Get practical tips to help you support your child with bipolar disorder on The Bipolar Parent!
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Parenting a child with bipolar disorder is a unique challenge. There are medications to manage, mood swings to endure, and the many times your child will surprise you with their capacity for rage–or empathy.
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is observed annual on the first Thursday of May. Thursday, May 7th, 2020, is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in the United States.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the day over a decade ago to better support families who struggle with mental health challenges in their children. The purpose of the awareness day is to shine a spotlight on the needs of children with serious mental illness and to encourage communities to get these children the help they need.
If your child suffers from bipolar disorder, don’t lose hope. You can rise to the challenge of parenting a child with mental illness.
Here are 5 ways to support a child with bipolar disorder.
1. Accept Your Child’s Limits
People with bipolar disorder often have mood swings that they cannot control. Your child will sometimes have terrible depression or manic energy that they won’t be able to rein in. They might laugh inappropriately, get into trouble at school, or be completely incapable of taking care of themselves, especially while depressed.
Accept your child’s limits. Be patient with your kid, letting them know that you will always be there for them and that your house is a no-judgment zone.
That doesn’t mean to not hold them accountable for putting in the effort to do chores or homework, but it does mean to give them a little leeway when they’re dealing with depression especially. If they are making inappropriate jokes due to a manic episode, call them on it, and ask them if they really feel those things are appropriate.
2. Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Validate your child’s feelings. Let them know that whatever they’re feeling, be it euphoria, frustration, rage, or the deepest pit of despair, is real. Tell them that you’re not judging them for having these feelings, and guide your child in ways that are appropriate to express their emotions.
Above all, don’t tell them to “stop acting crazy” if they get riled up. If they’re manic, they might be excessively goofy or silly, or have delusions of grandeur (including claims of superpowers). They can’t help themselves.
3. Communicate Honestly and Openly with Your Child
Communication is key to supporting your child with bipolar disorder. When your child approaches you, turn off your electronic devices and really listen. Even if you don’t understand how they feel, take in all that they say.
When your kid is struggling with their mood swings, or guilt, or other strong feelings, offer your child emotional support. Be patient, and validate what they feel (tip #2).
If you, too, have bipolar disorder, tell your child that you suffer the same kinds of mood swings that they do. Be honest with your children in an age-appropriate way.
(For a post on the differences between bipolar disorder in children and bipolar disorder in adults, click here.)
4. Set up a Routine
Children thrive on routine. You want to plan out your child’s days and weeks, and be consistent from day to day and week to week. Make sure your kid takes their medication at the same time everyday.
If necessary, talk to the guidance counselors and principal at your child’s school to set up an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This plan will enable accommodations to be made for your kid, including breaks from homework during difficult times, time outs during the school day, and longer times to take tests.
Parenting a child with a mental illness is a difficult, but doable challenge. If your child has bipolar disorder, there will be times when they feel utterly depressed or riled up with delusions of grandeur.
You can rise to this challenge. Use these five practical tips to help you.
This is true always, but is especially true as a parent stuck at home during self-quarantine for the coronavirus pandemic.
But what is self-care? A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.
Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
There are 7 types of self-care: physical, emotional, relational, social, intellectual, spiritual, and safety and security self-care.
Read on for self-care ideas you can do while stuck at home that cover all 7 of these areas.
Make notes of the ideas that apply to your life or that you want to try, and see which ones you can incorporate your children into. Put a C by those ideas. Next, put an I by those ideas that you need independent me-time for. We’ll come back to this later.
Some of these ideas are taken from a sheet given to me by the teachers at Lake Washington Toddler Group.
Physical Self-Care Ideas
Physical needs are usually the most insistent. When we’re hungry, we feel it in our bellies and throats. Here are some ideas on how to meet our physical needs. Some of these are done alone, and some are best done with others:
Go on a long walk outside with your child in the stroller or sling.
Drink plenty of water.
If you do get sick, call your medical providers and let them know, to see if you need to come in to their offices.
Emotional Self-Care Ideas
Emotional self-care is ensuring that you are emotionally and mentally healthy. You need to express a range of feelings in order to take care of yourself emotionally. Here are some ideas to meet your emotional needs:
Prioritize the activities that make you happy.
Spend time alone each day.
Check in with your therapist if they offer virtual visits.
Indulge in a good, cleansing cry.
Listen to a comedy show.
Watch a movie that you love.
Say no to extra responsibilities.
Relational Self-Care Ideas
Relational self-care is ensuring your relationships with your family members are strong. Familial relationships are critical for good mental health, as without them you may feel alone and unsupported. And with all the time you’re spending with your family during the coronavirus crisis, you can deepen your relationships with them. Relational self-care ideas include:
Cuddle, kiss, and hug your children.
Make love to your partner, if you have one and you have a sexual relationship.
Play a game with your family.
Play a game specifically with your partner, after your kids have gone to bed.
Establish healthy boundaries around alone time for everyone, and respect those boundaries.
Social self-care is strengthening relationships with those outside your immediate family. Socialization is so important to your mental health, even if you’re an introvert. It’s part of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. Ideas for social self-care include:
Check in with family and friends via Facetime, Skype, phone calls, or texts.
Ask friends and family to remind you that things will be okay, and that what you’re feeling is temporary.
Cuddle with your immediate family or a pet.
