What I Wish My Family Knew

Author: Margaret Fitzgerald


My family knew little about serious mental illness when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Hindsight is 20/20.  What follows are what would have best helped me be successful in life before and after my diagnoses.


Many people with bipolar disorder have a weight problem, because the medications can cause weight gain.  Also, some medications cause hypothyroidism.  In my experience, eating calms my mood and wards off hypomania.  I have also found that being hungry causes hypomania. When I was at my smallest, I was hypomanic most of the time.  By nature, experiencing depression can cause weight gain.


My family nagged me about my weight from childhood.  I would have had a better outcome if good eating habits would have been modeled, along with teaching about nutrition and balanced eating.  I was put on fad diets and diet pills.  I work best with facts, so if I would have been taken to a dietician’s office and been given true data at a young age, I would have had a fighting chance at succeeding at a healthy weight with bipolar disorder.  A dietician can explain portion sizes and food combinations in a way that a child can understand.


My family made my being overweight seen hopeless.  I was told, “You will never get married if you are fat” or “You will never get a prom date if you don’t lose weight.” Such statements did not help and discouraged me more.


I would have had more successful outcomes if when I was asked to exercise for weight loss that someone would have known to accompany me.  I was too depressed to go alone without modeling and do my best.


I would have been successful at TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly), or Weight Watchers, but when these options were posed I was expected to go alone.  Emotionally, I could not handle this.  It would have been beneficial if a trusted adult would have accompanied me, and I did not have the confidence to ask for help.  I felt as if everything that I was doing or asking for was already wrong.  I needed the companionship amongst strangers and it is likely that the person joining me would have gleaned new ideas, making attendance mutually beneficial.


I was told by my family not to talk to my psychiatrist about my personal problems, as those issues were to be dealt with around the dinner table.   I did not have a therapist.  It would have been in my best interest if talking to these mental health professionals would have been encouraged.


Participating in therapy would have helped with the power struggle in our home.  I have found that Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a highly recommended form of therapy for individuals with bipolar disorder, has been life changing.  With the help of a licensed mental health professional, CBT helps the patient rethink their problems, restructure them and not catastrophize them.


My outcomes would have been better after I was diagnosed as a young adult if my family would have allowed my sharing my experiences with bipolar disorder with those closest to me.    Not only did I need the support, my family did, also.  We would have been teaching others how to decrease the stigma of chronic mental illness.  I needed to share my experiences with close friends.  Those young adults wondered what transpired with me when I went “missing” (inpatient hospital stay) after having displayed chronic bipolar type behavioral issues.


There’s so much to learn if you are a parent of a child with bipolar disorder.  I wish that my family would not have felt so much shame, but would have sought out support groups for parents of children with mental illness and learned from likeminded people with shared experiences.  They would have had something to add to the conversation that could have helped another family.

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