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Saving Grace: 'Mommy, You Have to Fix This'

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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, Elizabeth knew she couldn't ignore them forever. Here is part two of her story.

elizabeth and grace lindell

Elizabeth Lindell: At age 7, my daughter Grace began engaging in something called "mission mode," which is similar to the bipolar symptom of spending sprees in adults. For many, many months, this manifested itself in Webkinz. No matter the day's events, priorities, or goals, she would give us a constant countdown to what time our neighborhood Hallmark store closed and, if we did not make it in time, even due to a wonderful day at the beach, we could be certain of a disastrous evening of chair-throwing and monstrous roars. This behavior was a symptom of her illness, not a character flaw, and not a result of poor parenting. You can't even begin to use parenting strategies with a bipolar child, until they have reached stability. It is impossible to reason with a child, or an adult, in a manic or cycling state. You have to accept that you are a visitor in their world, where they are the unreasonable ruler. All you can do is keep them safe until the ride passes. When it does, then you can reach them.

There were those nights, after an exhausting day at school, when we all just wanted to curl up together in bed and watch a movie, but Grace's body had a different agenda for her. The slightest thing could set her off and she would end up running into her bedroom crying, doors slamming, pummeling her bed before shivering in a ball beneath it. She would have a fear in her eyes that frightened me.

I recognized what she was feeling because I had experienced it. Her body was exhausted, but her mind wanted to run a marathon. She needed to get them in sync.

Friends and family who knew her best had noticed a change in her, saying she wasn't the same child they once knew. We began avoiding playdates, because transitioning out of them escalated into full-on rages during the car ride home. I started an extensive search for the right child psychiatrist, using every resource I had available to me. I didn't have a moment to think of how parenting and caring for her until four in the morning, and being available to her for more of the same during the day, was affecting me. Twenty-four-seven crisis care bears incredible focus and, in those dark nights of her despair, sometimes all I had to offer was the loving familiarity of a mother's warm body, her arms hugging mine, while we looked at Bengal kittens online.

There was nothing more I could do, in those moments, than what I was doing. Offer her comfort, trace my fingertips along her arm, brush the hair out of her eyes, and stroke her eyebrows. For a while it would be enough. She seemed to have a sense of peace as we talked about horses and puppies, but then she would change, quickly, her face taking on the tragedy of someone suddenly given a terribly sad shock. What I had to come to terms with was that my child had bipolar disorder. I knew it in my bones, but just did not want to face it. This child needed me. I needed to get real, and summon every ounce of strength I had, because it would all be necessary for the battle that lay ahead in advocating for her.

Her tears began to flow heavily, in bed late one February school night.

"I'm so sad," she said, and I wiped some of them away.

"Do you have any idea why? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong," she said, and I knew that to be true. They were tears with no rhyme or reason. Nothing was wrong. We cared for her, loved her, encouraged her, and celebrated her. She was safe and strong. She had close friends at school and an extended family who was so proud of her.

She began kicking her legs beneath the blankets uncomfortably and I glanced at the clock, knowing she couldn't make it through the next day on three hours of sleep, realizing I would have to phone the school's absent call-in line, which I was much too familiar with.

"Mommy, please, you have to do something," she said, squirming, with desperation in her voice that had me consider, for a moment, taking her to the UCLA pediatric emergency room. "You can't just tell me you're talking to doctors. You have to fix this. You have to. You just have to."

Her mood shifted to irritable as she wriggled in the bed.

"I can't do this. I just can't DO this!" she said sadly, frustrated, pounding her fists on the bed for emphasis and some sort of relief.

I rubbed her calves, hoping it would give her stillness, and she grew quiet for a moment.

"Mommy, do you ever see things that aren't there? Or hear things?"

I swear I felt my heart stop for a moment. This was becoming too much, even for me.

"No, I haven't, but I know it happens."

"I keep seeing a circle of lights, over and over and over again," she said.

"Do you hear anything?"

"Sometimes, beeps and buzzing."

"What about voices?" I held my breath, she said no, and we decided, together, that we would discuss it the next day with the "talking doctor."

Her mood shifted two more times that night before exhaustion allowed her the escape. I knew the time to do something was now. I had to save my child.

Tomorrow, check out part three of Elizabeth's story.



next: Teacher Stabbed to Death at John Tyler High School
3 comments so far | Post a comment now
chris September 24, 2009, 7:07 AM

This story just moves me. I can’t wait to read more.

Briellis September 24, 2009, 7:26 AM

This is so tragic.

Nanci September 24, 2009, 8:20 AM

Yes and no. I have three daughters, two of whom have bipolar disorder. At first I was devastated over the diagnosis but both have worked very hard to manage their illness and it has shaped who they are today. Obviously, I’d prefer they didn’t have bipolar disorder, but there are many things that could be far worse. The compassion and sensitivity that all of my kids have developed has allowed them to make a difference for others. They have conquered struggles that many will never face and that has given them confidence and insight far beyond their years.

What is tragic is that many families don’t have access to the information, resources and support that they need to give their kids a chance to be healthy again.


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