Schedule time each day to talk to another adult.
Intentionally reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with or have unresolved conflict with.
Leave a funny voicemail for someone you care about.
Intellectual self-care is looking after your intellectual pursuits and critical thinking skills. One of the best ways to develop your intellectual self-care repitoire is to engage in creative pursuits. Here are some intellectual self-care ideas while you’re stuck at home:
Check your library’s website for their online catalog, and check out some books to read on your phone or ereader.
Read books slightly above your child’s grade level to them.
Listen to podcasts or audio books while you work.
If your child is doing an art project, sit down with them and create your own art.
Write something, be it a blog, stories, or a personal journal.
Watch documentaries on TV, from the library, or on a streaming service.
Identify a project that would be challenging and rewarding, and then plan to do it.
Return to old hobbies that you may not have pursued since the birth of your children.
Spiritual Self-Care Ideas
Spiritual self-care is not synonymous with religion, though it can take the form of attending church services and praying to a higher power. It’s a search for purpose and understanding in the universe, and expressing values that are important to us. Spiritual self-care ideas include:
Pray or meditate, especially in front of your children.
Volunteer to pick up groceries for an elderly friend or neighbor.
Write in a journal to reflect upon your new life.
Be open to inspiration and awe.
Contribute to causes you believe in.
Spend time outside in your front yard or on your balcony.
Attend religious services online.
Safety and Security Self-Care Ideas
Safety and security self-care involves having health insurance and being smart about your personal safety. Understanding the financial sphere falls under this type of self-care. Many people wait to evaluate their safety or finances until they’re in trouble. Don’t do that. Make sure you have contingency plans. Here are some ideas for safety and security self-care that you can do while stuck at home:
Check out an ebook from the library on investing, and read it.
Read backlogs of articles on personal finance sites.
Double-check your locks. Change them if someone might have a key that you don’t want to.
Order a locking mailbox on Amazon and install it when it arrives.
Change your internet passwords.
Call your insurance company and find out if they cover virtual medical appointments.
Go through your credit card statements line by line and see if there are any charges that you don’t recognize.
Examine your bills (utilities, cell phone, internet, streaming services). Find out if there are any fees you don’t want, and call the companies to see if those fees can be waived.
Self-care isn’t complex. But it can be difficult to think of ideas to do, especially while you’re stuck at home with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Review your list to see which ideas you can incorporate your children into and which ideas you need me-time for.
If you’ve placed a C next to the ones you can do with your children and an I for ones you need independent time for, then pick out one or two that you can do tomorrow.
Start with the C ideas. Once you’ve performed some self-care alongside your children, find some time to work on the I ideas.
(For a post on how to find time for self-care as a parent stuck at home, click here.)
Self-care, especially independent self-care, can make you feel better. You may soon see the rewards–for yourself and for your family–of a little bit of me-time.
I also shared a daily schedule my toddler and I try to follow, which had room for eating, sleeping, outside time, and work, but not much else.
So how do you find the time to do self-care when you’re stuck at home with small children–and you need to work?
Here are some practical tips that you might want to try while in self-quarantine.
Tip #1: Fill Your Child’s “Tanks”
Sometimes, your kids whine and glom onto you like limpets. That’s usually when they have a physical or emotional need.
Often, before you separate from your children to perform self-care for yourself, you need to fill their physical or emotional “tanks.”
Spend a little time with your children before jetting off, and you’re less likely to be interrupted when you do go take that bubble bath.
Set them up with a snack, give them some kisses and cuddles, and play racecar driver with them. Listen to your tween’s ramblings about Minecraft for a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Generally, the happier your kids are when you leave them (provided they can be left; toddlers can’t, which I’ll cover in the next tip), the more time you’ll be able to take for yourself.
Tip #2: Preplan STEAM Projects
This follows my tip #5 from yesterday: to keep your child entertained and busy on their own with independent play, prepare STEM/Art, or STEAM projects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math. With Art, that’s STEAM.
Yesterday, I listed several activities my 3-year-old has done and the supplies we have on our crafting shelf. I won’t list them all again here, but if you’re looking for ideas for a toddler, check them out.
As I write this, she was sorting through buttons with a clothespin, placing them into a cup. She worked on fine motor skills and shape recognition, both parts of STEAM for a toddler. She also worked on counting, as she counted the buttons, and pattern recognition as she sorted them by color.
STEAM activities are as simple as that. The last time she did this activity, she entertained herself for an hour with minimal input from me.
This time, she lasted about 20 minutes, and then we made purple playdough. She’s currently kneading and rolling out the homemade dough, then cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters. So far, she’s been entertained for 45 minutes by the playdough alone, enabling me to write.
In preplanning activities, I printed a calendar for March, and spent a couple of hours listing one activity per day. We do this project at 1pm every afternoon. The calendar has taken a lot of the pressure off of me to think of something every day.
Take a couple of hours to preplan activities and write them down on a calendar for April. You can pick up supplies at any grocery store or order them on Amazon.
Preparing STEAM projects takes a little up front work, but the payoff of more time for work–or, preferably, self-care–is worth it.
Tip #3: Prepare Meals on the Weekends
This tip is similar to tip #2: prepare meals on the weekends, also known as meal prepping. If you do as much upfront work on your meals as possible, you don’t have to make dinner during the week.
