Love Through Bipolar

This post might be triggering, as it discusses loving someone with a mental illness, so here is the official **TRIGGER WARNING** Topics discussed in this post include bipolar disorder and loss.

I Was Enchanted

I could go on for a while about all the good things about Jake because there were so many.

But yet, he struggled, like many of us do. When I met him, I really had no idea. Mental illness really isn’t the first thing most people talk about when they first meet someone. In fact, our first conversation was about Julian. However, ADHD and autism is a whole different story from bipolar disorder.

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Jake had beautiful blue eyes and a smile that would melt your heart. I didn’t know that he hid so much, even up until the very last day I saw him, the day before he died.

Meds and the Truth

I’ve tried many medications for migraines and one just happened to be Depakote. This is also used to treat mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder. We were talking about this one day and finally…

I take that too, but not for migraines.”

What?? Was this it? I’d been waiting for Jake to say something. I’d seen signs of something going on, but I wasn’t sure what. Sometimes we would talk constantly and then go days without speaking. His birthday had just gone by and instead of wanting to hang out, he had said he’d rather be alone. He’d even told me he considered himself as a “project” for me to take on. I didn’t see him like that at all and made sure he knew it.

“What do you take it for?”

He looked away for a minute and then back. “Because I have bipolar disorder.”

Well, then, that was explained. He actually asked me if that changed how I felt about him (nope, not even a little). Apparently, this had caused issues in the past. Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with it, but that’s still really painful for the person involved.

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“The stakes are high, the water’s rough..” – “Ours”, Taylor Swift

Jake’s darker side did make a few appearances, but never once did he get aggressive towards me. We argued a bit, but that’s it. In two years, he only yelled at me twice. Me? More. But then, I’m just naturally loud.

Meds? It’s a well-known fact that many people that have bipolar disorder (and other illnesses) have compliance issues with taking medications, and he was one of them. Along with his brother, I tried to remind and encourage him to take his medications, but it didn’t always work.

Jake and I learned how to read each other- I have always been good at reading others. Thanks to this skill, I was able to tell when he was or wasn’t taking his meds, or when he was or wasn’t having a good day. This helped on his end when I was deeply upset and didn’t want to talk.

He tried so hard to hide this from me, but I still saw everything. I told him that I wasn’t scared of what he was trying to hide. I needed to see it to know what I was dealing with. There were days he just wasn’t the person I knew. He wouldn’t talk or return my texts, but everything was in his eyes.

In his manic episodes, he’d barely sleep, get paranoid (this went really bad a couple months before he died and we didn’t speak for a month), and other things would happen. In a depressive episode, he basically shut down. I would literally have to wait for him to come out of these periods.

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Google Became My Friend

I started researching. I knew a lot already about mental illness, but how to love someone with one? Totally clueless. I learned to give Jake his space, even though it hurt. I made sure he knew I was there when he needed me. I learned not to take everything so deeply, especially if he was agitated and it just wasn’t him. None of this was easy, and it hurt so much to watch him struggle.

This wasn’t perfect, not from the first day. Let’s start with the fact that I’m married. Jake was a huge flirt, and that’s a whole different post. I had to learn that just because he didn’t show me that he cared in the ways I thought he should have didn’t mean he didn’t care at all. He just cared differently. He made sure I took my migraine meds and had breakfast at work, asked me daily how Julian was doing, let me cry, and among many other things, he cared about me for me. That is the best thing he could have done. I did exactly the same for him.

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I know you can’t love someone out of a mental health situation, but you can definitely help them through it. Love helps with that. Jake was a bit quiet and distant in the days before his death, but none of us saw anything like what would happen on September 1, 2015, coming.

It is entirely possible to love someone with a mental illness. Just remember to take care of yourself, don’t let them get away with everything because of whatever they may have and as always, reach out if you need to.

NAMI

DBSAlliance

RA and Me

I wrote a post a while back about having chronic illnesses and being a mom. Chronic Conditions and Momming was written before my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.

1. My older sister has lupus and we had the same rheumatologist at one point. Once we discovered this, we thought it was hilarious. There’s a lot of rheumatologists in Louisville, and we ended up with the same one?

