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The Adult Bipolar Child: A Parent’s Story

Some time ago, I received a question from a parent who was connected to their adult child, who has bipolar, through social media. After seeing some unpleasant posts and their consequences, they were looking for advice on how to handle things since their child is an adult.

After reviewing that question and thinking for a few minutes, I realized that I probably wasn’t the best to answer that question entirely, but I knew someone who might be able to help. Since I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2006, I had already moved out of my parents house and had lived on my own and then was living with my spouse.  When we separated in 2012, I moved back home with my parents.  My parents had never really seen my daily life with my bipolar symptoms and since I was on disability at that time due to a recent crash, I was at a record low for me.  Living with my parents, and not working, meant I was around all the time and my parents (and eventually sister when she graduated college and moved back home) saw my bipolar symptoms in a completely different way than they had when I would make my visits home for a few hours here and there. This was Bipolar Hot Mess 24/7 at a low.  I knew that it was going to be difficult for them to see me in the state I was in, as well as me trying to get them to understand what was helpful, what wasn’t etc. So when I received the question, I thought that the person who saw the most of me would be the best person to help me answer this, my mom.

I know that I have never really posted anything about my mom’s thoughts and feelings about my illness, and I never really had sat down and talked with her about how my transition back home had affected her.  This was the perfect opportunity for me to open up the conversation and not only get to talk about the relationship with me and her, but also a chance for her to be able to talk to other parents who may find themselves at this point right now, or in the future.  It is common for people with mental illnesses to find themselves back in their parents homes after being out on their own.  It is important for those of us that find ourselves back at home to not only think about how it now affects OUR life, but how it affects our FAMILIES lives too.  When we land on their doorstep, their life changes too. I felt badly that I had never discussed this with my mom or dad sooner because I had been too wrapped up in my own head about how MY LIFE was in the gutter and how III was such a mess to even stop and think that maybe my arrival had an effect on them as well.  I am very fortunate and grateful that I did receive this question though because it snapped me out of my own head and by asking these questions and hearing her responses, I was able to see how my behaviors weren’t just my own issues, but did concern and did affect those around me, and not everything is about US.

I am so grateful that my mom agreed to help me with this question because it helped me, I hope that it helped her, and I know that she was grateful to be able to voice her experience to help educate other parents.  As my sister and I have grown up, we have had many health issues that were new to our family and as my mom and dad have always done is educate themselves on these issues.  When I asked my mom if it was ok for me to post this (as I would not post anything without their consent because these are THEIR thoughts and I fully believe in their right to their privacy in how they deal with or feel about the things that involve our family), her immediate answer was “Yes. I think it will help educate others and as long as it helps in education, I am all for it.”  You see, education is one of the ways to prevent stigma and stereotypes about any type of topic.

So, here it is. Questions asked by me, answered by Hot Mess Mom, with some of my additional commentary, in hopes of helping other parents of adult children with mental health issues.  Thank you mom for opening up and taking the time to share this. It means more than words can ever express.  Keep in mind, we did this interview in 2013, after I had been home for about a year.

Hot Mess Mom talks being a Mom, Social Media, and Bipolar

Me:  Social media has become such commonplace in everyone’s daily lives,  one struggle I have found, not just with families with mental illness, but in ALL families, is which family members each person will be Facebook “friends” with, or Twitter “followers.”  My family has pretty much taken the stance at this time that none of us are friends on Facebook because we each like to use that as our own personal outlet for expressing our emotions and feelings without judgment.  However, being connected through social media could definitely present problems and issues when it comes to parents and how to respond to things their children are posting and saying on social media, especially their adult children.

 For this, I asked her a series of questions about what it was like living with me when I first moved in back in March of 2012 and then what it was like living with me over a year later, in 2013, after doing some research on the illness and experiencing me being hospitalized once during that time, and several near suicide attempts, etc.  It’s hard when your child is an adult because the child will always use the “I’m an adult” comeback when you, as a parent, try to help them and I’m sure as a parent, it’s hard to watch your child walk into bad decisions and mistakes and not say anything.  So, here is the interview I did with my mom.  I hope that it gives a little bit of insight and perspective to hear from another mom of an adult child with bipolar disorder!

Me:  When I first moved back home, did you feel afraid, or like you were walking on pins and needles, during my shifts in mood?  How did you feel?

MOM:  At first I felt nervous about your being home.  I was not sure what to expect and what to do in case something would happen.  Sometimes I felt ashamed of my thoughts and how I felt at those times.