This saves a huge amount of time, some of which can be used for self-care.
Slow cooker “dump meals” are meals where you place all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and then dump them in the slow cooker on the morning you want to cook it. The food cooks all day and smells wonderful, tastes great at night, and takes minimal prep on the weekend.
Brown all your ground beef on Saturdays. Chop all your vegetables. Bake and shred that chicken. Soak and cook those beans.
Make cooking a family activity. All hands on deck means less work for you, and the kids get to learn something, too.
There are many websites on the internet devoted to meal prepping. Type that term into your preferred browser’s search bar, and you will find sites that list recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists for a week’s meals or more.
Tip #4: Get Support from Your Partner
If you’re lucky to have a partner isolating himself or herself with you, count your blessings.
If you’re burned out and need a little bit of me-time, ask your partner for some support. Ask them to watch the kids for an hour while you take a nap.
Most partners are supportive if you ask, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask or even what we need. Figure that out before you approach your partner.
Take some time after the kids are in bed to make a list of self-care ideas that appeal to you, and the time each will take. Then figure out what is reasonable to ask of your partner.
Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst thing they can say is no, and that opens up a chance for you two to have a conversation.
Be sure to reciprocate as well. If your partner offers you an hour to yourself, offer them the same in return.
These times are stressful for everyone, especially parents with bipolar disorder who also have to work at home. You’re wearing many hats: homeschooler, partner, parent, employee, and mental illness manager.
Self-care is critical for your survival. You have to eat, sleep, and spend time by yourself so you have a chance to breathe.
Take care of yourself. Stay healthy.
I wish you well in your journey.
Tune in next week for types of self-care, as well as several self-care ideas for parents with bipolar disorder isolated at home with their kids.
Stuck at home due to coronavirus quarantining? Read on for practical tips on how to manage working at home as a parent with bipolar disorder, from this post by The Bipolar Parent!
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Panic about coronavirus has infected all of our lives. As of this writing, one in three Americans are under shelter-in-place orders. Our kids’ schools are canceled, and if you can work from home, that’s a great blessing in disguise–as well as being distracting as all get out.
So how do you survive being stuck at home as a bipolar parent, especially of young children? Read on for some practical tips from me, a woman with bipolar disorder in the trenches with an 11-year-old and a 3-year-old.
Tip #1: Understand Your Kids’ Limits
Unfortunately for everyone, most children, especially toddlers, are not self-sufficient. As a parent, and especially as a parent with bipolar disorder, you need to understand their limits–and yours.
Your children need to be fed, cared for, and entertained. You don’t have to entertain them all the time–independent play is a beautiful thing–but you do need to set them up with projects or toys so you can get some work done.
Give your children–and yourself–some grace during this stressful period. The panic about coronavirus is temporary. As soon as the virus is under control, your life will largely go back to normal.
If your back is against the wall and you’re about to start snapping at your kids, it’s okay to relax your guidelines on screen time, for example, just so you can get a breather (and get some work done). This is an extraordinary time, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures–of patience, as well as other things.
My toddler is currently in the bath, pouring water into and out of cups and singing to herself, while I’m writing this. I’m sitting on the toilet with my laptop on my crossed legs. Do whatever you have to do to keep sane and get some time for yourself.
Tip #2: Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health
If you have medications, take them. I can’t say it any clearer than that.
This is the worst time to have a mood episode. Your children need a sane parent. You need stability to get through this. Forgetting to take your medication is not an option. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.
I take my morning meds before I sit down for breakfast and my evening meds immediately after dinner. Find a time (or two times, if you have morning and evening meds) that you can stick to every day.
And call upon your coping skills. You need them to survive. Depression can strike at any time, especially in a time where most people are isolated from their supportive social networks.
Which leads to my next tip.
Tip #3: Practice Self-care
We all know the airplane oxygen mask metaphor. Before you help your little ones, you need to put on your own oxygen mask.
This means that self-care is crucial for you to function as a parent with bipolar disorder. Don’t neglect to take care of yourself; if you’re run down, you won’t be able to parent effectively, and you may even end up getting sick.
A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.
Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
There are six big statutes of self-care which need to be practiced daily:
socializing with other people. Tap into your social network via FaceTime or Skype and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable.
Tip #4: Create a Schedule
Kids (and adults) thrive on routine. I know creating a schedule and sticking to it are some of the most difficult suggestions to follow for parents with bipolar disorder, but if you want to remain sane while staying at home with your kids, you must. Creating a schedule is imperative.
You don’t have to plan down to the minute. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Plan in thirty-minute or hour-long blocks. Try to have the same wake times and sleep times every day. If you can, wake up thirty minutes before your children, to get some time to center yourself (or work).
My toddler’s schedule looks like this:
8:30am – Toddler gets dressed, brushes teeth, brushes hair, comes down for breakfast
9:00am – Breakfast
10:00am – Chores
11:00am – Playing outside on the trampoline or in the kiddy pool while Mom watches (and gets some work done on her laptop or phone)
1pm – STEAM project at the kitchen table while Mom gets work done
2pm – 30 minutes of reading
2:30pm – more outside time
4:30pm – screen time while Mom makes dinner
5:30pm – dinner
6pm – Playing with toys or more STEAM projects while Mom gets work done
7pm – bath and bedtime routine
8:30pm – bed for Toddler
9:00pm – Mom gets more work done
10:30pm – Mom goes to bed
We don’t follow this schedule to a T every day–my toddler took a bath at 3:30pm today, and will take another at 7pm tonight, for example–but it’s a good basic outline.
