck the system in adolescence. The difference was, when he pushed back, he literally pushed, shoved, hit and kicked.  He has this way of emotionally manipulating a situation.  He starts out being obstinate in an effort to get his way. When it doesn’t work in his favor he gets agitated, he will clench his jaw and ball his fists. He essentially pushes himself over the edge.  I have learned to differentiate between the look on his face when he is manipulating and when he has truly lost control, but there is a fine line between the two.  The fact that he was forcing himself into a manic state was maddening.   It showed us that he needed more work on his coping skills, since he obviously had some sense of control.  The trick was teaching him to use it for good instead of evil.

I scheduled another appointment with the psychiatrist we had seen after we first moved.  I explained that the explosive and abusive behavior had started again.  She asked if I would be willing to try a new medication in addition to the Risperdal he was on.  At this point, I was willing to try just about anything.  She started him on Depakote.  Again, we saw a drop in behaviors.

He had begged for me to home school him when we were in NY.  I thought this transition was the perfect time to try it.  I would be working part-time from home and would have more time to spend moderating his on-line program.  We had decided to break up his school day and allow him to ride his bike or go for a walk for 15 minutes between each class. Initially, this seemed to help.  Very quickly I realized that he thought not having to go to a school building, meant not having to do school work.  One afternoon, while waiting for his friends to get off the bus, he mentioned that he wanted to start going to school again.  He realized that, even though school was hard, he liked being around other kids all day.  This was a relief for me.  I knew he needed more structure in his day than I could give him, not to mention the damage this process was doing to our relationship.

We live in a fairly large town geographically, so there are four middle schools.  We enrolled him in the school assigned to our area of town.  It didn’t take us long to figure out that it was a bit of a nightmare.  It was difficult sending a kid who didn’t think twice about equality and acceptance into a racially charged school. At first he thought some of the kids treated him poorly simply because he was new, that is hard on any kid, but when he was told that they didn’t want him to join the anime club because he was white he came home a ball of tears and confusion.  He said “What does my skin have to do with anime?”.  It was shortly after that the physical threats started. It had gotten so bad that he would have a panic attack just walking in the front door. I approached the special ed director and asked her what we could do. I was having a hard time convincing him to go to school. She suggested that if we move him to another school in the district, maybe he would feel safer. This was fine with me, since we were looking for houses in different areas and he would probably be switching schools shortly anyway.  It took about a week for the transfer paperwork to go through.  It happened to be the same week of the benchmark testing.  The principal was helpful by letting my son take all of his tests in the conference room attached to the front office.  This way, he wouldn’t feel like he was walking into the school and wouldn’t have to maneuver his way through the crowded hallways.

The following Tuesday he started at the new middle school.  As part of the transfer, I had to agree to drive him, since there wasn’t a bus available from our apartment. We headed out a bit early, since it was a 25 minute ride and I wasn’t quite sure where I was going.  Once we got there, they gave us a tour of the building and we met the principal and office staff.  They all seemed very willing to accommodate all of his needs.  When I picked him up that afternoon I asked him how it went.  He said it seemed ok, but that was probably because he didn’t talk to anyone, but maybe he would try tomorrow. The next day happened to be my birthday and it turned out to be a horrible day, but a blessing in disguise.

I woke up to a smiling face and breakfast in bed.  My son had gotten up early to help my husband cook and he was in a great mood.  We got ready and started out to school.  While we were in the car, I noticed him getting antsy and fidgeting in his seat.  As I pulled up to the entrance to let him out, he refused.  He started crying, saying he couldn’t go in. I pulled out of line, since I was holding other parents up, and parked in a space.  I figured, if I gave him a little time to talk through his feelings, we would be ok.  He still refused to go into the school.  He did eventually get out of the car and sit on the ground.  I decided to go into the school to see if the counselor was available.  I thought maybe talking to somebody other than me could help.  Both the counselor and the principal came outside with me.  When my son saw them come out of the building, he took off.  The school is in a wooded area and set very far back from the road. He had no idea where he was or where he was going.  The counselor went inside to get the police officer that was on duty at the school.  The police officer told me to pull my car back around to the entrance and he would go get my son.  By the time the officer came back, he didn’t have my son….but he did have his shoes.  Apparently, my son attempted running into the woods and came across a red ant pile.  They covered his feet and socks.  In a panic, he took off his shoes and tried to keep running…..but his feet weren’t too happy with the rough, pine-covered ground, so he stopped.  That was where the officer found him.  He tried to convince him to get into the patrol car and come back to the school.  My son said he would walk back.  The officer reminded him of his shoes, but my son didn’t want to pick them up because of the ants.

