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Saving Grace: Anti-Psychotic Meds Saved My Kid's Life

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Elizabeth is a mother with bipolar disorder. She hoped desperately that she would not pass this on to her own child -- but when her daughter Grace began displaying more and more symptoms at age 7, she grew concerned. One night, Grace begged, "Mommy, please, you have to do something. You have to fix this. You just have to!" Here is part three of her story.

elizabeth and grace lindell

Elizabeth Lindell: The day after Grace pleaded with me to do something to make her pain go away, she was seen by the child psychiatrist to whom I had been giving my parental perspective about her situation and, after some time, she was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. I knew, and my husband and I were prepared for the fact, that if this was to be the diagnosis, we would have to medicate her.

The risks associated with bipolar disorder -- such as suicide (approximately 10 to 15 percent of bipolar patients will commit suicide in their lifetime), financial disaster, sexual promiscuity, addiction, social disruption, etc. -- are far scarier to me than the side effects associated with the medication. Not to mention the mental discomfort from bipolar disorder, which I knew to be brutal, tortuous, and relentless. Now that I was certain of the cause of my daughter's neurological misery for the past few years, it would have been neglect for me to deny her the medication that would prevent it from continuing.

The day we left the psychiatrist's office with her prescriptions, my mind was spinning, but stuck on the fact that one of them could cause a rare, yet fatal, rash that progresses quickly. The doctor had assured me every parent worries for the first six weeks about this, but it's almost always fine. I trusted his experience, something I haven't always had the courage or wisdom to do.

In addition to my fears about how the medication could adversely affect her physically and physiologically, I, as an artist and a medicated woman with bipolar disorder, vividly recalled how the mood-stabilizer affected me creatively and emotionally. It took me years to learn how to access feelings, which were once spilling over, and to understand my creativity was real and not a symptom of mental illness. I thought of my daughter and the multiple craft projects she had in process around the house, the many canvases she had painted on a whim, and the hours she would spend sketching or writing books. The thought of changing who she was or denying who she could become was almost too much for my mind to allow.

"It feels like I have two minds. Both are always thinking, but one is more quiet than the other," she said, out of nowhere, then paused. "Do you feel that way?"

"I used to," I told her. "I used to all the time, but my medicine fixes that. Instead of two minds, I just have one strong inner voice."

"How long will it take for my medicine to work?" she asked, optimistically.

"Six weeks. Help is on the way."

When we arrived home, I reached to the phone for support. I first debriefed my husband, then called my mom, who I speak with daily. My decision was made. I knew what I had to do. I wanted to indulge in unreasonable thoughts of how guilty I felt, for giving my child bipolar disorder, and have my mom reassure me, from her experience of raising a bipolar teenager, how crucial the medication is to having any kind of stability. I needed her to tell me to not obsess about the side effects. She did not. She told me to get another opinion, that she would not put a child on medication intended for adults, and that we just needed a different parenting strategy. We hung up not seeing eye-to-eye, feeling uncomfortable.

I dialed my girlfriend with whom I often chatted, for hours, about her boyfriends and relationships. Surely, she would back me up. She did not. She suggested I talk to her chiropractor, saying when she was a child and had asthma, her mom was able to solve it holistically. I knew that holistic treatments and acupuncture had worked, in addition to medication, for me. But my daughter didn't have a moment to waste and I wasn't willing to experiment with her.

I knew from experience that medication works. If I were stranded on a deserted island and could take one thing with me, that would be it. Three pills are the difference between having everything and having nothing. I was diagnosed at 15, was non-compliant with medication until my mid-20s, and lived a turbulent existence for many years because of that. Though I remained objective and did not diagnose my child myself, I did rely on opinions of respected experts, the genetic probability, and had to do my part, as a parent, to prevent Grace from a path her mother should not have known.

My mom and I didn't talk for two weeks, and the friendship with my girlfriend slowly dissipated as months turned into a year. As Grace graduated from taking her medication crushed into ice cream to swallowing the pills with water, she regained solid ground. I sought support and insight from experts and people who both knew and loved us. Good friends gave me the shot-in-the-arm advice I needed to continue, when I was parenting around the clock, as mother, nurse, therapist, pharmacist, doctor, friend, in the hours those people were not available.