We do a lot of STEM/Art projects, which leads me to the next tip.
Tip #5: Prepare STEM/Art Projects
STEM/Art, also known as STEAM, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. For a toddler, these are as simple as practicing cutting a straight line. Fine motor skills, pattern recognition, and counting are all a part of STEAM.
When the cancellation of my 3-year-old’s preschool was looming, I knew I had to take action. So I looked up toddler-friendly STEAM activities on the internet (Busy Toddler and Little Bins for Little Hands are great resources) and printed a calendar off for March. I wrote one activity per day, and have been following that calendar religiously. Every day at 1pm, we do the scheduled activity on the calendar.
In doing STEAM projects, we have:
glued different-sized buttons to paper
dug blueberries out of a Tupperware-shaped ice cube with a butter knife
threaded pipe cleaners through a colander
painted landscapes and faces on construction paper with watercolors
picked up different-sized buttons with a clothespin from a bag and placed them into a cup
baked bread together.
Some of these projects, like the blueberry-ice excavation, entertained her for up to two hours. Some, like the colander threading, lasted all of one minute (that’s a rare case). Gluing and playdough lasted an hour each. These activities have been hit or miss, mostly hit.
And since we’re at the kitchen table, the mess is largely contained. I now have a crafting shelf on a bookshelf right next to the table stocked with:
watercolors and brushes
pom poms of various sizes
Today we peeled stickers off of a sticker book and stuck them to purple construction paper. Toddler activities are as simple as that, and she was entertained for 30 minutes while I cleaned the kitchen.
Take a couple of hours after the kids have gone to bed to prepare a calendar full of activities. Even one STEAM activity a day is great for their budding brains. You can purchase supplies at any grocery store or Target. (I purchased mine on Amazon before delivery slowed down.)
Tip #6: Remember Your Priorities
Hopefully, your kids are your highest priority (after self-care, but often times for a busy parent, the kids come first). Sometimes the schedule all goes to pot and your kids are whiny, needy, and generally require a lot of attention.
That’s okay. Show your kids that you love them that day. Tomorrow will be better.
Ask your boss to give you leniency in this stressful time. Any boss worth their salt will understand the new crunch you’re under, and that this is temporary. If you can’t get work done while the kids are awake, then plan to work like a demon after they’re in bed.
But don’t pull an all-nighter, as tempting as that sounds. You need your sleep to fend off a manic or hypomanic episode. You need to keep your mental health in balance and stay stable. Prioritizing your sleep does prioritize your work and your kids, because you’re prioritizing yourself.
Without taking care of your mental health, you can’t be present as a parent or an employee. So take care of yourself (tips #2 and #3) so you can take care of your kids–and everything else on your plate.
Prioritize self-care. Prioritize your kids. Try to get your work done as much as possible, but ask for grace–and give some to yourself.
What About Older Kids?
You may have noticed that I mentioned I had a 3-year-old and an 11-year-old, but that I’ve mostly talked about working from home with a toddler. That is because my 11-year-old is mostly self-sufficient, thank goodness.
He wakes up, brushes his own teeth, pours his own cereal, calls his friends, does his homework, and puts himself to bed at night. I make him lunch and dinner.
I made a calendar of STEAM activities for him, too, but he wasn’t interested in any of them. So I ordered workbooks one grade level higher than his current grade, and told him to do 2 1/2 hours of work everyday. He likes baking, so he bakes bread and pizza–with homemade sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and olives–for himself whenever we have the yeast (the store has been out lately).
But what if your child is not that self-motivated? Well, then most of the toddler tips still apply. Create a schedule together, and scale up the STEAM activities to their age level. STEM Activities for Kids is a great resource for older kids.
Fortunately, independent play is much easier to set up for an 8- or 9-year-old, as they can generally be trusted with a bottle of glue without spilling it. And even if they do, they can clean the mess up themselves.
This tip applies only to older kids: If you are fortunate enough to have a home office or even your own bedroom, communicate with your kids that Mom or Dad has “office hours” for 1-2 hours at a time every day, or however long you feel comfortable leaving them to unsupervised play. Then set them up with a STEAM activity and let them have at it.
Tell your kids not to interrupt you unless someone’s hurt or have set something on fire. Set your office hours to the times when you’ll have conference calls, and hopefully you’ll be able to attend that virtual meeting without kiddos joining in.
Also, kids, especially older ones, are allowed to be bored. It’s a good time to let them find (safe) ways to amuse themselves. Reading is always a good idea; my son’s school requires 30 minutes of reading a day, and I extend that to the weekends to give me 30 minutes of peace on Saturdays and Sundays.
I’m not saying my schedule will work for everyone. You don’t even have to do multiple STEAM activities in a day like we do. But do try to make a schedule, and try to let your children loose with glue and paints once in a while. Let the kids be kids.
If this sounds like a lot of extra work, well, it is. Parenting is hard work; always has been, always will be. And working from home when you have children with you is the pinnacle of parenting.
