I started this site in the spring of 2017 after a week during which I’m pretty sure my nine year old daughter Ruth had her first manic episode. Five days of intense insomnia, hyperfocused list-making, irritability, talkativeness… I know the signs and symptoms. My mom has bipolar disorder. Her illness cost her her marriage, countless jobs, her life savings, her physical health, and the trust of all three of her children.
Although I walked away from my childhood with the double whammy of depression and crippling anxiety, I was always thankful that I never got the manic part of the equation. I always chalked up my own problems to having grown up the oldest of three under the chaotic reign of a single mom with a serious mental illness. I never thought about genes. It didn’t occur to me until recently that the curse might skip a generation. I can only hope it was something else, not bipolar. Hormones? Weather? Allergies? I’m keeping my mind open and hopeful. That’s what I do.
Roo had been diagnosed with a mood disorder (depression) at age 8 after a truly terrible year in 2nd grade. In-depth testing found an IQ in the 85th percentile, a marked difficulty with social situations, and a significant “dyslexia like” learning disorder. These findings finally explained not only her struggles with reading and time-telling, but also the violent “LD <–> depression” cycle that trapped and hobbled her every time she failed at an academic task with which her peers had no trouble. That was bad enough news, especially given my own unsteady emotional situation. I was scared and worried about the future.
But just as I had long despised and resented my own depression, I quickly came to despise and resent hers: it was the enemy, and enemies must be defeated. Things go best when I’m not in a depression myself and am able to keep her afloat with gentle positivity, reassurance, skill building, understanding, nurturing, and cooperative problem-solving. I got her a therapist, group support for social skills, a psychiatrist (no meds yet…), a learning disability tutor, coaches for the fun stuff she seems to enjoy, and on and on and on. And things aren’t awful anymore. We have our cycles, of course. We have days on end when she drags herself around like a half-drowned kitten, unresponsive, forgetful, and weepy. My heart screams for her.
But then, the days turn into weeks, and the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, and the fog lifts, and every now and then, I see a smile. And my happy little girl comes out to play. And my heart sings. Until the next time.
Oh! I almost forgot in all this talk about mood and anxiety. I’m also lucky enough to have ADD. Not the H part, sadly–since being a little hyperactive might help me burn off some of this energy. Just plain old ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder. My weakest areas are in task initiation, prioritization, procrastination, and time management. Basically, I get overwhelmed when projects or tasks seem to complex at first glance, and I have to wage and win a serious internal battle just to get started on any sort of project that is going to take longer than 15 minutes. Which makes it really challenging to help manage a sad (and now sometimes manic!) little girl with a learning disorder. But not impossible. Coping mechanisms are really helpful. I have all kinds of tricks, from delaying gratificaton to setting a million reminders a day on my phone. Another coping mechanism that helps shut down the voice inside my head that runs 24 hours a day is to write, to dump those thoughts out into the world outside my skull.
That’s why I’m here.
ps: I’m a writer, so I’m used to writing, letting it sit, going back and editing, and sending it off by a deadline. Here, I do no editing, I don’t revisit, and I’ve got no deadlines. We’ll see how it goes. Vamanos.