Why I Wish I Knew About My Mom's Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis Growing Up
Often we hear about those who have bipolar disorder and the fight they endure mentally, but we can often overlook the children affected by it when a parent is bipolar. I became strong at a young age because of my mom’s bipolar illness. My mom was a single mother who raised two kids as a server and always made sure we had food on the table and clothes on our back. From an outsider looking in, we seemed like a strong family. She began to experience bipolar episodes when she was in her early 20s when me and my sister were in diapers. I can imagine this was a scary thing for her not knowing why she would stop feeling any sort of happiness at any given time.
Being a child to a mom with bipolar was confusing and challenging and unstable for me. By the time I was 6, I knew she wasn’t like other moms. Everything seemed to matter so much and everything was a huge deal. It’s like she felt 1000 times more than the average person and she didn’t know how to deal with it (at this time, I had no idea what she was going through).
I knew my mom had two sides to her. When I was younger, I wondered why she hated us some days and loved us so much other times. Some people may get sad with bipolar, but I think her sadness turned into meanness because she didn’t understand her own illness. As I got older, this became my “normal.” Watching her go through these episodes, I often thought, “Does she think I don’t notice what’s happening to her?” I never knew who my mom would wake up as and not knowing what mom you were getting was scary for me. We often tiptoed around the house nervous to wake her up because she could be in a “mood.” She loved deeply and loved us very much, but often took her episodes out on us since we were always around.
When your parent acts irrational, it’s easy to take on the responsibility of feeling the need to cover for them to help them seem “normal.” When I was 8, I covered for her to friends’ parents when she would never come get me from a sleepover because she was having a episode. I would get so embarrassed and mad when she would do these things and outsiders would see it. If she did make it out to come get me from a friend’s house, I didn’t know how she would show up. Would she be fine and ask me if I had fun or would she lay on her horn the whole way down their street telling me to get in the car and fast? Even at the grocery store, cashiers could tell my mom was acting strange and I would try and play it off and take the attention off my mom.
She was very violent during an episode, so we knew to be on our best behavior but this never helped. She spewed awful hateful words to us saying she wished she never had us and we ruined her life. At one point, I thought I made her like this because I didn’t know better.
As the years progressed, I learned to never take it serious but I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. Coming home from school on her good days, she would ask me how my day was and what I learned. I knew it was a bad day if I came home from school and she was sleeping with her door closed. I learned to give her space and just do things for myself. I tiptoed on egg shells a lot around my house. I knew anything could set her off and I didn’t want to have to reap the consequences.
I watched how her bipolar affected her and us. We constantly moved almost every year because even our housing became unstable. I hated to switch schools and meet new friends. This broke my heart always having to say goodbye to friends I grew attached to. As I became a teenager, my mom become a lady I loathed. I knew something was wrong, but I was so hateful towards her at this point. I became resentful that someone even let her become a mother. The years progressed and I watched episodes become longer and longer and life get more unstable for all of us. I learn to distance myself from her while living under the same roof.
As a teenager, I saw her start to deteriorate. I saw her jump from job to job and some days just never go to work and stay locked in her room. We never talked about those days, just went on with our business. Some days I would not see her come out of her room for days and I began to become OK with that. I felt like she let me down by not being that “normal” mom who could deal with life and act accordingly. I wanted a mom who was my best friend, not one who constantly let me down because of a episode.
I think the worst part was her not talking to me and telling me why she was this way. Holidays and birthdays brought on episodes for her and they always lasted the longest. My 16th birthday, she hid in her room and I sat in mine hurt and upset that she didn’t even wish me a happy birthday. After many events like this, I just wrote her off because of the lack of communication.
Now as I am 26, I get it and forgive her. She was fighting her own demons in her head. If you are a parent and go through something similar, my advice is to tell your children. Tell them in an age-appropriate way. Make sure they understand it’s not them. I guarantee they notice the change, they are witnessing it firsthand. Being a parent with bipolar disorder is not something to be ashamed of and now my mom has a lot of regrets with her children. I forgive her and don’t resent her anymore. I grew up to be a strong-minded individual because I had to be and I owe it to her. She is the strongest lady I know and I will continue to be there now while she goes through her “down days.”
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Unsplash photo via Caroline Hernandez