But you can handle this. You are self-quarantining only temporarily. This, too, will pass.
Understand your kids’ limits (and your own), don’t neglect your mental health, practice self-care, create a schedule, prepare STEM/Art projects, and remember your priorities.
Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition! Thanks for stopping by.
How are you doing this week? What parenting challenges have you been facing? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you practicing self-care? How has the coronavirus affected your life lately? I hope you don’t have it! Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know about you and your struggles.
My (Two) Weeks — And the Future of The Bipolar Parent
I didn’t update last week, and for that I apologize. I was waiting on some news that was time-sensitive.
But now I can share it: I have a job! My friend and frequent commenter, author and mental health blogger Dyane Harwood, was approached by an editor at Verywell. Part of Dotdash (previously About.com), Verywell is a website focused on health and medicine that boasts 17 million unique visitors per month.
Dyane was told by the editor that Verywell needed a contributing writer for their articles re: bipolar disorder. Dyane, bless her, said she was overextended, and passed my contact information and blog onto the editor.
The editor contacted me, and asked if I would be willing to blog for them on a regular basis. After discussing the challenges of being a working parent with my husband, I agreed to take the job.
I am so excited! This is a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing resume and add feathers to my cap. A million thank yous to Dyane!
All of this means there will be some changes to The Bipolar Parent, my personal blog. I will be writing four articles per month for Verywell, and I don’t know if I will be able to continue blogging here as frequently.
My children will be out of school for the summer, and my husband is not comfortable with drop-in daycare for either of them. Rather than writing blog posts while they are in school, I will be writing in my very limited free time after the kids go to bed.
That being said, I need to discontinue the Saturday Morning Mental Health Check ins. I apologize in advance, but I already know that I won’t be able to keep posting on Saturday on The Bipolar Parent while writing for Verywell.
I hope to continue posting on Fridays, but I am uncertain if I will be able to keep up the quantity of quality posts while blogging four times a month for the other site.
I will check in with myself in April (next month) and make an honest decision. After that, whatever I decide, I will check in again in August, three months later, and see if I need to reevaluate my ability to post to both sites.
Whatever happens to The Bipolar Parent, I plan to continue blogging for the International Bipolar Foundation, so you can see me both there and at Verywell. If I’m not producing original content here, I will be linking to both my Verywell posts and my IBPF posts.
I appreciate that you’ve all supported me in my writing. The journey from beginning blogger to contributing writer at IBPF and Verywell has been long, but you all have been there for me. Thank you so much.
As a parent with bipolar disorder, you might worry about the effects of your unchecked mental illness on your loved ones, especially your children. The devastating mood swings of bipolar disorder–ranging from manic “highs” to depressive “lows” and everything in between–can cause instability for your kids. One example, a 2014 study, showed teenaged children of parents with bipolar disorder are more susceptible to risky sexual behavior and emotional problems than young adults who do not have parents with bipolar disorder. As has been seen in many other cases, dysfunction in the home causes dysfunction in the child. This is equally true in cases of children with parents who suffer from mental illness, like bipolar disorder.
But there is good news. You can learn how to shield your children from the effects of your psychiatric condition. How? Let’s dig in.
Treat Your Disorder Properly
One of the most effective ways to shield your children from your bipolar disorder is to treat the disease properly. Try to eat a healthy diet and work exercise into your life. Adequate sleep is another requirement to keep you healthy and keep things from spiraling out of control. Make sure you get your forty winks, and if you have trouble, talk to your doctor. Taking medication regularly and working through emotional problems through therapy will help you manage your disorder and aid you in positively impacting your kids.
If your disorder is treatment-resistant, don’t give up hope. Dyane Harwood, author of Birth of a New Brain: Healing From Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, thought she’d exhausted all of her options to treat her bipolar depression, including electroconvulsive therapy. Then her doctor prescribed a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The drug worked, and Harwood is now engaged with her children and husband, living life the way she wants to.
Bipolar in the family needs a whole family solution. The entire household needs to learn coping skills to handle a parent’s disorder. Ask your therapist for ways to teach your partner and children to deal with the ups and downs of your bipolar disorder. If your children start showing symptoms of emotional problems, such as anxiety, phobias, or intolerance to frustration, find a child behavioral psychologist or a therapist willing to see children. Make a list of the symptoms you’ve seen in your kids, and be sure to include your family history as well.
Cultivate a Support Network
One aspect of getting help is relying on a support system of healthy adults. They can spot you when you’re feeling too up or too down. They can offer your children a more stable environment during manic or depressive episodes by taking the children to a different place, like your friends’ homes, or coming over to yours. Your kids need adults they can consistently rely on, even if you can’t provide that reliability sometimes. Try to develop that support if you don’t have it. When you are well, cultivate reciprocal friendships with other adults you can trust with your children. Easier said than done, of course, but try to be a reliable source of childcare for your parent friends, so they will pitch in when you need them.
Prepare Your Kids
Shielding your kids from bipolar disorder doesn’t mean hiding the illness from them. Preparing your children to accept what’s happening around them can be difficult, but it is worthwhile. Communication with your children is crucial when managing their understanding of bipolar disorder. You might think explaining your disease to them is wrong. There’s an instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your children, but kids are intuitive. They will know if someone in the family is suffering, even if they can’t put their finger on why. If the problem isn’t explained to them, they may assume the worst, even to the point where they think it’s their fault. Letting your children know up front what to expect if you’re suffering from a mood episode will help your kids roll with the punches. Keep the explanation simple, and be ready to revisit the conversation anytime your children have questions.
