Being a parent and having a bipolar diagnosis is hard.
Before I was diagnosed with bipolar, my world revolved around parenting. As a stay at home mom, that was my job. I would have to say I was a really good parent at that time. My son was my pride and joy. He always came first and I enjoyed spending as much time with him as possible. But after some traumatic events in 2007, I was reduced to fighting an illness that I didn’t know much about. The year and a half during which I was clueless about what was going on in my brain was the time that I can say that I wasn’t that great of a parent.
I remember a time back in 2007 when I was in a mixed state (although I didn’t know what it was at the time) and the nervous energy and depression were waging a war in my mind and body. I couldn’t stop those forces. It felt like I was a bomb about to go off, but I was hanging at that heightened millisecond right before explosion and never exploding. I had my son with me and I didn’t know what to do. I called his dad to come pick him up because I knew he needed to be away from me. At that time, I felt it was crucial to do something to end that constant tension of the mixed state. I put my son in his room and put one of his favorite videos on. I went in the other room, locked the door, and proceeded to bash my head into a wall. That helped relieve some of the tension. As soon as his dad picked him up, I went to the hospital for what seemed like the hundredth time to see if they could help me figure out what was wrong. Later on, case workers came by to visit to find out what happened. They told me that I was a good mom to still think of my son despite what I was going through. I felt like a horrible mom because I couldn’t take care of him like a mom should.
Once I was finally diagnosed and on medication, it was much easier to be a mom. I felt like I had a second chance, and the bond between my son and I grew into what it was before my illness kicked in. The year after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I graduated from college with my Bachelor’s degree in Education. Juggling parenting and work was difficult, but we somehow managed.
Things started to go south again in 2011, as the medication I was taking for my illness was beginning to destroy my body. I was starting to have horrible health issues: excessive weight gain, thyroid problems, constant colds and flus, easily broken bones. After trying many different medications that didn’t seem to work very well (either caused too much mania or too much depression), I turned to naturopathic medication.
Unfortunately the naturopathic medication did not work for me. I relapsed and it was awful. I spent about 2 months away from my son trying to recover from my relapse; I knew that I couldn’t even take care of myself, so I certainly wouldn’t be able to take care of him. His dad was understanding and took care of him on the days that were normally mine. During those 2 months, I still visited him at his dad’s house and watched him play sports, but I knew I couldn’t take care of him like he deserved until I was stable. Once I was stable, I was able to take him home with me. That was one of the best days of my life.
Since 2012, I have had no issues with my disorder interfering with my ability to be a great parent. The key to being a great parent is to make sure you’re healthy first. Make sure you take your medication regularly and as prescribed, get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and try to exercise. When you’re healthy, your relationships will be healthy – especially relationships with your children. My son and I have a great relationship. We talk, listen, laugh, cry, and spend so much time together. Making many memories together is one of the most important parts of parenting for me, because life can change so quickly.
As for the stigma around bipolar and parenting, it is unnecessary. Mothers and fathers diagnosed with bipolar disorder can still be great parents. What people don’t understand is that bipolar disorder is a medical illness just like cancer or diabetes, and it requires medication to treat the symptoms of the illness. If treated, we can be wonderful parents. I am living proof of that.
To read more from Lynn, see the rest of her posts for IBPF here, or check out her personal blog.