Home > adoption, bipolar, depression, doctors, family, stigma, suicide, symptoms > On Having a Bipolar Mom #2

On Having a Bipolar Mom #2

In my last post I talked about having a bipolar mother, but I didn’t really talk about it. All I did was offer some dry facts, but I didn’t do much in the way of analysis. In this post I hope to correct that situation.

As I tried to get across in the last post, none of us is merely the symptoms of our disorder, and my mom is no exception. Part of the job of writing an article like this is trying to separate my mom the person (the much larger part of who she is) from my mom’s bipolar symptoms (the much smaller part).

I was self-centred as a little kid, and I never once questioned that my mom was 100% committed to me, or that she loved me. My mom had a (very) explosive temper, but she got her anger out of her system quickly, and moved into to forgiveness equally quickly. I was deathly afraid of my mom’s anger, but I rarely stayed in trouble for very long. My temper is similar: explosive and intense, but quick to extinguish and to turn into reconciliation.

As a kid I was oblivious as to whether my mom was having a good day or a bad day. I remember her laughing a lot. When she was feeling good she used to laugh at everything. I think she went to a lot of effort to shield me from what she was going through. Looking back I can remember four or maybe five major derepressions, one of which she was hospitalized for. Her bipolar cycles seem to be fairly long.

As a child I learned that direct questions were bad. I could get in trouble for asking anything. If I wanted a toy, for example, it was better to circle an advert or an item in a catalogue. Otherwise it was better to wait until I was asked for my opinion (which was frequent, I might add, my mom loved to give gifts). The same could be true for asking questions about how and why things were. Sometimes my mom was patient in the extreme. Still, sometimes my mom was in a mood where any kind of question could be dangerous. It wasn’t just a matter of “no”, but “why are you asking?” and “what made you think you could ask that?”. I didn’t always know how to tell which mood she was in.

To this day the whole concept of “it doesn’t hurt to ask” is incomprehensible to me. I plan every question I ask carefully with an escape plan in case it blows up in my face.

When I was 6 I found my mom wailing at the top of her lungs in our living room. I wanted to dial the operator like I had seen on TV (this was before 911) but my mother had me call my uncle instead. He came before long and took my mom to the hospital (ironically we lived across the street). I lived with my uncle and his family for a month while my mother was in the hospital, then my grandmother came to live with me. My mother swears she hurt her back, but I am convinced to this day that I averted a suicide. You see, I was hardly allowed to visit my mom, and when I did visit I remember I remember she was very tired and sad and her room had a tiny window with bars. So I guess I do know the details of my mom’s third suicide attempt after all.

The thing is, I was oblivious to it. Maybe it’s just me, but I took everything at face value at the time. My mom is hurt and I don’t know why, so she has to go to the hospital. Now I have to live with my uncle. Now with my grandmother. Two years later, mom was back in the hospital again, but I was living with my dad. People go to the hospital to get better, so mom is getting better. (I’ve got my tenses all screwed up). What I’m trying to say is that your kids deal with it. They adapt to it. There are far worse things that you can do to your kids than be bipolar.

When I tried to adopt I learned some of the ways you can screw up a kid and being crazy, in and of itself, is not one of them. My mother was a much better parent than me or my husband, and infinitely better than the mothers or fathers of either of the two boys we tried to adopt.

  1. April 8, 2012 at 7:24 am

    That temper thing is really, really familiar – both me and my mom.

    Thanks for these posts. I’ve got a similar one coming up myself. My mom wasn’t diagnosed bipolar but it retrospectively seems pretty obvious. At the time, I too was oblivious. I didn’t know what I was seeing or even that there was something to see. But I refuse to feel guilty about that.

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