The other day I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with a former client’s mother about her experiences dealing with her now 19 year old daughter, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 8.
This girl from what I knew of her was extremely unstable, as could be expected from a teenager suffering from bipolar disorder.
Unlike other people suffering from bipolar disorder, teenage girls tend to be even more fickle when you factor in the normal hormones of teenagers as well as social pressures that make even some non-bipolar teens act and feel erratic.
This girl was prone to bouts of depression, mania, impulsivity and explosive anger.
At home her mom had done everything she was supposed to do to support her child including psychotherapy, family therapy and medication, but her daughter was still a hand-full.
When she was in her manic states she tended to have anger directed towards her mother and would at times try to get physical with her and had to be hospitalized several times for suicidal/homicidal ideations.
Her mother tried all she could to pacify her daughter, including painting her room the pretty purple she wanted, only to come home one day and find nearlyevery inch of that wall covered in permanent marker with words directed towards her mother such as “bitch”, “whore” and “I hope you die”.
On top of that she was extremely needy, wanting to be up under her mom 24/7 to the point that she got angry whenever her mom left her and would tear up the house or refuse to go to school.
When she was depressed she would self-mutilate and attempt to kill herself. Her mother would be afraid to leave her alone.
“My biggest fear, even today, is that I will come home and find her dead”, the mother told me.
The biggest thing this mother did that made the most difference was getting educating herself on her daughter’s illness and counseling for herself and joining a support group.
Support groups are invaluable resources that often aren’t utilized enough by those living with or taking care of people with mental illnesses or substance issues.
Through counseling and the support group she learned that she was not alone, that many other parents were on the same roller coaster ride she was on.
She also learned how to change the way she had been dealing with her daughter.
If what you are doing isn’t getting you the results you desire, you have to try something different.
She started accepting that her daughter was going to have good days and bad days, and sometimes within the same day. She also had to understand her role and limitations as the mother of a child with bipolar disorder.
She had to accept that some days she might feel like giving up, or not care when her daughter threatens to hang herself, and that doesn’t make her a bad mother, but it is a sign that she needs to take a break, regroup and seek support herself.
At the end of our reunion I was happy to see that a mother, who just a couple of years ago who was so flustered, angry and exhausted, had turned into a woman not only surviving, but thriving with a daughter suffering from bipolar disorder.
Her and her daughter are doing better, but they are still taking it one day at a time.