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Saving Grace: My Child is Bipolar

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One mom shares the lengths she went to in order to save her child.

elizabeth and grace lindell child medication

Elizabeth Lindell: Just two years ago, I had strong opinions about children being put on behavior-modifying or adult medication, and even felt children were being over-diagnosed with illnesses such as ADHD, Asperger's syndrome, autism, and auditory and visual processing disorders. But that all changed when my daughter began displaying the symptoms of pediatric bipolar disorder.

Everywhere I turned, children were in traditional therapy, psychotherapy, visual therapy, educational therapy, and it seemed to me that the innocence of childhood was getting lost in all these therapies and labels that parents, educators, and doctors were putting in place to make things better. That was when I was on the outside, looking in.

I've learned labels are sometimes necessary, especially when it comes to illness. We label people diabetic, and they are diagnosed diabetic, so they can learn about their illness and, most importantly, be prescribed the insulin their body needs.

My perception about medicating children changed when my own child, Grace, at the age of seven, began to suffer from pediatric bipolar disorder, an illness I've had since I was a teenager. Looking back on her life, she had many of the classic symptoms for years. As a baby, she was difficult to settle and, to this day, has separation anxiety and is overly responsive to sensory stimulation. She had always been easily distractible, fidgety, and would frequently veer from energetic and silly to lethargic and gloomy, within 30 minutes. She was highly artistic yet scattered, and I felt and sensed something in her that I knew was in me. I just couldn't face it. It was difficult to accept that I couldn't protect her from the one thing I knew to be nothing short of horror.

I considered myself as an example of what could be, with bipolar disorder and mental illness. I had a fulfilling, stable life. I was a mother and gave all that I had, without hesitation, within my mind, heart, and soul, to my child. I was a wife, in a marriage with the passion and fire of which it began. I was a sister, daughter, and friend, and took care in nurturing those relationships. But, I didn't often acknowledge the bumps in the road.

Even though I took my three pills each day, there were still those unplanned, imperfect nights, when I sat alone in bed, hugging my knees, shaking on the roller coaster, hoping the ride didn't take me too far off the tracks. I would cycle from feeling irritable and agitated, scratching at the tag on the back of my T-shirt and ripping it off, in discomfort and annoyance, getting angry, out of nowhere, and obsessing over a rude and insensitive comment my mother-in-law made months earlier that was never resolved. Then sadness would sweep over me, and I would hold on tight. It was a depression that lasted for only 10 minutes, but felt like 10 months. I felt funeral sad. Post-funeral sad, when everyone has gone home and you are in your bedroom alone, with your thoughts and dying flowers, trying to make sense of a loss. Only, I was grieving nothing. Then, I would cycle to the "okay" or normal mood, grateful for just a moment of calm, before it all began again.

The best I can hope for on nights like these is sleep, or the extra anti-psychotic as prescribed and allowed by my psychiatrist for times like these, and in my private thoughts, I often wonder what would have happened to me if my life had been lived many years ago, before these life-changing medications were available. It may have been spent in an institution receiving shock therapy. I wonder what would happen to me now if I didn't have access to medication. Sometimes, when I hand a dollar to a homeless person on the side of the freeway, I wonder if it's medication keeping me from being on the other side of that door.

I never had specific dreams for Grace. Her life belongs to her, and my job is to protect and guide. There have been, however, things that I don't want for her. Having bipolar disorder was one of them, but we reached a point where we could no longer deny that something was going on with her. My child, who used to fall asleep at 8 PM after a chapter of her favorite book, was not able to fall asleep after four hours of me singing to her, telling her stories, and lying quietly in the dark. If I left the room, she would sob relentlessly and, when I could take it no longer, I would find her crumpled on the floor, outside our bedroom door, clinging to her baby blanket and stuffed dog. Out of desperation, I started bringing her into bed with my husband and me, and it was the only way she was able to find the comfort to sleep.

It wasn't long before the night terrors escalated to mood swings. She tried her best to keep it together at school and with friends, falling apart and breaking down with my husband and me, the people with whom she felt safest.

My worst fears as a mother were being realized. Did I pass on my bipolar disorder to my daughter? I hoped beyond hope that the answer was no, but her symptoms and mood swings were telling me otherwise....

Come back tomorrow for part two of Elizabeth's story.

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6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jenny September 23, 2009, 4:58 AM

Thank you , Thank you, Thank you! I think that because so many people believe (and possibly rightly so) that too many kids are being labeled too quickly they fail to recognize that there are kids that DO have these issues and NEED help. I’m going through this with my own daughter and I’m so tired of people treating me like I am some neurotic mother just looking for label for my child. Who WANTS something to be wrong with their child??!!

MarMar September 23, 2009, 6:12 AM

Jenny, there are people out there who want to label their child rather than deal with a kid who just won’t behave…would rather drug them than take that extra step to help them if it’s just too difficult for them. And that’s not even talking about Munchausen’s by proxy parents. I’m not saying there’s many parents like this, but I’ve known folks growing up who would put their rambunctious boys on Ritalin just so they wouldn’t act like normal, energetic little boys! It’s parents like those who cast doubt upon parents like you and Elizabeth Lindell who have children who really do need help. It’s sad, but true.

Jenny September 23, 2009, 8:53 AM

I suppose that is true, very sad though. It makes us getting the support we need for our family very difficult.

Theresa September 23, 2009, 10:30 AM

Thanks for telling your story, while certainly there is a problem over overmedicating…mental illness is real and no different than being diagnosed with cancer or diabetes…no one would tell a cancer patient not to take chemo, why would we tell patients diagnosed with bi-polar or depression not to take their Dr. prescribed meds. There are a surprising number of people, even many in the medical community, that truly believe that if you think yourself happy, normal etc. you will be.
I am happy there are poepl willing to share their stories so that we as a society will remove the stigma of mental illness.

Chris September 29, 2009, 1:25 PM

I can’t help but wonder if the medical communities failures in treating these diseases are what keep people thinking they don’t really exist. Sometimes the “throw a pill at it” cure just doesn’t work. In those cases, they throw their hands up and give up, or they throw more pills at it in a futile attempt to cure something in the only way they know how. More research needs to be done on exactly what CAUSES these disorders instead of the typical “how do we remove the symptoms” approach they usually take.

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