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How My Parents Reacted to My Bipolar Diagnosis

I remember getting my Crohn’s disease diagnosis; my mom sobbing and telling me about her friend’s brother who died from it at an early age. And then her reaction to my bipolar diagnosis; her disbelief and her saying how I’ve always had an “intense” personality, a bad temper, and anxiety from being a perfectionist. Little did she know, that anxiety had made me hard on myself my entire life, and my temper was a force to be reckoned with that was virtually never an appropriate response to the situation. It wasn’t until I reached a breaking point (mania, wanting to commit suicide and acting completely irrationally) that she started to see that maybe this was a very real illness. After a bad manic episode, I admitted I needed help and started an intensive outpatient program at a hospital.

This program made me feel less alone. I was surrounded by others who had the same feelings and symptoms I was experiencing and it comforted me. I went five days a week and was put on various medications until we found a combination that worked. My parents thought I was being pumped with a cornucopia of pills that would do nothing but alter my mood in a negative way.

My dad struggled with ADD his entire life and didn’t seek help until he was an adult and it began affecting his work. He had also been going to counseling and was hesitant to tell my mom, maybe out of embarrassment or maybe for fear that my mom would react negatively. I knew my dad had a slightly better grasp on understanding me, but my mom still didn’t believe my diagnosis was real. No parent wants to see their child struggle, but when they are, that’s when they need their parents most.

Before I could get discharged, I had to have a family session at the hospital with my parents and my psychologist. The psychologist explained my progress, my medications and how they affected me, and essentially, she pointed out what it meant to be bipolar and what I would need to help manage it in the future. I could see tears in both my parents’ eyes (which in part made me cry) and my mom repeating over and over how sorry she was that she didn’t want to believe her daughter that had always been a straight A student, hard worker and someone that didn’t complain often about her symptoms, could have this debilitating mental illness. My parents also said they’d seen my neurotic behavior since I was young, but always just thought it was my personality and not something that impaired me from living and enjoying my life.

When it was my turn to talk, I felt hurt. Hurt that my parents felt an immense amount of guilt for not understanding my illness and not being there for me when I needed them most. I told them that they’d never dealt with a mental illness like this before and unless you’ve experienced it firsthand, you really can’t wrap your head around how it feels. They asked what they could do for me and that they would always be there for me, no matter what. I had a lump in my throat and felt so guilty that they thought they weren’t being good parents (which is entirely false). I love them dearly, and although I was mostly angry and frustrated at my mom, I forgave her for making me feel like I was being dramatic or a hypochondriac. She had seen how tough I was battling Crohn’s and didn’t believe that her daughter could be affected this immensely by a mental disorder.

Recently, a family member was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and my mom apologized to me yet again, for “not being a good mother to me and not being compassionate when I needed it most”.  My parents now help me financially if I can’t afford my medications, are always there to talk and calm me down, and after reading several books about bipolar disorder, they see that I definitely fit the bill based on my symptoms. I’m very close to my dad who has also come around and will give me advice when I know I’m being irrational, and even though he travels a lot for work, I know he’ll always answer my calls if I need him. I now count my blessings that I have such a great support system and although it was a struggle in the beginning, I know I have parents that are in my corner now.

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Unsplash photo via Henrique Macedo