Friday, May 31, 2013

Faces, a collection of sketches by Emily

These faces represent the presences of detached emotions that I experience. 

I suppose technically they represent hallucinations, but it feels strange to me to call them that because they feel like they could just be real people that I don't know.
When I look at them there is an odd familiarity, like they are family who I recognise, and I can't assign them special names or characteristics. 
These are the faces I feel comfortable with. 

When I am really anxious there are other faces that terrify me. 
It's hard to explain, but this is one way I experience emotion.                                                                                                                


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dear Emily, it's been 3 months

Dear Emily,
It is about 3 months since you were diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. We are still fiddling with meds, to try to get your symptoms under control. Some days are ok. Other days are BS. Tonight we sat together under your doona while you cried. You were in a panic because you were worried that the meds are going to take away your hallucinations, and you don't want them to go because some of them are comforting. It was hot under there. I felt like I was suffocating. I didn't know what to say or do. So I just sat with you. I hope it was enough. I hope you find some relief from this crippling anxiety soon. Very soon.
I love you.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dear Emily, I believe in you

Half way through 2012 it became clear that Emily was really struggling with her mood. We recognised the symptoms of Bipolar, as her Dad is Bipolar, so began the process of getting her some support. During this time things were very difficult for Emily, and she required a fair bit of time away from school. This is a letter I wrote to her during that time.

Dear Emily,

things are tough right now. Feeling as bad as you do lately is not easy. I know what it is like to feel so low that you don’t want to get out of bed, or talk to anyone, or make a decision about what to eat. I know what it is like to be so depressed that you feel like you are surrounded by a fog that will never go away. I know what it is like for that to go on long enough that you give up even caring if it goes away. I know what it is like to feel anxious about everything. So anxious that your chest hurts and you can’t think about anything else. 

I can remember clearly being told that I was suffering depression, and the reluctance to admit that it might be true. I wanted to be in control and able to deal with anything. I was angry that this was happening to me.

I can’t say that I know how it feels for that depression to suddenly lift and to change to feeling on top of the world. So good that it seems like everyone else is lagging behind you. But Dad does, and he’s told me about it, and I can see the effects it has on his behaviour and on yours. 

I can’t imagine the frustration of that good mood suddenly disappearing and being replaced again by that familiar suffocating fog. 

I can imagine, though, what it is like to have to consider the possibility that you are about to be diagnosed with a mood disorder that you will have for the rest of your life. I wouldn’t be happy about it if it was happening to me. I wonder if you find it irritating that I keep saying things like “it’s going to be OK” and “don’t worry, we’ll manage it together”? I wonder if it annoys you that I am trying to be so calm and relaxed about it all? I wonder if you wish I would stop trying to convince you that it will be alright when I’m not the one who has to actually live with it, and be treated for it, and learn to manage it on a daily basis? 

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve been doing this parenting kids with extra “challenges” thing for a while now, and I’ve learned that even when things seem completely overwhelming all I have to do is wait for a while and they’ll get easier. Honestly. It really is that simple. The crapness of life does move on and become less intrusive and easier to deal with. That doesn’t  mean that on the inside I don’t have a bit of a panic.... or a big panic..... but it does mean that the panics don’t last as long anymore as they used to. 

We do have some crappy stuff to do over the next few weeks, I know. Talking to the psychiatrist won’t be easy. Finding out if you need a diagnosis might make us cry. Getting through the end of the school year will be an effort. Some days getting up and facing the day will be tough. I know you must feel nervous about a lot of things. I do too. Lately I spend a lot of time wondering about the future and trying to anticipate how I will be able to support you. I’m not ever going to say to you that it will be easy. It won’t! But it will be manageable. 

I know it will be manageable because I know that you are an amazing young woman. 

You are compassionate, you are brave. You have grown up in an “unusual” family and had to live daily with things most people never experience. You have become a resourceful and independent person. You are intelligent and you have big dreams. 

At the moment you might not remember these things about yourself, but I do. I know they are true, and I know you will get back to a place of knowing them too, once we have spent some time getting you the right kind of support. I will be here to go through those steps with you. 

I love you.

I am proud of you.

I believe in you.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Being Elastic

What to write about in my first real, non-introductory post? I've been thinking about the ways Bipolar affects our family, and what coping strategies I've had to put in place to keep things working for everyone. The more I think about individual situations, the more I see a pattern developing. The strategy that most often saves us from throwing in the towel is being flexible.

