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 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.
|Elizabeth Lindell is a journalist, fiction writer, wife of 11 years and stay-at-home mom to a blossoming tween daughter. She happens to have lupus and bipolar disorder, and has blossomed herself, since moving to Los Angeles in 1996, from a small town in Indiana.|