Growing Up with a Bipolar Parent

I’m going to share something with you today that I didn’t learn until I was a teenager:

My mom has bipolar disorder.

I never knew it, but I lived my whole childhood under the canvas of a mental illness that I have since learned can make things hard on the good days and impossible on the bad. Now, many years later, I’m a parent myself living with the same issues and certain moments begin to make sense.

When I was in kindergarten, my parents separated and divorced. I had no idea, actually, for quite a while.  They sent us to live with our grandparents when things really started going south and much later we heard from my dad that they had divorced.  We stayed with my grandparents until the day dad showed up and told us he had a new home.  Mom, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found.

We actually wouldn’t see her again until about two years after we first went to Granny and Grandpa’s. When we did finally see her again, she had a new husband and a new home. It took a while before I figured out that this isn’t normal…not everyone has a parent that just vanishes for a few years and then comes back.  Obviously, some do, but none of my classmates ever did. My experience was different.

Lessons Learned

Years later, I learned about something called mania (or hypomania).  I learned that in mild cases it can lead to feelings of elation and and irrational actions.  In severe cases, it can lead to illusions of grandeur and even hallucinations. I never asked mom which brand of crazy was her particular one, but it’s something I’ve wondered about since.

At the age of 14, I was diagnosed with Bipolar type 2.  That means I get all the supremely severe depression, but only hypomania.  Don’t get me wrong, hypomania is dangerous enough, but I’m grateful I’ve so far managed to avoid the illusions and voices. Since my diagnosis, though, it has colored my view of life with my mom.  I look back on those years where she vanished with a bit more compassion than I might have, even though I really have no idea if it was a result of a manic episode or something else.

I wonder, too, what my own children will think as they get older.  Will they see my moments of crazy with compassion or annoyance?  Will they see they love and effort I’ve put into minimizing the pain, or will they see me as a lost and distant parent?

I suppose I won’t know until we get there.

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