2. My grandfather had severe RA. He died in 2016 at the age of 83. His hands were curled up from the severe joint deformities. He took medications for it, but still had issues that weren’t able to be reversed.

3. I am currently taking a mild medication daily. I had to wait for my thyroid meds to be regulated before I could start RA meds. That sucked but things are good in this area. (Short version: I’m on Levothyroxine due to a partial thyroidectomy in 2017.) Joint pain is REAL.

4. My biggest issues? Joint pain in my hands, knees, and hips. Like many others, I’m super stiff in the mornings and it takes at least an hour to loosen up. Hot showers help. Moving around does help but also hurts. Eventually, the stiffness goes away. Usually. If it doesn’t, then it’s a bad pain day, which leads me to #5.

5. I don’t like taking pain meds. They make me tired and nobody has time for that mess. I usually won’t take them unless I can barely move. I’ll use a heating pad, massage, stretch, etc. The pain meds I do have, however, are non-narcotic.

My doctor is pretty smart- probably not a good idea to prescribe a recovering alcoholic hardcore narcotics. She probably enjoys having a license to practice.
Rheumatoid arthritis sucks. I hate missing out on things because I’m tired, hurting, or both.

Pic with Cameron

It’s possible to live life with chronic conditions. I have two. Some days are just worse than others. I can get through them with humor and my support system.

If you have a chronic condition, how do you get through it?

Adjusting to a New World

Many parents, myself included, envision parenting as this wonderful adventure in which kids develop at the pace they should, play instruments and/or sports, learn to drive, go to prom and all that great stuff.

But what happens when those things are altered because of a special needs diagnosis?

Cry a little

The Big Change

Some parents find out about their child’s diagnosis before or right after birth, in cases of Spinal Bifida, Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome. I know parents of kids with these diagnoses, and it has been life changing for these families. All of them have other kids without any special needs.

The adjustment is hard. I cried my way through Lily’s evaluation for First Steps the day before her first birthday, even though I knew something was not going right. I knew she needed more help than what I could give her. That story can be found in Special Needs Round Two . When her diagnosis of global delays was given, I was even more devastated. The blame game began. It took a lot of talking with Lily’s speech therapist, Denise, to realize that it wasn’t my fault that she was developmentally delayed. We are in the process of getting Lily re-evaluated. At ten, she is still showing signs of issues that we thought she had grown out of. Cross your fingers for us- we may need it.

In Julian’s case, it’s been a tougher road. His psychiatric nurse practitioner, Ann, once said that we have adjusted wonderfully as a family to Julian’s needs. I almost hugged her. I explained to her that it has not been easy and it remains a somewhat rugged path. My question is: Why not adjust? Julian is wired differently and that’s okay. If we didn’t adjust, he would feel badly about himself and I couldn’t bear the thought of this. It would also cause so much chaos for him that he doesn’t need or deserve. It would do the same for the rest of us. Why do that?

He needs the ability to feel okay about who he is, quirks and all. We’ve enjoyed watching him grow and finally develop a sense of humor. Every kid needs that, with or without a diagnosis. In a home with medical issues, this is a necessity.

I have made many mistakes in raising Julian (and his siblings). Even after reading up, trying many different things, therapy for both of us, getting Matthew on board and lots of burnt dinners in the process, things remain interesting. Julian is now 12 and puberty is kicking in.

Learning that your child has a medical and/or physical special needs diagnosis is complex. Some parents grieve the life they feel their child “should have had”. This is a rough one for me, as I’ve never done this. I can see this happening with kids with severe medical problems. A high school friend of mine has a child with spinal bifida and she lives a full life. Instead of being devastated and staying in a hole as some might, Shelly and her kids go out and do all kinds of neat things. Ryan is eight, and she is one of the coolest kids ever. She’s a tiny fighter. Some parents, like myself, are devastated and are not sure where to go next. Some fall into the “research pattern” and find all kinds of information to know exactly what to do.

