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When I Asked Myself, 'Was I a Bad Kid? Or Was That My Bipolar Disorder?'

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I have a confession to make. I was not an easy child to raise. Sure, every kid has their moments… But I seemed to always be having a moment. I was the kid that got off the school bus sobbing because one of the kids at school was bullying me and then bam! Just hours later, I had punched my sister — again.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

My parents were not the kind that called that “girls being girls” or simply “sibling rivalry.” They made sure I didn’t get away with it. Despite how much I hated getting in trouble, I am thankful my parents set clear rules and consequences. But why then — if I knew I would be punished — was I always getting into trouble?

I remember one summer when I was younger, grade four or five maybe… I had been invited to go to a birthday party. I spent the whole month counting down the days and I was so excited to go. That morning I woke up and I was miserable. Not cranky or moody… Just outright unreasonably miserable. I was rude. I picked fights. My mom warned me not once, not twice but three times that if I didn’t stop, I was not going to that birthday party. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her. I did. The fear of not being able to see my friends and missing out was there. But for some reason, as though I couldn’t even control it, I gave my mother one more reason to follow through on that threat. It was not an empty one. I missed out on that birthday party, and it wasn’t the only time this sort of thing happened.

Looking back on these times, I remember thinking to myself, “You gotta stop. You’re gonna get in trouble. You know the rules!” But it was like I had no control over it. But what mother is going to believe their child when they say “Mom, I didn’t mean to!” Why would anyone automatically assume that the kid actually had no control over their actions? And as a child and eventually a teenager, that feeling of lack of control only grew — yet there was no way to really articulate it to anyone else.

Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 20 years old, a lot of things from my past suddenly make sense. I can clearly see the times where I was hypomanic and the times when I was severely depressed. It got me thinking back to my childhood and how my bipolar disorder was probably always there. If only we had known.

I don’t blame my parents — in fact, I am thankful for them. Without even knowing it, they protected me from my bipolar disorder. They helped me manage it without even knowing it was there. It wasn’t until I became an adult and was left to my own devices that I was finally diagnosed.

I read an article recently that discusses the signs of mental illness in children and I encourage parents to read it, too. But more importantly, I want to thank you for being there for your children. Do not be discouraged. When they become adults, they will come back to you and thank you for being there and loving them. It just takes time — just ask my mom!

Originally published: May 14, 2016
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