Through trial and error, we discovered the mood-stabilizer energized her, while the anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications made her sleepy, so we gave them to her at different times. For the first six weeks, I checked on her every 15 minutes during the day, and set my alarm for every 30 minutes throughout the night, kissing her hands and massaging her feet so she wouldn't realize I was really looking for the deadly rash. She made it through with no sign of those tiny red bumps and came out the other side, strong and solid, making those who loved her and had known her despair beam with happiness, relief, and pride.

Eventually, my mom came around and has become a safe place to fall, as she knows the depths it takes to manage a peaceful home, with a verging teenager with bipolar disorder. The "this too shall pass" theory doesn't work with this illness because bipolar disorder will never go away. The horror in it can pass, though, if you are courageous enough to do whatever it takes to save your child.

Because I listened to that strong inner voice that my medication allows me to know, and not social pressures, Grace is no longer tortured by an illness. She no longer cycles, feels mentally uncomfortable or overcome. Disappointments are simply disappointing, and no longer feel like the end of a dream. Because I listened to her doctors and did what I knew was right for her, even in the face of doubt from family and friends, she is able to finally experience emotions as they should be. She is not, however, subdued. She still experiences moods. She cries, giggles, squeals, and gets frustrated and angry when there is cause for it. She is every bit as charismatic as she always was, and her creativity is more focused. Instead of having several projects in process at one time, she will see one through to completion before beginning another. When we hear a "that's not fair" and her bedroom door slams because she can't have a Coca-Cola, my husband and I look at one another and smile. Typical tween stuff and nothing like before.

Despite what she has suffered and because of what she has suffered, she has the emotional strength of a warrior, the compassion of a missionary, and the wisdom of someone well beyond her years.

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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
crhis September 25, 2009, 5:00 AM

Elizabeth, I know that you did the best thing for your child and your family. I have loved reading your story. you offer hope to a lot of people who prefer to live in denial than deal with the issue straight on. Best of luck to you and your family.

Dr. Michelle Golland September 25, 2009, 5:55 AM

Thank you for sharing your families story. You and your daughter are blessed to have each other. Sending you love, light and peace.

Lisa Gergets September 25, 2009, 7:09 AM

Wow. God bless you both and your family and friends who stand behind you.

Pamala September 25, 2009, 1:07 PM

I worry about this for my daughter constantly. My ex is BiPolar and I think though that since his came on when he was 26 we might be in the clear in regards to her getting it, but you never know.

I have to say I’ve had many people tell me and my ex that he should go off meds and do holistic treatment. If only it was that easy. Sometimes people don’t understand the pain and anger they cause when they offer up things that make absolutely no sense.

Lei September 28, 2009, 9:28 AM

this article made me tear up. i was dx with bipolar as a young adult and now my 3 year old is showing signs. thank you for bringing this into the open in an honest and hopeful way. thank you!

Candy November 15, 2009, 1:13 PM

You are an amazing mother! The world needs more mothers like you. You recognize the severity of a possible mental illness, that it’s not just a phase sometimes. I was prodromal (that means almost… kinda…) to schizophrenia for years, but most people assumed it was eccentricity and teenage awkwardness. It wasn’t until after multiple incidents of self harm that I finally admitted to my mom that I did it because the voices told me to. I know that when I told her she was terrified, but she acted so calm and cool. Because I was able to open my feelings to my mother (like your child was able to do with you, thank god!) I was treated with anti-psychotics and it now looks like I can live a great life. My dad is 8 years older than my mother, and is part of what I might assume (maybe I’m wrong?) is a generation that would prefer to sweep things like this under the rug until it is too late. Maybe it’s how he was raised. I hope more moms take you as an example. I know when it’s time for me to become a mother, I will for sure.

Thalia Soules December 2, 2010, 8:15 PM

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Lissette Schoppert December 13, 2010, 10:56 PM

i was surprised at just how much on this I just didn’t know. Appreciate your sharing this info. I am likely to return here to check out if there is any new articles.

Judith Whitaker May 5, 2011, 4:20 PM

Wow. What a touching and well written story! I am proud to know you. You are an amazing mom.

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