Friday, May 7, 2010

One of my biggest worries

I was watching another episode of Discovery Health Channel's Psych Week. If you have missed it so far I would really encourage you to see if you can find it online or to look for reruns. Last night's episode was 'Bipolar Mysteries' and was the one out of all of them that I had been interested the most. It told the stories of four families dealing with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in their children.

I know how much L struggles with understanding and accepting his illness and how much he struggles with the anger, poor impulse control (Just the other day he almost went and got a dog from the humane society. Luckily he called me first), depression, being suicidal at times, and all the other symptoms of bipolar disorder he has experienced. Seeing these YOUNG kids, the youngest of them was only 4 years old, struggle with these same things was heartbreaking. How do you explain all of this to such a young child? I have problems knowing how much Miss K at 3 1/2 years old understands of her daddy's illness but the thought of her having these struggles herself is one of my biggest worries.

I tried finding some numbers on the occurrence of bipolar disorder in children with a bipolar parent. The show last night claimed that 1 in 6 of these children will also have bipolar disorder. Others say it is 1 in 10. A study from 2009 said that 'Birmaher and colleagues looked at 233 parents with bipolar disorder and their 388 children, ages 6 to 18. They were compared with a control group of 143 parents and 251 children with no family history of the condition.

Overall, 10.6 percent of the children with a bipolar parent had signs of a bipolar spectrum disorder (which includes a range of symptoms from severe to less so) or a mood or anxiety disorder. In comparison, only two children, or 0.8 percent, in the control group had such symptoms."

One of my biggest worries is not that I could lose my girls (though that is of course something just about every parent worries about) but what effect L's illness will have on them. Will they too struggle with bipolar disorder or some other mental illness? I am always keeping a close eye on them in an attempt to catch any problems when they first occur. And maybe in a year or so after Miss K has turned 4 we will start sending her to counseling as a preventive measure. It helps me to talk to someone so I am hoping that the same will be true for her.


Jess S. said...

Mental illness is hereditary, speaking as someone who inherited it from her father's side. I didn't get the bipolar, I got other things, but you know what? I might tease my dad about it, but I never blame him. Keeping a watchful eye on your children and being aware will be the greatest gift to them if they ever (god forbid) show signs of mental illness. You might be afraid of it, but you're not in denial and this makes you very strong in my opinion!!

Suzanne said...

My father had major depression, my mother Bipolar. Somehow, watching them contend with life, the death of my brother, my father’s cancer, my mother’s autoimmune disease that took her life at age 64, and other adversities AND remain married for 50 years taught me a respect for those battling a mental illness w/o proper treatment. Their strength came from within, not a pill bottle. I learned that they were products of their lives growing up – not just genes. They endured a lot of pain. They may not have always been the best Brady Bunch parents, but they did the best they could with the tools that had been handed down to them; something I could forgive them for.

I developed BPD (The “B” word among disorders) as a result of being molested as a child by a neighbor, genes, loss of my brother, and the effects of my loving but dysfunctional family before I learned to understand or have empathy. I had no one to teach me what “normal” was until I became an adult. I did not get therapy until the height of the illness with the help of my husband. He knew what he was getting into when he married me, but loved me for the person within, accepting my dysfunction as an illness that he was willing to cope with. In turn I grew to be a fighter in the sense that I was not going to allow ANY illness to get me down. I always amazed my doctors with my involvement, self monitoring, and self help. I fully recovered ONLY after I was removed from medications and found inner spirituality.

My children also inherited the genes. When they first display symptoms I felt awful and cried until a doctor set me straight saying, "Mental illness is caused by a large equation. Part environment, peer pressure, personal choices, genes, chemical (both of the brain and ingested), and yes, you are a part of the equation. However, how you react to this fact will be another determining factor in how they handle it. Act as if it is a tragedy and you undermine and stigmatize them as being defective. Concentrate on the good, explain the medical issues and how to cope. Keep it positive!”

My kids, now age 23 & 27 are both successful, independent, and while they have issues to contend with they handle themselves with responsibility and determination. They call me their role model for always being strong, keeping a positive attitude and not making a big deal out of it. Laughing, keeping an open dialogue, keeping things relaxed (as much as possible) taught them it's just another "normal" part of life. Everyone gets sick in one way or another. It's how you respond to it that counts, negative reacting is where trouble begins.

Suzanne said...

Our children are our dreams for the future.

"Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that chock the life out of your dream. Water them w/ optimism & solutions & u will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the outlook for ways to nurture your dream.” ~ Lao Tzu

Melissa Mashburn said...

I know my clinical depression and my suicide attempt, and my hospitalization have seriously affected my daughter. Much of my time in this last year of recovery has been trying to repair our relationship and help her understand about mental illness and how she might be at a higher risk for it. She is thirteen so it was easier to talk to her and she understood more than your little ones probably would.

She and I also have spent a lot of time talking about how important it is for us to have positive thoughts, and positive attitudes, and positive actions. She really has grabbed hold of that and we have become much closer.

It has not been an easy road with her and showing her how things could be different, but we have both worked hard.

Suzanne said...

Melissa, you should be very proud of yourself. We mother's have enough to worry about, raising healthy children. There's no need to beat ourselves up. In sharing our difficulties openly, we teach our kids empathy, understanding of others, altruism and open mindedness. We also show although we have problems, we are not ashamed, just as they should never be if they enccounter troubles. What better gifts to pass on.

Surprisingly my son lived with my illness from day one. Children are amazing. They understand more than we can imagine. He was one of my greatest supporters as early as four next to my husband. We taught him about my moods and issues with stuffed animals, working at a level fit for his age and comprehension. He knew his lion could get mad and roar, but that underneath he was scared. All the other animals loved him and understood why he behaved the way he did. Sounds silly but it worked.


Dr. Heckle said...

It's a difficult situation, but the good news is that you recognize it and know what's going. Which is a luxury that your husband and/or generations past may not have had when growing up. Your children will be all the better for it.

Kris said...

Thank you for all the support. And Dr Heckle, my husband definitely did not have this luxury growing up. His mom has various mental health issues of her own and his stepfather has bipolar disorder and a recently diagnosed stroke disorder (Cadasil). We are trying to break this cycle with our children.

isabella mori said...

just to chime in here with a similar message - not only do i have mental health challenges in my family of origin but also my children's fathers have such a history. yes, my father's bipolar illness affected me way more than his myriad addictions (self medication, i guess) but it also gave my life a richness and depth that i am grateful for. and surprise, i am dealing with mental health issues as well. in my opinion, if we approach all of this with open eyes, arm ourselves with all the tools necessary (humour being the most important IMO!) and look for all of this can enrich our lives, we'll do ok. of course there is and will be pain (e.g. one of my children is dealing with anxiety right now) - but that comes with the territory, doesn't it?

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