May is Mental Illness month. Therefore, I have decided to write a post on the ugly truth of growing up with a bipolar mother.
My childhood was turbulent. As a child, I never knew what the next day would bring. Would my mother be smiling and happy? And if she was did was she headed into another manic episode?
As a child, I learned to walk on eggshells. Keeping the peace in the family was a must.
During her manic moods, mother would have endless energy, unreasonable thoughts and no need for sleep. Elvis records would shriek on the stereo all night and day. To this day, I can’t stand to listen to Elvis.
Mother would talk a mile a minute in passionate remembrance of her early Elvis years. In fact, in an old high school photo of my mother and her high school friends, Elvis is taped to my mother’s high school locker.
Mother would also stop taking her medications during this phase. She would insist she was better now and didn’t need her meds.
Her thoughts raced and she would blurt out ideas that made complete sense to her. We would try to reason with her but it didn’t work.
In fact, reasoning with her ignited her anger and the next phase would begin.
So I learned to be quiet.
A raging bipolar reaches a new decibel of sound. To this day, if I hear that decibel of anger in someone, it makes my skin crawl.
At dinner, it was not uncommon for chili and other dinner items go flying across the room.
When mother was in this stage we were not allowed up from the dinner table. At this point, my mother was screaming, crying and raging over all of those who had “wronged” her.
For some reason, my mother became obsessed with me during these bipolar rages and I suffered the brunt of her illness.
One time, mother was in such a fit of rage over me, she repeatedly banged my head against the refrigerator. Or, she would take the belt to me repeatedly.
Bipolar Depression Symptoms
Almost as soon as the manic mood started, the depression would set in. She would then sleep for days. Or not get out of bed until early afternoon and stay in her housecoat all day while smoking.
Growing up, I took care of my sister and me while my father was working and mom was “sick”. At an early age, I was cooking, cleaning and watching over my sibling.
Call Me Fiona
Just like the character Fiona in Shameless I was left to pick of the pieces and take care of my sister and the household when other was ill.
Sadly, I identified with Fiona on Shameless so much and became addicted to the show. Furthermore, when my sister became an alcoholic, I saw Frank in a whole new light.
Finally, father would take mother to the psychiatric ward where she would remain for weeks. I remember hearing mother screaming from her shock treatments on several occasions during her stays.
One day I asked my father what was wrong with mother. My father responded that she was bipolar. At this point, I am sure you can guess what my next question was.
Am I Going To Become Bipolar?
After my father explained to me what mother had, I had many questions. One being, was I going to “become” bipolar too? How did she get that way?
Many years later, I would learn that this disease seems to “skip” generations. Or siblings. Environmental factors also play a part.
There is no “one size fits all” answer. In my experience, heredity played a big part. Environmental factors in my sibling were the source of her downfall.
My Saving Grace
My poor father had his hands full. He was working full-time, raising a family and taking care of a mentally ill wife. Over time, my mother’s abuse towards me had become too much to bear on both of us.
This is when I started visiting with my grandma and grandpa on the farm more often. This was the greatest gift my father could have ever given me.
Being loved unconditionally these two amazing people were my saving grace. From grandma and grandpa is where I learned invaluable life lessons. They are the reason I survived.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
If you are wondering what the symptoms of bipolar disorder are you can read the list of symptoms I experienced to give you an idea of what this illness entails.
Bipolar symptoms that my mother experienced:
- Decreased appetite
- Spending sprees
- Excessive amount of energy
- Risky behaviors
- Racing thoughts
- Targeting or becoming obsessed with one person
- Refusing to take medications
- Exaggerated confidence and grandiose thinking
- Extreme mood swings
Please see a trained psychiatrist that specializes in this disorder in order to start taking the right steps to get proper treatment. I will warn you: Due to funding cutbacks, treatment is not what it used to be.
Why State Mental Hospitals Closed
When I was younger, I remember when the state mental hospitals closed. My anxiety increased twofold Why? Because I saw in person what was behind those locked doors.
Mentally ill patients roamed the halls and screaming. As I passed in the halls, they would make faces and blurting out inappropriate comments to me.
Since the mental hospitals have closed, there has been increased crime and murders in this country. Funding needs to be brought back in order to help the mentally ill get proper treatment.
Today’s Mental Illness Emergency Treatment
Unfortunately, if someone is brought in for treatment in today’s due to an emergency, the time period for treatment is only three days. Then, they are released.
Even then, to get a mentally ill person admitted is not an easy task. If they are not showing harm to themselves or others there is nothing that can be done.
This is the reason people get hurt first before treatment is given.
Three days is not enough time for observation and proper medical treatment. At this point, the families are left in the lurch to treat their family. Often times, they are left with a person that is even more mentally ill.
How Having a Bipolar Mother Has Affected Me
My life is in a new stage now. Now I am able to reflect more deeply on how mother’s bipolar disease affected me.
There are good and bad points on both sides of the spectrum.
Bad points are:
- Increased anxiety
- Walking on eggshells
- Waiting for the ball to drop
- Feeling left out
- Not feeling “ good” enough
- Being too nice and accommodating
- Not accepting things for how they are
- Avoiding confrontation
Good points are:
- I learned early in life what I didn’t want to become
- Increased mental strength
- Made me a better mother
- The ability to recognize the manic personality
- Fighting for what is right when needed
As I reflect back on my childhood pictures, it is surprising to me I was still smiling after all of the abuse I suffered from my bipolar mother.
Mental illness is not an easy topic to address nor go through. Finding help is not an easy task. If you grew up with a bipolar family member please comment on how it affected you.