Balance by Anonymous

I haven't been writing on my blog consistently over the past couple years. The thing that stopped me from writing has been difficult to articulate. It's a thing so big that the thought of stopping to write about it trivializes the magnitude of it's impact on my son's and my life.

I've had time to write, plenty of time. But instead of writing, I've been immersing myself in coping strategies: going to therapy, knitting, reading, walking my dog in the woods, doing countless sudoku puzzles. I've worked my job and volunteered for worthy causes and have tried (and likely failed) to connect with my friends and family.

I've tried.

As I start a new year, I'm finding myself wanting to roar a little bit because the quiet (and not so quiet) battle that's been waged in my home every day for the past 18 mos is the stuff of miracles. I know I can't do it justice, but perhaps I can write a little with the hope that other folks going through this won't feel so alone.

This big Thing I'm trying to write about it mental illness. My only child, a high school senior, experiences symptoms of bipolar disorder every day. Even though we're fairly open about it, the stigma around mental illness manages to slap us in the face constantly. I spend some time with NAMI and other advocacy groups to get support for myself and my family. I know that when I'm no longer in the thick of it, I will move on to advocacy more publicly. But for now, while my son is symptomatic and still in my care, I do what I can in my quiet way.

For the past several years, symptoms have been creeping into our household. They show up as cast of characters, all with personalities of their own - unwelcome in my quiet life - yet they barge into my home with little to no warning. 

Mania usually shows up when the seasons change. Mania is outwardly goofy and silly, has amazingly complex views on the world and is outrageously creative. Mania is pissed off at people who can't think as fast as he can and swears at folk with such brilliance that it would be awesomely funny if it didn't cut so badly. Mania doesn't need to sleep, has to move all the time, and can sometimes walk for 20+ miles before realizing how far he's gone. Mania recently lost over 20 pounds in a month's time (he's not that hungry). Sometimes Mania's mom calls to check in and he finds himself three towns away near no recognizable landmarks. Mania sometimes makes wild and dangerous plans, packs his bags in the middle of the night, and simply disappears. Mania (and his pal Depression below) often turns off his cellphone after he leaves the house so no one will bother him. 

Mania is a jerk, but is sometimes so fluidly brilliant it's like being in the presence of a the most inspiring motivational speaker you've ever seen. Mania has dancing eyes, paces a lot, and talks super fast. He's kind of a rockstar, if he weren't so sick.

But, Mania often self-medicates and sometimes ends up in the ER. Every so often, Mania needs the police to come calm him down, and rarely (but still too often) Mania needs to go hang out in a hospital for a few days to get back on track.

Once, in 2012, Mania brought his friends Paranoia and Psychosis. I can't even type about those guys. They're terrible and frightening. They convinced my boy that the people who loved him were conspiring with the government to control his brain. Angels from places I didn't even know about swooped in and got those symptoms under control. I got my boy back two weeks later, beat up and scarred, but alive.

People who don't see these symptoms everyday really can't comprehend how the staying alive part is such a miracle. Most people who throw around words like psychotic and paranoid truly don't understand the pathology of those words, and they should consider themselves blessed that they don't ever have to see the close up.

When Mania is around, I often pine away for the calmer cold days of winter, until I remember the unwelcome guest in Depression. Depression usually shows up during the shorter darker days. He is also a jerk and sometimes hangs out with Hypomania - who is just chronically pissed off. Many of us think we know Depression, and foolishly encourage him to load up on Family Guy  episodes or a dose of John Stewart. Some people pshaw at the melancholy and don't understand how he can't appreciate all the gifts he has in this world. Depression laughs at this shit. He's a pretty powerful guy and even though it looks like his regular routine is sleeping a lot and sighing heavily, he's often behind the scenes, insidiously convincing my boy that it's too hard, that this planet sucks, and leaving is the best possible choice.

Again, the staying alive part? Miracle.

My child is in there. He beats the shit out of all of these symptoms on a regular basis. He throws a routine at them, a good sleep schedule, medications, solid friendships and family relationships and an amazing school full of folks who get it. He gets up and goes to school every day even when he doesn't want to.  Though my son is brilliant and was on a college prep track years ago, my silent mantra during his high school career has been "alive and graduated...alive and graduated." (psst: he's set to graduate in a few short months - if you're the prayerful type - remember us.)

His will to survive is awe inspiring, even when his mom doesn't feel inspired when a random f-word gets thrown her way. (During symptomatic episodes, a one f-word day is a good day.) I've had to seek my own therapy to stay balanced enough to support my boy, and when I joke and say I have PTSD due to all we've been through, my therapist reminds me that it's no joke. 

Every day in our house we scrape and swear and peer through the fog reaching for rungs on the stability ladder, but it's still a battle. NAMI teaches a course called Family-to-Family that helps family members support their loved ones with mental illness. That class likens the onset of symptoms to a bomb going off and the rest of the family experiencing collateral damage. The shrapnel in my family is everywhere. Cleaning up after an episode is nearly as exhausting as getting my son through a manic or depressive phase. As I begin this new year, I find myself with an almost stable child, cleaning up an excessive (excessive, I tell you) debris field.