When explaining your bipolar disorder to your children, stress that this disease is not your kids’ fault. Also stress that taking care of a parent suffering from mental illness is not their job. They will probably appreciate your candor and feel more secure in their relationship with you and their place in the world. If things don’t go well, talk to your therapist for ways to help your children understand bipolar disorder and their relationship with you as a parent with a mental illness.
If your older children are concerned about developing bipolar disorder themselves, tell your preteens honestly that they are not destined to have the disease. Studies put the inheritance rate at about 30% with a single parent affected by bipolar disorder, and around 60% for both. You don’t need to quote the statistics to a younger child, but a teen might be interested. Because of the instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your children, you might want to keep this from your children. But knowing even uncomfortable statistics, like the 30%, is better than the unknown.
When you suffer from mental illness, taking care of yourself is a tall order. Taking care of a child as a parent with bipolar disorder adds additional complications, but it’s worth it. You can shield your children from bipolar disorder in several ways. Make sure that you treat your disease with professional help. Cultivate a support system. And it’s paramount that you communicate with your children about your disorder, so they know what to expect and what their place is.
Communicating with your children about your bipolar disorder is crucial for managing their relationship with your and your mental illness. In part I, we looked at common pitfalls, including your kids being too young and disrespecting your children’s boundaries. Read on for one more common pitfall of communicating about your psychiatric condition.
Waiting Too Long
On the flipside of your kids being too young, you might have put off having this discussion until your kids are teens. Then your kids might be too old to listen to you properly. Some teens think they know everything, and refuse to hear out their parents or other authority figures, however well-meaning.
A friend of mine, a mother of four, related her experience of being rebuffed by her teenagers when she brought up serious subjects, and what she did to handle that. She said to them, “Just let me do the ‘mom thing’ for thirty seconds, and then I’ll let you go, okay?” She said they’d roll their eyes, but acquiesce to listen to whatever she had to tell them.
Tips For Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder
You might not know where to start the conversation when speaking to your kids for the first time about mental illness. That’s okay. You can simply say something like, “you may have noticed that I have been erratic lately. I have a disease, bipolar disorder, which causes me to have different mood episodes, called mania and depression.” As long as you have their attention, be concrete and pragmatic.
If you’ve waited until your children are teenagers to talk to them about your bipolar disorder, there is a danger of their being angry, especially if the discussion arises from comments on your behavior, and not by your choice. If this is what happened, you haven’t ruined anything, but do expect to deal with your children’s anger. The best way to handle that is to prepare for it, by thinking about what they might say ahead of time, and making sure to listen to what they actually do say. Chances are, your kids already know about your bipolar disorder. You want to make sure that what they know is the truth, and not whatever desperate version they’ve decided on.
Some teens can benefit from statistics. For example, your kids are between 15-30% likely to develop bipolar disorder if one parent suffers from the disease, whereas they’re 45-60% likely if both parents do. You might be tempted to hide this information, so as not to freak them out. But knowing accurate facts about mental illness helps them to understand you better, and possibly themselves.
Knowledge, even uncomfortable knowledge, is better than the unknown. In addition, if they know common symptoms of bipolar disorder, they can be on the lookout for those symptoms in themselves and their friends, and understand you when you’re experiencing mood episodes.
Try not to hide information from your kids, especially teenagers. If you don’t inform them about your mental illness, they’ll probably turn to friends to ask why their mom or dad is acting strange. Or they might hide the dysfunction entirely, blaming themselves and growing up in a culture of shame. Reassure your kids that you will always love them, regardless of how your bipolar disorder makes you feel in the moment. And above all, be honest.
Trigger warning: This post contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Communicating with your children about your bipolar disorder is one of the best ways to ensure that they can handle your ups and downs. You may have an instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your kids, but kids are intuitive. They will know if someone in the family is suffering, even if they can’t put their fin0gers on why. If the problem isn’t explained to them, they can assume the worst, including but not limited to thinking that your mental illness is their fault. Preparing your kids properly is crucial to managing their relationship with you and your bipolar disorder.
Sometimes, things don’t go as well as you might expect. This happened to a friend of mine recently. Her son casually suggested that he wanted to die by suicide. “I wanted him to know I take that very seriously, and serious steps will be taken,” she said. “I wanted to scare him, just a little. But I scared the crap out of him.”
She explained to him that her 18-year-old cousin died by suicide, and then began to answer his questions. Her mistake was in answering too many of his questions, no matter how inappropriate for his age. “He was way too young for me to answer all those questions,” she said. “You have regrets in parenting… That’s on the list.”
When communicating with your kids about mental illness, having a plan or roadmap helps. Going astray from that plan is common, so here are some common pitfalls when talking with your kids about your mental illness, like bipolar disorder:
Your Children are Too Young
There is no “too young” for communication, but there are age-appropriate versions. My friend’s mistake was that her son was too young for the information and ideas that he received. He didn’t understand why casually suggesting that he wanted to die by suicide was so serious. So when she tried to explain that, she frightened him with knowledge beyond his ability to handle. Sometime our children are too young to understand issues surrounding mental illness. But even a two-year-old can understand that you need to take medication to stay healthy. Your toddler might not be able to quite get that your illness is in your head, but he or she can understand you saying, “Mom has an illness. Sometimes she needs to go see a doctor.”