I saw my son walking in his socks back across the parking lot, head down looking defeated.  He came up and sat on the curb in front of the school.  The principal and counselor both attempted at talking to him, to let him know that this school was different from his last one and that there was no reason for him to be afraid.  The tears started again and then he looked at me and said ‘You just don’t get it, do you? I don’t want to be here. It’s too hard to be anywhere.  It would be so much easier if you would just let me kill myself”.  In that moment, all decisions were taken out of my hands.  Once suicide is mentioned on the school grounds the police can step in.  The officer pulled me aside and said that I could take him to the hospital or he could take him.  In that moment, I knew that if I took him to the hospital on my own, it would be the same as every other time we were in this situation.  Maybe, if an officer took him, they would have to pay attention to the fact that this is not just some over-concerned mother.

After being evaluated at the hospital they determined that they wanted to ambulance him to a psychiatric facility in south Atlanta. By that time my husband had left work and met me, so we went home to pack my son a bag and headed down to the facility.  When we got there, they had my son in an in-take room and said that he wanted to speak with me.  He said ‘Mommy, I love you, I would never kill myself. I am too afraid of being hurt. Please don’t leave me here.”  It was heartbreaking.  He was so angry when he found out that they were going to keep him there for at least 4 days. By the time we left, he said he didn’t love me anymore.

My son ended up staying there for 7 days. It was determined that they would add Zoloft to the list of meds he was on to help with the anxiety and depression.  Throughout that time, I got phone calls from his doctor every day.  She really took the time to listen because she wanted to know all that we had gone through.  At the end of each call she would tell me that he was in good care and that I should take this time to get some rest myself.  I had no idea how she thought that was possible.

At the end of the week, she told me that after reading his records, talking to me and spending time with him, she was pretty positive that he had bipolar disorder.  To be sure, she wanted me to take the extra step of having him evaluated at a specialized autism center, where they would do a deeper evaluation than had been done when we were in NY. At the end of the evaluation at the autism center they confirmed that his diagnosis by the psychiatrist was correct, his diagnosis was bipolar disorder.  It’s bittersweet to be validated as a mother, being told something you knew all along, when at the same time you are finding out that your child has a mental illness that he will live with for the rest of his life.

In the year and a half since that diagnosis we have had our ups and our downs. My son still struggles with school and controlling his emotions both there and at home.  On the bright side, we moved into our new house. My son has made 2 amazing best friends. My husband and I have joined a support group for caregivers and we have met other families that understand what our daily life is like.  My son’s medications help him function through each day. He is still seeing that wonderful psychiatrist and we have added an amazing therapist to our team.

This move and all of its changes proved to be a bit of a refresh button for us.  It helped us determine a path for treatment and a fresh start for our family. If ever we are having a bad day or I am missing my family and friends, I think back onto a day last spring.  It was shortly after we moved into our new house, my son and I were driving into town to go shopping. The sun was out and the sky was blue. He was gazing out the car window and he sighed deeply. I asked if he was ok and he said “I just realized how happy I am and how much I love it here.  Thank you, mommy.”.

*

I want to thank you all for getting to know us a bit. I know our story took me days to tell, and may seem long and tedious at times…..but that is life with a bipolar child.  From here on out, my posts will be more topical.  If there are any behavioral challenges or topics you would like to read about, let me know.  I will also be working with a special ed professional to get some informative posts out there as well.

A Stormy Journey – Part 3

2009/2010 was an eventful year for me and my son.  After years of intermittent bad dates and short-term relationships with men that simply couldn’t understand or accept the challenges we lived with, I met a guy who truly cared to take the time to get to know us, all the good and the bad.  Christmas day, he proposed to me, and that meant major changes to come for all of us.

Getting married meant moving 3 hours away, to where my fiancé lived with his 2 boys.  This excited my son.  He had asked me for years for a step-dad and siblings.  The day we got engaged, my son was ready to move in, but we had some additional planning to do before we could pack up our apartment and move across the state.   We decided to move over the course of February break.

Initially, the move went pretty well.  Like our first move 5 years earlier, my son adapted easily.  Our biggest challenge came when he started his new school.  It was a small school, with kids that had been together for years.  Although my son had a best friend in his previous school, they had met in kindergarten and his friend accepted all the idiosyncrasies that came along with the friendship.  My son didn’t blend well with these new kids.  He would come home on a daily basis upset, telling me that he just wanted to be normal. He didn’t like being different.  He didn’t like having to be pulled out of class for counseling or to take his tests, as stated in his IEP.  He told me that he had this image in his head that by having 2 parents at home and living a regular life like other kids that he would start to be ‘normal’, but now he realized that wasn’t going to happen.  This revelation broke my heart.

My son had always had anxiety; he worried more than the average kid should. Over the course of the next year, the bullying increased. As the bullying increased, his anxiety got worse. He would have panic attacks in the morning before school. These panic attacks would create pain in his chest that would bring him to his knees.  His meltdowns increased again to multiple times a week. They started becoming incredibly violent and verbally abusive.  The abuse was always aimed at me.  His previous therapist had explained that he would always take out frustrations on me because I was his constant and he knew I would always love him no matter what.  In more recent years, he has also said he takes out his anger on me because it was my fault he was born. If he wasn’t born, he wouldn’t have to feel this pain all the time. Logically, I know he doesn’t feel this way all the time, they are just words used to hurt……and they do.

