The Bipolar Roller Coaster

I have spent a lot of time talking about Bipolar Disorder and what it means to me and my son. I get asked a lot how he’s doing or how his day was and my answer is usually never the same thing twice. It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t around it, who don’t understand it and who flat out just don’t believe it. (I don’t even bother to try with that last group anymore). It’s an illness. It’s a disease. It’s not a broken bone or cancer. It’s not as simple or cut and dry. There are multiple therapies, multiple drugs and multiple tests to use to determine a correct diagnosis. But what about if you are having a good or a bad day on the test days? Will that sway the diagnosis? What if you have an old school doctor who thinks that kids just misbehave and it’s the parents fault? (Love those doctors!!) Meds- don’t even get me started on those, anti-depressants, anti-seizure meds, anti-psychotics etc, etc. So many drugs with so many uses and what works great on one kid, may not so well on another. Frustrating to say the least. So the best way to explain it or describe what we go through on a daily basis is to take a trip to my imaginary theme park. 
First we start with the drive there. Are we anxious about going because it’s something new or are we excited? Depending on how long the car ride is, it could be both. Or there is always, I don’t want to go, this theme park sucks, I want to stay home and play with my friends or sleep and if you make me go, I’ll ruin the whole day for everyone! But you go because you are the parent, you are the one in charge and you go for it hoping that once you get there, it will all be OK!!!

(This is how we start every morning, getting up and driving to school).

Once we arrive at the theme park for our day of fun, it’s any one’s game here. What do we ride first? Who gets to decide? What if the lines are too long? If you are a single mom with only one kid or a family of 4 with a mommy, a daddy and a “normal sibling along with the bipolar child or anything in between, this day can be different for everyone. Everyone gets a chance to choose, the child doesn’t get to make all the decisions and has to respect that there are other people on this outing. He may have to wait his turn to ride his favorite ride and the line may be 3 hours long. So now we are standing still in a line, barely moving and you hope that a meltdown does not occur. You try and provide some sort of time- table or structure to the day so everyone knows what is going on, when to be where and try to make everyone happy all in one day! Oh and by this time we’ve only been here for an hour!

Now we deal with the whining and bickering, I don’t want to ride that ride, I want to go eat, I want to sit down, this line is too long, the excuses fly and the referee (which of course is you) has to step in and try and get everyone on board and a compromise is set in place, now once again everyone is happy and the day goes on. Of course this always happens in front of a large group of people who are now totally staring at you and wondering why you are trying to rationalize with a screaming child. So you deal with that in your own way, you can ignore it and move on or try to explain to people that you have a special needs child. If the child is old enough, do you trust them enough to go off on their own? Do you trust that they will make good choices and not cause trouble and that sometime in the next hour the park security are not trying to track you down? Giving them some freedom and independence is a good thing but the old adage, give them too much rope and they’ll hang themselves, does ring true. Maybe you let them go off and ride a ride that is next to another one that you or another sibling wants to ride. We can’t shelter them forever. They have to learn how to be a grown up and be responsible and make the right decisions sometime right??

(This is a typical school day for us)

Bipolar kids are usually on some sort of amusement park ride on a daily basis. The ups and downs, twists and turns, of a roller coaster. The out of control, spinning so fast tea cups, the bullet that sends them spiraling upside down, the bumper cars where they are all over the place and trying to hit anything in their way. Then there is the spinning saucer thing where you are strapped to the side wall and the bottom drops out from under you while you are spinning totally and insanely fast. Oh and lets not forget a trip to the fun house with all the crazy mirrors. These aren’t just 3-5 minute rides for these kids. This is every day life. If you are lucky, some of the outbursts can last 3-5 minutes but most of the time it’s more like the 2 or 3 hour wait-in-line for that 3-5 minute ride. Then they get off the ride and are ready to move on to the next one, like the last one was no big deal. It’s over, I’m done and moving on.

Lets not forget the rules of the park. These must be followed or you will be asked to leave. Probably carrying a kicking screaming child against his will forcing him to leave, making a spectacle of everything in front of the whole crowded park. Wait in line, no running, no cutting, you must be this tall to ride this ride, no riding with a pacemaker, no food or drinks in line! So many rules, ugh! Not to mention the special rules that you have to remind your bipolar child about before you enter. You know the ones that every one else knows but for some reason your child has to be reminded to keep his voice down, keep his hands to himself, don’t say out loud things like that lady over there has a big butt! Chew with your mouth closed. No throwing things. Blah blah blah.

If you survive the day at the park, there is the ride home. Hopefully the kids are so tired it’s a quiet ride home. Just watch out for that sometimes though because tired kids can be triggered so fast on things that you would never think of. Plus this is also your time to decompress, make sense of the day and play it over in your head. Think about what went wrong, what you could have done differently. It’s your turn to breathe.

Then you get home, have to worry about dinner, chores, housecleaning, bathing, caring for pets, etc. Most likely the child(ren) are off somewhere catching up with friends, watching TV or just being lazy from the long day and not helping you out but yelling and wanting to know where a shirt is or when dinner will be ready. Of course they don’t quite know that they are capable of getting up and looking for the shirt on their own. You drop everything to go help, then get criticized for not having dinner done when you promised.

Not all days are like this or there may be small moments during the day that are. Hopefully you are lucky enough to only have occasional outbursts and you are learning when and how to deal with them. Doing what is best for the child as well as yourself. Still providing him with a strong foundation to use as he or she grows up and has to become an adult without a live-in maid or chef.

Hopefully you get to visit the amusement parks and have fun. You enjoy the good times and remember those over the bad as much as you can. You praise the child for even the smallest bit of a good thing. You stay in control and remember who the parent is. Some parents I know don’t have these luxuries and they have had to send their kids to residential treatment centers in other states, several hours away from home. I even knew a mother who had to sign away the rights to her bipolar child and put him in foster care or the court was going to take away her other children because the bipolar child was such a danger to them. My heart breaks for these families. This is how major this is. It can come to things like that. They don’t get to have good or bad days at the amusement park or cherish the little moments and break through.

Hopefully you spend more time waiting in line for the bipolar roller coaster to board then you do on the ride itself. Plus use that time in line as time to remind your child of the good times and that a ride on a roller coaster is just a few minutes and it may be scary and wild but if you just focus on the end of the track and breathe it will all be over soon. And if that doesn’t work then bribe them with a reward for being such a trooper and handling the roller coaster ride like a pro!!! 🙂

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