With toddlers and the preschool set, keep your answers simple. Five to ten-year-olds require short, true answers, whereas preteens need more concrete, also true, information. Try to ask questions of your children to gauge what their maturity level is, so you know how much information to share.
Disrespecting Your Children’s Boundaries
Most parents don’t intentionally disrespect their children’s boundaries. But sometimes, we as parents can accidentally cross a line with our kids. We need to consider their comfort levels during conversations, especially ones about a parent’s mental illness. The topic is admittedly fraught with emotions, especially given how much our mental illnesses affect our kids. They are dependent on us for their physical and emotional health; thinking that their parent is fallible is scary.
The best way to avoid crossing boundaries with our kids is to ask questions, and check in with them regarding their comfort level. When discussing mental illness, try to be as pragmatic as possible. Offer explanations and reassurances in equal measure. Explain to your children that your moods are affected by your bipolar disorder, and that may affect them in turn. Tell them that you will always love them, regardless of how you’re feeling in the moment.
Try to gauge how uncomfortable your children are by reading their body language. If they turn away from you or fold their arms or generally look non-receptive, then back off and try the conversation again later, when they’re more ready.
Communicating with your children about your bipolar disorder is crucial for managing their relationship with you and your mental i0llness. You will make mistakes, like my friend. That’s okay. Just keep trying and do your best. Look for the last common pitfall and more tips to talk to your kids about your bipolar disorder in part II.
Trigger warning: This post contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
May is National Maternal Depression Awareness Month. While up to 80% of mothers experience “baby blues,” up to 20% of mothers suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), a pervasive condition which sucks the life out of them. I’d like to share my experience with PPD in order to help destigmatize the condition and add to the conversation. I will also offer some tips on how to get support for PPD.
Women suffering from PPD endure a deep, pervasive sadness, fatigue, trouble sleeping and eating, thoughts of hurting themselves or the baby, and may isolate themselves. Symptoms may occur a few days after delivery, or up to a year afterwards, and can last for years. Treatments such as antidepressants can help.
My experience was a little different. Within a week after the birth of my first child, a son, I suffered postpartum psychosis (PPP), which is the most severe form of PPD and only affects 1-2 mothers out of every 1000 births. Symptoms of PPP include hyperactivity, hallucinations or delusions, bizarre behavior, rapid mood swings, and thoughts of hurting the baby. If you or a loved one are suffering any symptoms of PPP, contact a mental health professional or the American Pregnancy Association immediately.
During my run with PPP, I didn’t sleep for a week. I ate/drank only chocolate milk, and couldn’t stop talking. I had pressured speech, racing thoughts, and other symptoms of mania, like irritability. I often vacillated from euphoric explanations of my “plan” for the baby’s care to intense anger at nothing at all. I also suffered from hypergraphia, writing over a hundred to-do lists with multiple items on them during the first few days. I was obsessed with breastfeeding my son, and attempted suicide when the breastfeeding relationship was threatened.
I committed myself to a local mental hospital, where I was very lucky to find a bed on the day my therapist asked for one, and earned a bipolar diagnosis. The doctors there treated me with Olanzapine, a tranquilizer which knocked me out, and 1500mg of Depakote, which toned down my mania.
After enduring the harrowing PPP experience, which I’ve covered in my upcoming memoir, Committed, I suffered from two years of standard PPD. I was constantly exhausted despite sleeping well, cried often, and spent my waking hours writing suicide notes. I often thought of plans to hurt myself, and had thoughts of hurting my infant son.
I was still obsessed with breastfeeding him, and refused to take medication that would have endangered the breastfeeding relationship, like lithium. When he turned two and a half, I weaned him, and started taking ,a href=”https://cassandrastout.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/1227/”>lithium, which utterly changed my life. The depression lifted, the sun came out, and I stopped wanting to die by suicide. I was happy again, and started properly loving my baby.
I can now happily say I’ve not suffered a bipolar mood episode, either depression or mania, for the past six years. In order to reach that stability, I tried over a dozen medications until I found a combination that worked. I changed psychiatrists seven times because they kept moving to different practices, and changed therapists twice because of the same reason. I attended weekly counseling sessions for years. I learned how to never miss a dose of my life-saving medication, and how to practice good sleep hygiene. I recently gave birth to a second child, with no ill effects.
Tips on How to Get Support
If you or a loved one are suffering from PPD, or especially PPP, find a mental health professional as soon as possible. If you have a therapist, ask him or her to refer you to a psychiatrist, if you’re interested in pursuing medication. If you don’t have a therapist or a psychiatrist, ask your primary care physician or ob-gyn for a referral to one of those. If you don’t have a primary care physician, go to urgent care or call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773. Their website, postpartum.net, enables you to find local resources to get treatment, and support groups for new moms like you. You can also ask your ob-gyn if the hospital in which you delivered offers services to treat PPD.
Above all, fight stigma, especially self-stigma, which can creep in without you realizing it. You might feel ashamed or confused that you’re obsessed with your baby’s safety, or that you’ve had thoughts of harming your infant. Don’t be afraid of these feelings. They’re a sign of a mental illness which can be treated.