I wanted to write here anonymously because, well, I need to protect my son's privacy - it's his decision to disclose his disease. That's a tough call for me because I don't want to contribute to the culture of mental health stigma, but I know I'll be out there one of these days. 

I know many Derfs are on their own journey and even though I don't participate much here, I felt inspired to write in this safe community. 

Be grateful for your mental health and the balanced brains in your family, Derfs, and if you or any of your people need help - get it.


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Reader Comments (37)

Well written and insightful.
Thank you.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermeredith@whynotpottery

This is a fantastic description of what you are going through, and also my worst nightmare. I have a very smart 8 year old son with a lot of mental illness in his genes. Thank you for sharing this.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

I too have an only child at the same age and I can't begin to imagine what you are going through right now. It is just so scary. Thank you for writing this and letting others know what is going on. Too often people choose to look away from those suffering from mental illnesses. You and your son will be in my prayers.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Very powerful. My daughter has struggled with anorexia for over two years now; thankfully, she is doing very well. I hope your son's treatment team is able to find the right mix of medications and therapy to help him live a (mostly) happy life. Not sure there has even been a truer statement than "A mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child." I will keep you in my thoughts re: making it through high school graduation.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJenn @ Juggling Life

Thank you for writing this. It's so hard watching your child hurt. I'm glad he is stable right now, and hopefully will stay that way for a long time.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJessie - a different one

Such an incredible description of what your son's life and your life is like! We who are on a more balanced path would never imagine what life is like with this illness. Thank you for sharing. Please keep in touch.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

Thank you for sharing. Your son will be in my prayers.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Sending positive thoughts and prayers your way.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen H

I read this and empathized. My daughter has Aspergers, and though we are past this stage for now, she had incredibly frightening episodes when she was younger, self abuse, violence,screaming and hateful speech, and I had to learn physical restraining moves in order to protect myself and her. Those years were so lonely and I was afraid to really tell anyone what my home life with my precious daughter was like, I knew they would judge and look at her as some kind of monster. I hid bruises, literal and figurative. When a parent has a very beloved child that is outside of the normal functioning mode, the parent becomes frightfully isolated. I hope you can let us provide what little long distance support is possible. Sometime a phone number to call, a place to leave a comment, or an email address where you know you can get a lift will be the saving grace of a bad parenting day. I hope if my daughter ebbs back into manic behavior that I can show as much fortitude as yourself.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermolly

Knowing you, and the boy since he was very young and not showing signs of all of his friends, I want you to know that you are my hero. You are so patient, kind and good, and roll with the punches - even sometimes literally. I wish I were closer, and able to hoist a glass of wine. We will do that soon. {{{hugs}}} <3

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

Oh, sweet friend. Thank you for sharing your experience, and thank you for being such an amazing, strong mama. I will keep you in my prayers.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCha Cha

Oh my goodness. You are amazing. I don't know how I could ever find the strength that you have. I will think often of you and your son.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Snow

I read this with recognition and enormous empathy. My best friend struggles with similar demons. After several years of irritation, denial and misunderstanding, I finally realize that my job is just - to be here. To accept her whenever/however she can show up, and to let her know that I love and support her no matter what.

It's tough from as outside as I am - thank you for sending us insights from the front lines.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBriget

You are a hero in battle. Prayers lifted. Please keep us updated when you can.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren (formerly kcinnova)

Thank you for all the kind and wise words, people. It's true that I live a 'you can't make this shit up' sort of life. It's so important for people to know that they are not alone in this. There are so many supportive organizations our there full of people who truly get it. I volunteer with NAMI, as I said in the post, but also another awesome organization called The Balanced Mind (, which is part of Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance ( I urge anyone impacted by mental illness to seek out a community of understanding people. Connection is everything and it's made all the difference in supporting my awesome son. :-)
(ps: Hi Kathy!xoxo)

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

Thank you for this post. It is very helpful. Stay strong.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

Thank you for opening your life to us. I have a loved one with bipolar in a manic phase right now. Your words are extremely close to home.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercardinal

Your son is lucky to have such an in tune mother. We should all be so fortunate. You are on my prayer list.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterannabelle

Mental illness is no joke. Thanks for your honesty. I hope the day arrives when your son can share his disorder with no shame. Illness is illness and no one should feel guilty or less than because of it.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

In the past couple of years there has been a creeping attitude shift toward mental disorders and illness. People are talking about it more and publicly. Several Members of Parliament have even stood up during (public) debates in The Commons and stated their own previous or ongoing mental conditions. This is what needs to happen; for people who can to speak publicly so those who can't have a voice.