***My sidenote – Its ok to be scared and nervous.  Mental illness is a serious issue and can come with some serious behaviors and consequences.  The key here is to talk about these fears and set up protocols and procedures for things like what to do if mania starts to hit, keeping lists of phone numbers, but most importantly, BOUNDARIES.  It is very important for both the parent and child to set up boundaries on when it would be ok to intervene or when it’s something that the child has to do and experience the consequences themselves so they learn.  I have had MANY, MANY of those humbling moments.

Me: How do you feel now, after me being home over a year, after asking questions, and living through a few episodes and even a hospitalization?

MOM: I feel much more comfortable about your bipolar than I did.  Since I now understand a little more about it, I feel more informed and able to deal with it.  I still have a lot more to learn, but education has begun to give me a new confidence about your behaviors.  Hospitalization just opened m eyes to a different set of problems and solutions to your illness.

***My sidenote – It’s important to learn the patterns of your child.  Each person with bipolar disorder or mental illness exhibits different symptoms, patterns, cycles, etc.  Learning those specific to your child can help in determining what behaviors are illness and which are not.

Me: What was your initial reaction or instinct when I would say things like “I want to die,” or would have cuts all over my arms?

MOM: I am very scared when you talk like that.  I am not sure what to do or say and not being in control of a situation that is serious concerns me.  A mother hates to see her child in such pain and I just want to say the right words, do the right actions and make the bad go away.

***My sidenote – This is an instance when it is good to have a set plan or protocol.  Do you call a doctor or therapist during these moments?  Do you discuss hospitalization?  What other options?  Is there a medication the doctor suggests you take when these episodes occur?  These are situations that you need to discuss with your child, and you need to determine at what point it is acceptable for you to intervene.  Sometimes, certain parents intervening actually can cause more intense feelings based on your relationship.  Again, another example of boundaries and how that discussion is important.

Me:  How about now?  Is it still the same reaction or has time and knowledge gotten you to react differently?

MOM: As time has gone by and after a few episodes, I feel a little better but I still get scared and worried about you when this happens.  Life is precious and I don’t want to take anything for granted.  I feel more confident that I will be able to help you get through those rough times.

Me:  How has knowledge of bipolar disorder impacted you?  Do you feel more comfortable with it or does it scare you or have more negative impact?

MOM:  The knowledge of bipolar has helped me to deal with your cycles and your day to day life.  I feel more comfortable the more I know about bipolar disorder.

Me: If you could give advice, mother to mother, about what to do or say when their adult children are saying or doing things that are clearly only because they are in a cycle, like “I want to die,” what advice would you give that mother on how to address that issue with their child?

MOM:  As a mother we always want to kiss the hurt away but with bipolar disorder you can’t.  The only thing a mother can do now is sit down with their child, spend time with them and try to understand them.  Their behavior is not really them but their illness.  They are still that same child you beamed with each new accomplishment they achieved.  The only difference now is that their control of themselves and the situation is different.  Our babies have different needs right now, but we still need to be there for them and love them and try to learn about and their situations.  Life is an adventure for us and for our children and we need to go on it together.  As long as they don’t feel all alone, we can all learn from this illness and these situations.

Me:  As a mom, would you intervene in behaviors caused by my illness in public settings or things like social media?  Would you not want to address it publicly because of embarrassment or other reasons?

MOM: I would not intercede or intervene at the moment because that is your own outlet and your own expression.  I might say something or mention it to you after the fact, but you have to learn for yourself the consequences of what you do or say, even if it is your illness talking.  Unless it’s something outrageous, like threatening someone’s life or something that could get you into serious trouble, then I would.

Thank you Mom for helping me with a topic that many can relate to.  It means a lot to not just me, but to the other members of the Hot Mess family. I love you!

LAST SIDENOTE! ……………..

And, if anyone has any questions for ME or any for HOT MESS MOM, I would be happy to forward them on, or answer them myself….. Or, MAYBE, since we know how much the Hot Mess Family is becoming less shy on social media, maybe Hot Mess Mom and I will do a You Tube video with your questions and we give you our answers on the video!  Maybe Sister Hot Mess and/or Hot Mess Dad will get in on the fun and give you some answers from a sibling and a father point of view also!  So, if you want to ask any questions, email me at bipolarhotmess@gmail.com .  If you are reading this on another site, make sure to tag me “bipolarhotmess” so I see them!

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