I’m 52 years old and bipolar. I ingest a nightly cocktail of four psychotropic meds.
Because both son and mother have notable disabilities, the going, as they say, can get rough. Thank goodness, Sam’s father and my husband, Pete, has both feet planted firmly on the ground and is without mental illness.
How do I effectively parent my beautiful, brilliant and unusual son while my disability is rearing its ugly head?
I have several strategies I use to get through the average day as Sam’s mommy. They include the willingness to try new approaches, optimism, utilizing and trusting medication, having a marital partner/dad to help us in this endeavor, and maintaining a sense of humor, among other things.
First of all, in the case of being willing to try new approaches to both of our disabilities, we’ve both shopped around for the best people to treat us. If a doctor or a therapist isn’t working for either of us, we move on.
Sam has seen a lot of snake oil salesmen. The worst one was the therapist who wanted to sell us $2,000 worth of special music and a fancy pair of headphones to reprogram his brain. Currently, we’re satisfied with Sam’s doctors, but we had to kiss a lot of losers before we could say this.
The losers are out there. I too have had my share of ineffectual mental health practitioners. I was once seeing a psychologist who, instead of squelching the paranoia that sometimes comes with bipolar illness, fanned the flames. I was a nervous wreck.
But I had the sense to move on. My current psychologist is very good at recognizing paranoia and helping me combat it.
Another strategy I use to get through the day with two major disabilities in the house is to try to be optimistic about all things. Sam has the habit of scripting. He recites movie scripts in their entirety. The constant chattering drives me a little crazy. How do I cope? I’m looking forward to a day when he won’t script anymore. I have to be optimistic, have hope that Sam will grow out of this pesky habit. Am I naïve? (If I am, I don’t care.)
I too have to be optimistic about my disorder. Some days, I’m very depressed. It’s agony to get through a day. I moan, I groan, I pray. I hold onto the fact that this too will pass. Optimism helps me get through what’s going on in my brain. And depression does pass.
Next, a third strategy I use to combat two disabilities in the home is utilizing and trusting in medication. As mentioned above, both Sam and I are medicated. And we’re 100 percent compliant. Sam takes his Zoloft and Adderall every day.
I’ve never missed a day of medication in 21 years. My bipolar is so severe that I don’t dare not take my pills; at its worst, my bipolar illness was riddled with delusions. I can’t go back to life like that. I know what’s good for me. I take my meds.
A fourth strategy is relying upon a very normal partner. Pete is the most stable person I know. Cheerful. Constant. I’d never try to raise a disabled child, with my own disability, without a grounded spouse.
Pete and I have been married for 18 years. The day I met him — October 8, 1994 — I knew I was going to marry him. After our date, I drove to my mother’s house, where I was living at the time, woke her up and told her, “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.” Three years later, in 1997, we wed, while I was very mentally ill. My only desire at my wedding was to get through it. In our wedding pictures, I’m not smiling.
Pete is a great daddy to Sam. He’s structured and provides firm boundaries for his son. Sam gets good grades and is happy. Most of all, Pete loves both of us very much. We both have a sense of safety with Pete. He only does what’s best for both of us. He’s our anchor.
Finally, and maybe the most important strategy, is to maintain a sense of humor about the wacky things that occur day to day. For years, Sam was deathly afraid of hand dryers in public bathrooms. He couldn’t handle their deafening noise, couldn’t even go into the bathrooms. For this reason, we had to avoid them. While traveling, we’d stop at rest stops and Sam would urinate on our back tire with Pete and me shielding him from onlookers’ eyes. It was crazy. We had to laugh. If we didn’t, we’d cry.
Pete is naturally funny about everything, not just his family members’ mental illnesses.
I mentioned above that there are other things that allow Sam and me to get through the day with our disabilities. Prayer is a huge tool. Some days, I’ve sat at the kitchen table and prayed for hours. Saint Anne is my favorite saint.
Friends. We couldn’t do it without our friends. I rely on my pals for their prayers and support. Some of my friends I’ve known for my whole life. Sam finds joy in his buddies who share in his excellent sense of humor and quick mind. They also are compassionate when his anxiety kicks up.
Cash. They say money can’t make you happy, but it sure makes things easier. My husband has a good job, and I work part-time. We earn enough to take vacations to nice places three or four times a year. Getting away helps.
Family. My immediate family would be nowhere without the help of our extended families. My 84-year-old mom babysits when I’ve got to get away. My brothers are supportive in teaching Sam new things such as basic plumbing and wiring a lamp, and taking him to fun places like the pool. Pete’s family is just a phone call away. They live in Maine, but Sam’s nanny has the same good sense that her son, Pete, has. She helps me when I freak out about a current crisis. Pete’s sister and our brother-in-law provide a good model for how a completely functional family should work. Sam’s many cousins include them in their lives. He’s the baby cousin, so he gets a lot of attention.
So these are some of the things and techniques that get Sam and Pete and me through the day.
I can’t say it’s easy. If I could change things, I would. But I’ve grown to accept what life has given us.
I have a special-needs little boy. I too have special needs. We get through it together.
The upshot is that Sam and I have acquired quite a bit of empathy for others. We know what it’s like to be broken.
But the strategies above help make us whole.
I’d like to end on a light note.
We also have a special needs dog. He takes pain pills for his arthritis, and tranquilizers for his nerves. The pain pills help the dog get up the stairs. When it’s about to thunderstorm, I give Jesse a Valium. He falls asleep while the storm rages outside, the lightning crackling in the sky and the thunder making all of us a little nervous.
Mom and son photo available from Shutterstock