I’m fortunate. I’m a high-functioning Bipolar ― in recovery, doing well and leading a full, productive life. However, I had been symptomatic from the time I was 16, and was not diagnosed until I was 31.
I did everything I could to keep my difficulties a secret. And, although I shut my parents out, they were there for me. They accepted months of silence and difficult exchanges when we were in contact. I lived with them on a number of occasions when I was recovering from depressive episodes, even though I invariably moved on and out. Now, I am so grateful that my parents were able to see my recovery in action.
Several years ago, I needed medical insurance before the Affordable Care Act had gone into effect. I had a bipolar diagnosis and was on medication, so I shared this relevant information with the health insurance broker. After our business discussion, she leaned in and confided that she had a bipolar daughter in her early 20s. She relayed her daughter’s history, her episodes, and her many efforts to distance herself from the family. However, this mother refused to allow her daughter to become estranged even though during manic episodes, her daughter would leave emphatic voicemails and write nasty emails, as well as ignore messages and go months without returning phone calls.
This young woman also maintained a very difficult relationship with her sister who deeply resented the attention the bipolar daughter received for her bad behavior — while she, the healthy daughter, lead an exemplary life and had a wonderful husband and child.
As the insurance broker mother continued her story, it became clear that it was not the difficulties and family disruptions she encountered with her bipolar daughter that troubled her. She looked at me earnestly, and asked if she was “doing the right thing for her daughter.” Because I had shared the difficult relationship with my parents during the many years I sought recovery, she wanted to know if her actions toward her daughter were constructive or harmful. I reflected on all the uncertainties my parents must have felt during my difficult times with them. I looked into the woman’s eyes and took her hand ― I wanted her to know that I had heard her deep concern and understood her fear. Then I told her, as someone who could understand her daughter’s point of view, that she was “doing exactly the right things.”
By letting her daughter know that she was there for her, and by accepting the difficult behavior as being a part of her illness, she was not only supporting her daughter, but keeping the door open for a better relationship in the event that her daughter became more stable. While the lack of stability was with the daughter, the mother was steadfast and even in the treatment and acceptance of her daughter’s illness.
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