I've been thing about elastic, actually! You know the thick white elastic that is used in the waist band of a pair of pants or a skirt? It's called braided elastic. It has a few rows of rubber elastic stuff bound together, and it is really strong and really stretchy.

Bipolar Disorder has interrupted our lives many times over the years. It has affected relationships, ability to stay in paid work, ability to manage parenting tasks, ability to complete study.... the list goes on. Each time an interruption has occurred, we just change the game plan a bit.

One thing that remains unchanged for us is our commitment as parents to be there for our children. In practical terms this has meant that we make sure there is always a parent available for our kids when they need one. Simply put, we only have one full time paid worker in the house, or we both work part time. There is ALWAYS a parent available to drop everything and go if a child needs us.

Over the years this has taken a few different forms for us. Sometimes Hubby has worked full time and I have been the kids Primary Caregiver. Sometimes I have worked full time and he has been Primary Caregiver. Sometimes we have both worked part time and been part time Caregiver. This sharing of roles has given us the capacity to be very flexible with how we manage running our household and providing the support the kids need. The fact that Hubby is a shift worker adds another element of flexibility that has more often than not allowed the kids to have 2 parents available a lot of the time as well.

For the past 5 years- the longest time since we began parenting that we have stuck with one arrangement!- Hubby has been the Bread Winner and I have been the Caregiver. But we have recently had another Bipolar interruption, and it is becoming time we need to stretch again and do things differently for a while. I think the reason we have been so long in this arrangement is how well Hubby has been. His symptoms have been very well controlled and he has been coping with a full time work load. But, as is often the case in our experience with Bipolar, things can shift, and a bit too much stress here or a bit too little sleep there can cause a shift in mood. The upward lift, which will inevitably be followed by the downward spiral, starts and something needs to change.

For us right now, the main stress for Hubby is his current work environment. Our daughters recent diagnosis of Bipolar has also brought another dynamic to our family. I am in awe at Hubby's strength and resilience in the face of what must be a confronting turn of events for him. But even the best of us need to acknowledge when we need to give ourselves a break. He did that recently when he told me he needs to cut down to a part time work load before his mental health really suffers. The impending birth of our next baby prevents me from going to get work immediately, but I am looking into getting back into paid work next year once we've had a chance to settle the new arrival into our family. In the mean time Hubby is working a few days less each fortnight and we are trimming the budget a bit. It is all about priorities and what we can make work best to look after ourselves holistically.

So we become elastic again, stretching around the bulk and lumps in our lives, still bound together, but navigating a new way of getting around things. Maybe a bit frayed around the edges sometimes, but stretching and coping anyway.

It feels daunting right now, looking at the changes our family will be experiencing next year. We have one starting HSC studies (for those of you reading outside Australia the HSC is our high school leaving certificate which students complete work for over the last 2 years of High School), one moving from a mainstream class into an extension class, one starting High School directly into an extension class, and one starting Kindergarten, a new baby arriving, and Hubby and I adjusting our work arrangements to look after his needs and ensure our financial needs are also met.

Yet I know we will pull it off. Maybe not without hiccups. But if I've learned one thing over the years of supporting Bipolar and Autistic family members it is that we can pull anything off if we remain flexible. Stretching, twisting, pulling back a bit. It seems to work for us. We look a the situation, assess the areas of biggest need then adjust the best way we can to meet the new needs.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A quick introduction

Hi, and welcome to "Being OK with Bipolar".

I am Wife to a Bipolar husband, and Mother to a Bipolar daughter. I have 4 other children, two of whom are Autistic (You can read my writings on parenting Autistic children at my blog "Amazing Adventures"), and one who is due to be born in about 10 weeks.

I will be writing about how Bipolar Disorder affects our family, from my perspective. You will find stories of ups and downs, joys and depression, meds and therapy, stigma and assumptions, and a lot on how we learn about ourselves and just get on with things.

I'm not going to try to sum up our lives in short amusing stories. I'm not going to try to give you instructions on what you should do if you, or someone you know, is diagnosed with Bipolar.

I am just going to write my reflections on our lives, and let you know honestly what we do, how we cope- or don't cope- and how I feel about it all, as someone who doesn't have Bipolar but is trying to support people who do.

If someone out there in cyber land finds that helpful, I'll be glad. If not, at least I have a place to record my thoughts and my family's story.