This can be a great thing- I have read up a lot on Julian’s diagnoses and it didn’t hurt to work with kids with similar issues. (It did physically hurt some days, but that’s another story. I learned a lot from that job.) Some parents, sadly, go into denial. This can be damaging to everyone involved, and I highly recommend seeing a therapist, church member, or another trusted person. If it’s your partner, this can get really bad quickly, and I definitely know the pain of where it can go. Please do what you can to change that path. Talking can help. Easing your partner into information, appointments, and other things can help. Just don’t force them, because that can make things worse.

I recommend reading up, asking questions, and getting all the help from the medical community you can. The more information you have, the more empowered you feel to help your child. Julian’s been very lucky- he has had a great team from day one, because I wouldn’t let him have anything less. I’m a proud mama shark.

Never give up

It’s okay to feel different things- don’t let anyone make you feel different. Julian was diagnosed almost seven years ago, and some days I still feel overwhelmed. As of writing this post, I’m about to battle it out with his school over his IEP because it’s currently not being followed. Some days are better than others. Some days are absolutely great, some are so bad that you want to devour a liter of Cherry Coke, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and call it a day. (Okay, maybe that’s just me. I didn’t do all of that, but I considered it.) If you’re overwhelmed, write it out. Get someone to help you sort out your feelings.

Making The Best of Things

Daily life also changes. Depending on the diagnosis, your child may need assistance with everything, or nothing at all. This can become time-consuming and require an overhaul of your routine as you knew it. Food may need to be altered due to sensory issues- I live in a house with two kids with sensory issues, and I gave up on those battles years ago. Julian won’t eat french fries if he can see the potato skins or if they aren’t super warm. Lily won’t eat anything that resembles soup, any pasta that isn’t spaghetti, mainly because it looks different. Julian actually had a meltdown once over the shape of pasta my father in law used for dinner. These changes can be irritating to make, but they are necessary for the world our kids live in. I’ve learned to look inside Julian’s mind a bit, probably because of my work, and try to see the world as he does. It can get hard, but it’s worth it. Explaining this to others can get even harder, even your partner.

Small steps

It takes time to adjust- it won’t happen overnight. It takes time to learn how your child’s machines work, or how to get the wheelchair to fit in your van. Give yourself space to make those mistakes. I completely screwed up Julian’s 12th birthday party by inviting too many people, which cause him to shut down at the end, but I’m pretty sure he still likes me. He used to get mad at me when I would hold onto him with a death grip in parking lots and large stores, but he had a bad record of eloping. It was terrifying to have to run after a very fast 5 year old, especially in a parking lot. He was seven before I let him walk more than a foot or two away from me. (I never used a leash because I hate those things.)

If you’ve got a kid who takes things literally, you have to change how you talk to them. For example, I once told Julian to drop the jar of jelly he was holding after he was told not to eat anything. I was making dinner and he didn’t need to eat so soon before.

He dropped the jar.

Major mom fail.

Thankfully, the jar was plastic. That would have been an awful mess otherwise. Matthew and I have had to re-think things before we say them, because Julian thinks differently, and so does Lily, to an extent. We are still trying to figure out her thought patterns. She doesn’t quite think on a 10-year-old level, so we have to tread carefully.

Super parent

Final Thoughts and Tips:

If you have to buy things to keep your house, kid and car safe, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

It really does take a village. I have friends that have kids with all kinds of physical/ developmental disabilities. A few have kids with autism, and they have been so helpful when I’ve needed them.

Being a parent of a special needs kid will make you a different person. I’ve fought for Julian since day one. Lily’s issues haven’t required so much of a fight, but I would do the same for her. It makes you tougher and less likely to take people’s crap.

Breathe and find something that makes you laugh. Comedy will get you through anything.

Get a binder and organize all of your kid’s paperwork. Julian and Lily have their own binders.

You are not alone, and get help if you need it. Take time for you, because your kids need Mom at her best. If you’re tired, sad and cranky, that’s not your best.

