Health and Wellness

My Bipolar Mom

Always do the things you fear the most. Courage is an acquired taste, like caviar. ~ Erica Jong

This is going to take some courage for me to share. But I am hopeful it will be helpful for others. That is the only reason that I am sharing. To help others. Whether it be my family or some daughter or son on the other side of the world reading this post at 3am in a few months or years from now.

For many years I have been struggling to have some semblance of a relationship with my mother. A mother whom through my life has been different characters. Loving and kind, off the wall, a friend and an enemy. When I was a child she was betty homemaker and a room mother, and I loved being her doll. Watching her get ready, “helping her make dinner”, putting puzzles together, etc. She also had a wild side and a very dark side that I wouldn’t know until my dad left. But she has always loved me and my brother the very best way she knew how. She loves us dearly and I have no doubt that she would do anything she could for us. It hasn’t been until very recently that I have come to realize this. For a while over the past few years I thought she was flat out crazy. Often I have thought she was a bad mother, and other times I have considered the fact that she disliked me somewhere deep inside.



When my parents got divorced in 1991, that’s when my mom started changing. Her behavior around my brother and I was different. Clearly she was grieving the loss of a 14 year marriage to her best friend, but she also broke some where deep. She became physically ill with “stomach issues” and she shared her raw emotional pain about my father with me at the age of 12. When she started dating she left us alone very late at night a few times, which she would have never done before and she started drinking a lot more. Grant it, these are not “mother dearest” scenarios but they were out of the ordinary in our home.

About a year or two later my mom got remarried. My mother and her husband have been married for 20 years now. I can tell you that they have liked each other for about two out of those twenty years. But, they are unwilling to move or change. Throughout the course of their marriage and my life, mom has been on a roller coaster. She had her own business for 10 years and it was successful. Some days she loved it, some days she hated it. When I hit 15 she and I became oil and water. Fighting was second nature in our house. Whoever could yell the loudest won the battle. But I was never heard. My brother became quiet and only yelled when it really mattered. Mostly to tell mom and I to stop yelling. She kicked me out at 17 and sent me to live with my dad. Our relationship continued to struggle. One day we were best friends, the next day we weren’t speaking. Some of this was natural teenage bull… Don’t let me fool you, I was no angel. Mom though, is overly emotional in most areas. We had a lot of fun times together, she was my buddy, but one wrong move and man was I in deep. In my 20’s when I lived in my own place, mom would say or do certain things that were completely un called for. Like call me and tell me she was going to kill herself and then take it back. You know, normal mom stuff, right?!

Fast forward to 2010. My mom started to become physically ill again. She had a pain in her gut every time she ate. So she started looking on the internet and going to doctors to find out what was wrong. For two years she continued to stay sick with this same problem, yet know one could figure the source of her pain. In the midst of this my brother had his first child and I was battling with serious problems with my heart. She tried to balance, but all of it started to be too much and she began alienating us. She became angry and hateful. Lashing out at me, my brother, his wife, her sisters. Everyone. This was really not like her. She was also losing an enormous amount of weight. At one point she got down to 83lbs. And I became so angry with her. I have lived with illness all my life and never behaved so ugly to those I love. She had no excuse. For two years she was weighing between 83-86lbs, had a port-a-carth for food, and had convinced herself that she could only eat 5 foods a day. The doctors did find that she has an intestinal bacteria, but she should be able to eat more than she allows herself too. As her physical ailments got worse, her mental stability did as well. She shared with me that she was trying to control her “anxiety” by the food she ate. I knew something was way out of wack. Healthy people do not rationalize starving themselves for mental wellness. Her moods were off the charts as well. One day she would call and sound like she was dancing a jig, the whole world was going her way and God was the great healer (which He is), and she was going to be fine. Then a few days later she would call and sounded terrible, hadn’t slept for days and she was so depressed that she could not think straight or speak in complete thought or sentences. .

In March this year, 2013, she called both her sisters and threatened several times to commit suicide. Her mother committed suicide in the 80’s. After much discussion and no action from our stepfather, my brother and I intervened. We drove to her house along with my husband, informed my stepfather of our plan, and we took her to the hospital. Not willingly. She was pissed. Trying to have my mother committed so that she wouldn’t hurt herself was the hardest thing I have ever done. I have had 5 heart surgeries. This was harder. At one point my mother became irate and had to be physically handled by 6 very large hospital staff members and security people. My mother weighs 86lbs. This was so hard to witness. I broke down.

After 16 hours of waiting she was finally committed. She willing committed herself so that the state didn’t have to have a judge commit her against her will. Once they took her to the psychiatric ward she lost it again when they took away all of her possessions. She said she felt like she was living a scene out of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”. They kept her and medicated her for 48 hours. That’s it. My brother and I were deflated. We wanted her to get some real help. To finally be diagnosed in a facility. But it didn’t happen. I will say in the 48 hours she was there and medicated my mother was alert, eating more than she had in a very long time, and did not complain of much pain. This is how we knew she needed real psychiatric help.

