Hi, I’m Donna, an Australian mother to 6 wonderful children aged 4 to 21. I’m married to a wonderful and supportive man whom I’m still madly in love with after, well… several years of marriage. I’m also homeschooling the youngest 3 which is a job I cherish everyday. It’s our journey together as a family with a bipolar child that I’m going to share with you.
To understand what Bipolar looks like watch an episode of Winnie the Pooh. First, you have Eeyore, the donkey, always on a chronic downer. He feels worthless and dejected, that there is nothing in this world for him. He is unable to cope even with the goings on in the 100 acre woods.
Then you have Tigger who is always bouncing off the walls. Talking very fast all the time. He is initially when you meet him charismatic, charming and funny. Willing to do all and everything for everyone and is the ONLY one who can do this. He demonstrates an inflated self-esteem or grandiosity as we call it in bipolar land and that he’s so wonderful that he is ‘the king of the world’. Tigger is reckless, intrusive and without regard for consequence or other peoples personal space or needs. He also shows agitation and is hyper ‘wired’ and constantly bouncing. Because of this he always has racing thoughts and is distracted, moving from one thing to the next, never actually finishing anything. Now mesh this into one body and you have Caitlin’s world.
Welcome to our 100 Acre Woods…
When Ashleigh the oldest was born she made mothering look easy. She read the front of the baby books. Then came Caitlin, she clearly only read the back of the book where all the thing that could go wrong with your child did.
She started, amongst a long list of other things, having seizures at 3 months. By 5 she was formally diagnosed with Epilepsy. That’s when things really started to go south with her. She developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Caitlin would scrub herself red raw in the shower then get out and need to wash her hands again. The house had to be kept perfect and should she chance upon an ad for a new cleaning product we’d need to purchase it immediately so she could scrub the walls. Still keep in mind that she is only 5.
While the Epilepsy was consistent throughout the years her moods where as clear cut as the seasons. Summer & Autumn she was manic and winter & spring she was depressive. Not the curl up in a ball with a blanket over her head it was different, more dangerous. Deadly in fact. We would get about 2 weeks a year in June when she was Caitlin. When little, she would pack her bicycle and runaway then as she got older she would just walkout the door. We had friends and family that she could runaway too but sometimes just wandering the streets. Keeping her safe has always been the main objective of living with a Bipolar child. You learn very early to throw away the parenting books because they don’t help, but you still needed to have clear cut boundaries. I never did anything spontaneously or change plans or routine.
During High school it worsened. Suicide attempts were frequent and we lived with the constant fear of coming home finding her hanging or overdosed. You would see an emptiness in her eyes. It was like the lights were off and nobody was home. With a lot of work we managed to get her to graduate year 12. She was easily overwhelmed with day to day expectations that most school kids would just take in their stride. I had to dance this constant fine, stressful dance of protecting her and managing her life so that when she was ‘normal’ the consequences of her actions where as minimal as possible. It’s at this time when they are between the 2 ‘polars’ that they are at greatest risk of suicide because they can run their lives off the road so badly. Everyone has to deal with the consequences of their actions even the mentally ill. My one main job was running around behind her quietly cleaning up the mess in her wake.
June was fast approaching and I was ready for that ‘well’ moment to appear. For that beautiful butterfly that she really is, to appear out of her hellish cocoon once again. That like a butterfly she was fragile and time was short. I had a Psychiatrist and GP lined up ready for that moment. Always praying that this would be the year that she would ‘see’ and get help. It was!! As the real Caitlin was emerging she was looking back at her facebook and said “Is that really me”. She wanted help and together as a family we got it. She has been well for some time now but always acutely aware that a relapse is possible so she takes her medication and good care of her mental & physical health. She’s learned that This Is Not My Mind. While she has had to face the reality that Bipolar is not cured just managed, she’s doing all she can to take control of ‘it’ not it of her. She now has the opportunity to live her mind and life. She is to marry a wonderful man who loves her as we do and is willing to learn the dance that we as parents have danced with her over her life and create their little house within our 100 acre wood.
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