He started a new phase of his meltdowns, self-punishment.  After he had hurt me in some way or damaged some possession, whether his own or someone else’s, he would feel the need to hurt himself.  This usually came in the form of punching the ground.  He would kneel in the front yard, and slam his fist into the ground until it would bleed.  If I attempted to stop him the meltdown would start all over again.

It was also during this time that the suicide threats started.  After he would calm down from an outburst, when I would tell him he had to have consequences to his behavior or he needed to make amends for something he had done, he would cry and tell me that he couldn’t be the good son I needed and that he should kill himself to make the pain go away.  I tried to call helplines and local medical facilities. I was told over and over that he didn’t fit the profile of kids in their programs. I was so frustrated. I knew there was something wrong with my son, but when I tried to seek help it seemed as though he didn’t have ‘enough’ wrong with him.  I had started the process with a local psychiatrist’s office to get him help.  It was maddening that we lived in the capital area of NY and they simply didn’t have enough psychological care for kids.  We were on a waiting list with hopes for an appointment in 3 months.

During that wait, on one school break, he was out-of-town visiting family.  When I got there to pick him up, he had locked himself in a bathroom and was threatening suicide again.  This time, he seemed even more out of control, so I felt we needed to call 9-1-1.  They got him out of the bathroom and into an ambulance. By the time we got to the hospital, an EMT had gotten him calmed down.  We spent the day with multiple doctors and psychologists.  He was discharged and I was told, “He seems fine. Just find him a good psychologist”.  Here was yet another doctor that was only seeing the calm version of my son.

Once we were able to get into the psychiatrist’s office, they heard what was happening and determined that, given his behaviors and his previous reaction to the medication we had tried, he did NOT have ADHD.  They wanted to try him on an anti-psychotic medication to see if it would help with the violent outbursts.  He started on a low dose of Risperdal.  We saw a difference almost immediately.  The anxiety attacks all but stopped for the next few months. His meltdowns were fewer and farther between.  However, the depression side started to kick in full force.  He would be miserable going to school. His grades started plummeting and the bullying was getting worse….or as we learned, his perception of the bullying was getting worse.

My son kept asking for us to move away.  I, too, wasn’t very happy where we were.  As much as I loved my husband, I didn’t feel welcome in his community of friends.  Very few people took the time to get to know me.  Although I had some great co-workers, I didn’t have a life outside of work and home.  I had a hard time putting myself in situations where I met new people. Most people don’t understand when you have to cancel plans on short notice, and I started second guessing who I could share my son’s challenges with.  I knew that my unhappiness did not help my son’s moods at all.  My husband and I discussed a move and came up with a 5 year plan.

We started researching cities where we might want to live.  Our requirements for a move wasn’t a long list, it had to be affordable, we would like it to be near someone we knew, it had to have decent medical care within reasonable driving distance……and my preference was that it should be somewhere warmer than upstate NY. I was never a fan of winter and my son always did better emotionally in the warmer weather months where he could be outside to expel his energy.

Our 5 year plan quickly became a 5 month plan. While doing our research, my husband came across an amazing job opportunity in the Atlanta area. After intense discussion, we determined that it would be too good to pass up.  My husband would have a job he loved, my current employer didn’t want me to leave the company, so they allowed me to set up an office from home where my hours would be flexible for doctor’s appointments and such.  We also found that the recent housing crisis in the country had hit GA incredibly hard, if we could sell the house in NY, we would be able to afford a nice home in the metro area and being near a major city like Atlanta gave us access to a multitude of doctors for my son. One of the biggest bonuses for me was that one of my best friends lived about an hour outside the city.

The summer of 2012 was a busy one.  My husband had to start work in July, so he moved to Atlanta ahead of us and lived on the campus where he would be working, while navigating the surrounding areas to find an apartment for us.  My son and I stayed in NY to pack up the house and get it ready to put on the market.  My dad, who had recently retired, was a blessing to us. He would come and stay for days at a time to help with yard work, painting and packing.  Finally, in late August, my husband flew back and we packed up a moving truck and headed south.

Even before we moved I had done my research and set up my son with a psychiatrist.  We were able to get an appointment for the week after we arrived. This meant one of two things to me, either this doctor wasn’t any good to have opening so quickly, or things worked differently in the south……I was so happy to find out it was the later. Also before we moved, I had signed my son up for an on-line homeschooling program.  He had been begging me to home school him, so I thought this was the best way to give it a shot.

My husband had found an apartment complex in a relatively suburban area about 30 minutes outside of Atlanta.  An apartment was not my favorite situation, given that I had a child that would have screaming fits on a regular basis, but it would have to do until we sold the NY house.

Thus began our southern life.  The nightmares that came along with this new adjustment over the next few months had me second guessing this choice on a regular basis. As hard as the change was for us, I soon found that it was one of the best things we could have done.