My kids will be nine and eleven this summer – this is an oldie.
I wrote this blog for The International Bipolar Foundation in 2014. It explains how I first told my children about my bipolar disorder.
Trying to explain Bipolar Disorder to a three year old and a five year old was one of the hardest things I have ever done. How was I going to put this into words that they could understand? Telling them that I was in the hospital because I was tired was more confusing to them. Every single day they saw me taking my medication, and every single day they asked what it was. I finally decided to sit down with them and try to get them to understand. I was just going to wing this one, I couldn’t come up with anything that I thought was age appropriate.
Sitting at the table looking into two sets of the most beautiful blue eyes gave me courage. “You know how when you get the cold or a flu it makes you feel sick and sometimes throw up? Well Mommy has a sick part like that too, but it’s in my brain.”
My oldest piped up right there and said, “you have a tummy bug in your brain? Wow!” I looked at my daughter and knew I could do this. She had just answered all of my questions for me. “Yes honey, I guess I do.” I said. She then asked me what the bug did. “You know when Mommy is really fun and we do lots of different silly things? Well sometimes that’s because the bug is in a silly mood. The bug likes to make cookies late at night with you guys. And when Mommy cries sometimes and I tell you that nothing is really wrong, that’s when the bug is very sad. Also, when Mommy gets angry over little things and she yells a lot, that’s when the bug is angry.” My youngest daughter looked at me kind of funny and said, “Will the bug ever go away?” I shook my head and smiled, “No Baby, the bug will never go away, but the medicine helps the bug to fall asleep.” The two of them pondered this new information for a while and decided that it was pretty cool that there was a bug in my brain.
Obviously they don’t quite understand the entirety of the situation, but I think we’ve found a way to be able to continue the conversations and broaden their understanding when they’re older. We’ve had moments where the bug has woken up, and it helps to have them better prepared for what comes next. They understand that I have to take my medicine everyday, and that the bug will never stop Mommy from loving them. They understand that Mommy is still Mommy, and they don’t have to be scared of the bug. It’s just here and we have to just try to keep it comfy and asleep. They have asked if they will ever have the same kind of bug in their brain and I told them that if they do, we’ll just make it fall asleep like mine and all will be ok. This conversation has opened up many others. The girls both have a better understanding of stigma, and that everyone has something a little different that no one else has, and that everyone, regardless of bugs or not, need to be treated with kindness and respect. They understand a little bit more each day, and for that I am thankful.
Since writing this blog the girls have spoken about my bug to their teachers and their friends. They understand a hell of a lot more than a lot of adults do. I’m very open with my children about my illness, again being as age appropriate as possible. They have a great childhood, but their reality is different from some of their peers. Sometimes we have to do things differently, and that’s ok. We have plans that we put into place if I’m swinging, or my anxiety is too high. They are brilliant kids. They are happy kids. They are compassionate kids.
By Nicole Lyons