My genetics are full of mental health issues and I grew up with a sibling who was/is paranoid schizophrenic. I tell my children to look after themselves mentally as much as they do physically, that their mental state needs as much care and attention as their bodies. Knowledge is power and we must hope that public knowledge brings acceptance. Thank you for sharing and know that all you are going through you are not alone. We survivors of the explosions are many. I wait to hear about the fabulous day of your boy's graduation from High School.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertrash

I've written this note and erased it many times. All I really want to say is thank you. Thank you for your road map in how to stay strong, thank you for your analogy, thank you for your steadfastness, thank you for writing so candidly. And also that you and yours are in my thoughts and prayers as we travel a similar road.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarb Cooper

This is a brilliant piece. All of your words, but especially our words about his strength and commitment are amazing.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAdah

The unwanted guest in my daughter's home is Anxiety, who was rude enough recently to bring along her pets, a little family of peptic ulcers, 3 large and 7 small. The pets have their own friends, Pain and Vomiting, who have been wreaking havoc for the last two weeks.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterunmitigated me

You and your son are badasses! You are both working so hard to get through this alive, and your focus on keeping yourself healthy during this is an important lesson to all parents/friends/caregivers/whatever of people with a mental illness. Thank you for this post. You're right, it is important to take the stigma away. You two deserve sashes, medals and so much more. Thank you for sharing.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJessie

An accurate description of this insidious illness. My brother-in-law was bi-polar. He insisted on self-medication and spoke often of how he "couldn't afford" treatment. He made choices that he had no way of making properly. My poor DH was so understanding of it all. It broke my heart to see how his brother's illness affected my DH's normally optimistic, cheerful personality.
I will pray for you and your son. Your strength is amazing.
Once again, I am amazed by this "community" thank you all for being there for all of us when we need you.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlbug

Well written. My sister and I had a nice conversation Friday for over two hours. That's the most we've talked in a couple of decades, and the longest it's been pleasant . . . well, maybe ever. I'm wondering as she's gone through menopause if fewer hormones have lessened her bi-polar. She's smart - leaving high school just after turning seventeen to start college (partially due to problems at school but still ready for college), then going through trauma that I feel I have no right to share; those are her stories despite the effects on the family and friends.

I don't think one of my brothers will ever be right, but I hope he never lives on the streets again. He should live until he's old old old but drugs - self-medicating - or alcohol or something or someone may take him out. He was so smart, so witty once, but substance abuse has taken away much of that.

Another brother puts up a front he thinks fools everyone but then, his circle of friends is tiny, and I need to call him today so he'll feel loved. Such a handsome man, think Tom Cruise blended with Pierce Bronson (I am not exaggerating), and smart too. He's in a fantasy world and I hope it lasts as long as he.

Is it the intelligence? Am I nuts too? There are six of us and I see the loose bits in all and wonder how many I have dangling by a thread, hoping I'm okay too.

I do have one friend who is amazing! And bipolar. She functions, she makes great art when she can, she works in delivery ("Just enough interaction with people, the coffee shop was too much"), and understands that though the medication stops those highs it also stops the lows. We don't talk often, maybe once a year, but seeing her thrive, I'm proud to be her friend.

Your writing touched me in places that are tender and will probably never heal, but it's okay. Better tender than hard and dead. You and your son seem to be finding a way, reaching for the hands and guidance and holding on. May the way become peacefully regular. My heart is with you.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenternaomi d

Dear One, you are brave and beautiful and while I have missed your words in the blogosphere I am so grateful that you have other outlets to get the support and therapies you need. Hugs and prayers for you and The Boy. xoxo

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Your post brought back harrowing memories of one of my own child's battles with bipolar disorder. I too sought therapy for myself. Your description of PTSD fits so well what I experienced. I wished so much I could fix, help, repair, understand, make a difference in her life but instead I felt like a whipping post and enabler. Not sure how I survived. Fortunately her symptoms haven't been as intensive as your son has experienced and multiple medications and stable, predictable daily routines have worked wonders. She has married an amazing man who loves her not in spite of her illness but including her illness. I thank God for him every day and pray for him as well. I still hold my breath when she's around but I no longer flinch. That's progress. I add you and your son to my prayers. There is help and hope and I wish you both and more.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKtilby

This is one of the most powerful essays that I have ever read. Please find a way for your voice to get out there, it might bring comfort to you and it will certainly bring comfort to others.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterThe Other Kay

Your strength and honesty is both beautiful and refreshing. As someone who lives with this disorder, I thank you for your insightful roar. ;) Your son is blessed to have you is his life. Stay strong.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterE

E - thank you. Your perspective is so important.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

Thank you for sharing. You are an amazing parent.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Very insightful. Thank you for sharing. I will be praying.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. Insight like that is invaluable.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

thank you so much for putting that out there ... can't imagine what the 24/7 heartache and intensity and guts it takes to keep moving, keep living, and keep loving. for both of you. love and prayers, please keep us updated. xo.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbethany

Anonymous, Big hugs. My daughter is 25 and we've been in 'crisis' since 2007 - the day I found her comatose in her college dorm after her first psychotic break. (Schizoaffective/Bi-Polar 1) You did a beautiful job of putting the pain in plain english. NAMI is a strong support but please, think forward and work with your son to make plans for his future and for your involvement in his future. The hardest thing to accept is when they realize they can use the system to cut you out of their case management loop. You're doing wonderfully, taking care of you so you can take care of him and reaching out for all the resources and supports available to you. Blessings every day, meak

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMainely Alaskan

Thank you for a beautifully written, difficult and loving piece. Your boy is amazing! I'm a praying woman, and I will hold him (and you!) in those prayers. Thank you for taking the time to share this with us!

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Carol

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