The difference between you as a mother suffering from PPD or PPP and the mother you can be on the other side of them is like night and day. You are not alone, either. Try to avoid isolating yourself. A therapist will understand, as will people in your support groups. Do everything you can to survive this, not only for yourself, but for your child.
In the past five to ten years, bipolar disorder has been identified in more and more children. Up to 5% of American children suffer from bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that affects 2.6% of American adults–about 5.7 million people–according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The disease is characterized by mood episodes: “highs” called mania and “lows” known as depression.
Symptoms of Mania and Depression in Children and Adults: A Side-by-side Comparison
Check out the following chart to see a side-by-side comparison of symptoms of bipolar disorder in children and adults:
Sad, empty, or hopeless feelings
Anhedonia – Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
Insomnia or sleeping too much
Fatigue, loss of energy
Weight gain or loss
Feelings of worthlessness
Inability to concentrate
Thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide
Sad, empty, or hopeless feelings
Anhedonia – Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
Insomnia or sleeping too much
Failure to gain weight
Change in grades, getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school
Withdrawing from friends
Acting out suicide in play
Excitement, or abnormal cheerfulness
Decreased need for sleep
Euphoria, exaggerated self-confidence
Spending sprees and other poor decisions
Decreased need for sleep
Silliness or excessive goofiness
Grandiosity, including statements about superpowers
These symptoms are similar, but the way they manifest is different for children than adults. For example, during both manic and depressive phases, children are much more likely to be irritable and aggressive.
Let’s take a detailed look.
Childhood-onset usually refers to children who develop bipolar disorder at age 12 or younger. The first signs of bipolar disorder in adults are usually manic or hypomanic episodes. But in children, depression is often the first indication that anything is wrong. Studies show that up to 30% of children who suffer from clinical depression will develop manic symptoms later in life, which can lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. For a more detailed overview of what depression looks like in children, even toddlers, click here.
Pattern of the Disorder
The most striking difference between childhood-onset and adult-onset bipolar disorder is the patterns of the illness. Adults generally vacillate between defined episodes of mania and depression that last weeks or months. They can also have periods of wellness that last from months to years in between.
Kids are the opposite: they experience prolonged periods of rapid cycling, which means they bounce between mania and depression daily, if not multiple times per day. And there are no periods of respite in children with bipolar disorder; they are always suffering from a mood episode.
One study of pediatric bipolar patients examined children with bipolar disorder who suffered more than one hundred mood episodes over a short period of time. The manic periods were called “mini-manias.” According to the study, none of the patients under 9 years old endured a single mood episode lasting two weeks or more. Short, frequent episodes was the way the illness presented in the children.
Kids who end up with bipolar disorder were usually genetically predisposed to develop the disease. One of the many causes of bipolar disorder can be family history of the illness, though sometimes the disease can occur without any history present. But, in the case of children who develop the disorder, there are typically more family members with bipolar in their lives than those children without the disorder. The kids are also much more likely to have relatives–such as parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents–on both sides with the disorder.
Adults who develop bipolar disorder may or may not be genetically predisposed. Genetic loading is less common in adults than children. If the adults are predisposed, the disease may or may not be more severe. It’s a lottery.
Difficult Time Adjusting
Pediatric bipolar disorder presents unique difficulties compared to the adult-onset form of the disease. Kids are still developing mentally and physically, so when they suffer from the rapid cycling moods of bipolar disorder, life can become very difficult. These children are establishing their identities, and enduring vacillating episodes of bipolar disorder makes that very hard.
Adults usually have their identities established, or at the very least, are set in their ways, so figuring themselves out is not as much of a struggle. Adults are also more emotionally mature than children, and can better handle shifts in mood.
Chronic Irritability and Mixed States
Instead of the euphoric highs of mania typically experienced by adults, kids are much more likely to suffer chronic irritability, a state where they are grouchy all of the time. This is because children tend to suffer from mixed states, where they endure extreme episodes of mania and depression at the same time. Treating mixed states can be very difficult. Even lithium, the gold standard medication that is used to treat bipolar disorder, is often ineffective at handling mixed states. Lithium is able to treat both depression and mania in bipolar patients, but it’s totally ineffective at handling mixed states.
Adults can also suffer from mixed states, but children are much more likely to experience them.
Often, childhood-onset bipolar disorder is missed or inaccurately diagnosed until the kid becomes an adult. Children are also more prone than adults to conditions that occur at the same time, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, or anxiety disorders, which can make accurately diagnosing bipolar disorder difficult. If you weren’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until adulthood, but suspect you have had it since you were a child, this information may help you sort out your own childhood.
The Bottom Line
If your child suffers from two or more of bipolar disorder symptoms, call your pediatrician to get a referral to a pediatric psychologist. Refer to the symptom chart to present daily examples of bipolar disorder symptoms to the doctors. Anhedonia is especially important to note, as it’s not typical of most healthy children. If you have a family history of bipolar disorder, make sure to bring that up.
When children with bipolar disorder grow up, their diseases are worse than people who suffer from an adult-onset version of the illness. The mood episodes are more intense in childhood. But early therapy and other interventions can help your child deal with their condition. The earlier a treatment team can intervene, the better.