When they released her my heart broke. I had been trying for so long to help and listen without letting my anger and hurt as a human and her daughter eat me alive. I had talked to many of her doctors who had told me that they suspected she was bipolar and had probably been that way for a very long time. But I needed a psychiatrist to tell my mom. I needed someone to give her some meds to help her out. Our only saving grace would be the outpatient facility that the hospital recommended my mother attend. It was a 6 week program. Everyday. You see a psychiatrist and a psychologist each week for meds and group therapy. Thank you Jesus!

In April my mother was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Wikipedia defines it:

Bipolar disorder (also known as bipolar affective disorder, manic-depressive disorder, or manic depression) is a psychiatric diagnosis for a mood disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience episodes of a frenzied state known as mania, typically alternating with episodes of depression.

At the lower levels of mania, known as hypomania, individuals appear energetic and excitable and may in fact be highly productive. At a higher level, individuals begin to behave erratically and impulsively, often making poor decisions due to unrealistic ideas about the future, and may have great difficulty with sleep. At the highest level, individuals can experience very distorted beliefs about the world known as psychosis. Individuals who experience manic episodes also commonly experience depressive episodes; some experience amixed state in which features of both mania and depression are present at the same time. Manic and depressive episodes typically last from a few days to several months and can be interspersed by periods of “normal” mood.

Unfortunately, this I am finding is only the beginning. First of all she is not convinced she is Bipolar. Second, she knows very little if anything about her diagnosis. These first two are major road blocks in getting her on a road to wellness. It is also unhelpful that her husband is “unaware” or unwilling to accept this diagnosis. And third, taking her meds has become an entirely new challenge. Because as soon as she feels better she doesn’t think she needs them any more. Or she doesn’t like the side effects so she just doesn’t take them. And my favorite is when she thinks she is the doctor and wants to self medicate.

So, where do I go from here as her daughter? Her family, sisters, father and my brother have all removed themselves from her life. For the most part. My brother doesn’t want to expose his children and his wife to her erratic behavior. I totally get that. Her sisters… the situation is to familiar to their mother, I guess, they have been hurt as well. I think they should do some research and help their sister… But that’s only my opinion. Either way, it’s me and me alone. And frankly I don’t always have the energy to “deal with it” myself. She is 63 years old. I can’t make her do anything. She is just learning about this. There is a chance she has been Bipolar since puberty. Or when her first husband left her in the early 70’s for the Vietnam War. They may never really know what her first trigger was. I am now beginning to realize she has been this way my whole life, and my brother’s whole life.

I can say that learning about this disorder has opened my eyes to many things that have happened in our relationship throughout my entire life. It has allowed me to forgive more compassionately in certain areas, where I would have otherwise had a harder time letting go. Her mind is sick. It’s no different than the way my heart is sick. I am understanding this more, not completely yet, but more. When those days come around where she doesn’t want to take the meds she needs, or participate in her therapy, or when her meds simple aren’t working, how do I cope with that? Or do I at all? I can’t as easily write her off, even though some days I want to block her phone number. She is my mother. She loves me. And I love her, dearly.

But how can I be her care taker when I am not always well enough to take care of myself? I have half a heart and I am fighting for it to survive for the next 5 years or more… I need to take care of me. And that makes me feel selfish.

Each day I pray for her physical and mental healing. And each day I pray that I can find the courage to forgive her for not being more of what I needed and still need as a mother, instead of just what she has to give. And I pray for help. For her. And for me. Our family needs to learn more about this disorder, and not just for my mom. We need to learn how it can break a person and a family apart so that we can maybe, one day help put our family back together. My mother is a beautiful woman who has a sweet spirit and she cares about others, most of all she loves her kids, and her grand-kid(s) deeply… She is lost and broken right now and she has been for a very long time.

This is an ugly monster of a illness. It comes out of no where and it is hard to control. It takes courage for the person dealing with bipolar disorder to take the actions to stay healthy as best they can every day. And it takes courage from the family members to stick with their loved one on this long hard Tower of Terror kind of a ride. May we all go fourth with the Grace of God. I pray for wisdom, strength and courage for my mom, myself and our entire family.



5 thoughts on “My Bipolar Mom

  1. Gena,

    I know this was hard to share and I will pray for your Mom. I hope that she will try to understand her diagnosis and accept it. Acceptance and recovery is something that she has to do….a place she has to get to on her own (with love and help from others), but ultimately only she can make the choice to get well. I know this is painful and heartbreaking (I am just remembering the issues I had with my own Mother) and I hate that you have to suffer through it, along with the rest of your family. Your Mom really is a great, fun, loving person and I hope she will be able to get well so she can spend her life being that person rather than the ugly one she sometimes becomes. I will keep all of you in my prayers and thoughts.

  2. How brave of you to share. Your mom is absolutely beautiful. I pray things are looking up for her and your family. God bless!

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