If you have other kids, let them be involved in adjustments. It’s not easy to be the sibling of a special needs kid. My kids have been pretty good about Julian, but it can get hard for us as parents. Cameron and Lily have a post about this in The Siblings’ Turn

Allow your child to live their best life. If they can do it- let them. My friend Laura Leigh’s son, Levi, is seven. He is in a wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy, and he is an awesome kid. He smiles for days, gives his younger sister Presley wheelchair rides and loves school. I let Julian run cross country in the fifth grade and he loved it. We have a rule that his diagnoses aren’t excuses for not behaving. He does have bad days, but he doesn’t get to say, “I’ve got autism, so I get to act like that”, “I forgot my ADHD meds, that’s why I’m like this today”.

Most of all, love and accept your child the way they are. It might sound weird that I wrote that, but it is saddening that many parents don’t. Acceptance and love matters- it’s everything.

Quotes courtesy of Pinterest

Recommended Reading: The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

Twin Mummy and Daddy

Raising Boys and Girls: The Differences

My boys were born in 2005 and 2006. I thought I’d never have a daughter and felt a small amount of sadness.

A small change occurred in 2008 in the form of a little girl, Lily. She even got her own post, My Dream Girl

I didn’t think there were many differences between raising boys and girls- at first. I must have been in a sleepy haze or serious denial. Now that I’ve caught up on a few years of sleep, I’m much wiser.

Ladies First…

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Lily at the Louisville Zoo, Summer 2018

I was once a little girl. I couldn’t have been that difficult to raise, right? I asked my mom if I was as dramatic, loud and messy af as Lily is. We call her room “the kid version of “Hoarders” because it’s never clean for more than a day. My mother told me yes, I was loud (I’m still loud at 35, no shocker), dramatic, but not quite at her level of messy.

THANKS, MOM.

Puberty has come for us and the current situation is buying bras. I had to get her a real bra recently, not just the cute sports bras. Yikes. She’s 10. Is this a thing? I skipped training bras and went straight to regular ones.

We’re a bit gentler on Lily. She’s more sensitive than her brothers and still may be developmentally delayed. (She is getting evaluated very soon.) That requires a different mindset. I have to teach her different things- to know her worth as the woman she will become, how to say “no” and not feel bad, caring for others (as in a family, should she have one) and many other things. The boys will get the same lessons but obviously slightly tweaked.

Lily loves clothes and has shown interest in makeup which is a great thing. I can’t wait to see this develop. This is just a glimpse into the fun parts of raising a daughter.

The Boy Brigade

Arch pic

Cameron and Julian in the cart at the Arch

These guys have been full of adventure since birth. They have really lived up to the hype of “boys get into everything”. Once Julian was able to walk and talk, the joint adventures began. They have rode in laundry baskets down our stairs, made a slip n slide on the kitchen floor, slid down the driveway on sleds, gotten injured together (Julian ended up with staples in his head) and many more things.

Now they team up to see who can annoy Lily and Mom the most.

Most of the time, the boys are low-maintenance and I appreciate this. Sometimes. I don’t appreciate them wearing the same socks for four days in a row, using their bed as a trash can or any of the other many gross things they do. Ew. My boys have shared a bedroom since Lily was born. They’re cool with this, probably because they can stay up late, talk and plot to take over the universe.

Science center bubble

Julian making a bubble at the Louisville Science Center

Being the mom of two boys has lowered my shock factor. At this point, if someone isn’t bleeding, broken a bone or the house isn’t on fire, I’m good. As of writing this, two out of the three have occurred- no worries, my house has never caught on fire. Boys have been much easier to raise- they do get mad, they cry, but with a lot less drama involved.

Well, with one. Julian and Lily participate in what I call “The Petty Olympics” to see who can fight over the smaller things. This, of course, is when Mom is done for the day, maybe even the week.

We feed them, keep them clean, medicate them (both are on meds- Cameron takes one for migraines and SVT and Julian has his ADHD meds) and love them. I think they’re doing pretty well. Keeping them clean is a bit interesting- their showers are destroying our water bill. Lily needs a bit more to keep going but some kids do. We’re okay with that.

Magic house pic

Cameron at the Magic House in St. Louis

I’ve been very lucky to been able to have these kids. All jokes aside, they complete my life.

Do you have kids of both sexes? What differences have you seen? If you don’t have kids, what do you think?

Twin Mummy and Daddy

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