If I describe my moods, I might sound like the child: Difficult, defiant, quick to lose temper, sometimes inconsolably sad, often jumpingly happy, withdrawn, outgoing, inconsistent.
I’m a contradiction come alive. I can change as quickly as the weather in fall, and then change back again, and then off again. Like a child.
The trouble is, and it’s more trouble for my wife than for me, we already have a child. We need to be stable and consistent to help mold our daughter’s character and behavior.
Usually I’m level and a good parent. But at times I lose it. At those times I’m as needy as an eight-year-old. Yet there’s already one of them in the house, looking to me for guidance. I’m not always the best example.
But maybe I am.
With a lot of people’s help, most definitely my wife’s and my parent’s, and for sure my doctor’s, I have learned to manage bipolar disorder and live a life that has made me able to marry, have a child and stick with it. The stupid decisions of unpredictable moods are behind me, although the occasional mixed-episode makes good health, and good choices, sometimes difficult.
And it makes me difficult.
But I have learned how to manage adversity and overcome the long odds that predicted that I’d be lost for good. If I can teach those coping skills to my daughter, if I can be an example of how to live life in the face of adversity, I think that will be parenting well-done.
Part of this parenting is to let one’s kid know that changing, challenging moods are OK. Violent ones are bad; ones that hurt people are bad; but moods that rock the world from time to time are perfectly natural.
However, I, and many of the people around me, are quick to pathologize my rough moods and write them off to my having bipolar disorder. This is not good for me, and it’s certainly not good for my daughter.
A kid has to learn to express herself. If she sees her parent expressing himself a little too exuberantly, and people close to them blaming that on a disease, she may think expressive moods are wrong. She may think her own moods are borne of illness and undesirable.
That’s one way to make an innocent child feel guilty.
Some parents are prone to be moody, some are quick to anger and others are gloomy, but only a few are this way and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When the occasional parent is accused of going off into an episode again, even while exhibiting behavior that plenty of “normal” parents show, that’s damaging to a child. Who’s to know what is crazy and what is not.
Or what is expected and acceptable and what is not.
I try to be consistent, but so do all parents, with or without bipolar disorder. I’m open and honest about my disease, but I’ll never use it as an excuse for bad behavior or bad parenting. I don’t want my daughter to make excuses for damage she does, either, so my wife and I focus on what an individual can influence and how to take personal responsibility.
Positioned well to a child, a parent’s mental illness can be viewed as a health challenge like any other. The parent with bipolar disorder that lives right, takes their meds and includes others in their recovery is no different from a parent managing diabetes, or MS, or cancer.
Sure, things with illness that are beyond our control can happen, but if a parent with bipolar disorder focuses on what they can control and strives toward wellness, they’re much more likely to be an effective, positive parent and a tremendous role model to their child.
Love is necessary to heal, and love is necessary to create a family and raise a confident, compassionate child. Neither good things nor bad things come from your challenges. They come from how you handle obstacles thrown in your way.
Don’t blame bipolar disorder or use it as an excuse when parenting. And don’t let others do it, either. You can succeed or fail on your own terms. Bipolar disorder is merely something you have, not who you are.
If you exercise self discipline, think well of yourself, and think well of others, it is within you to be a wonderful parent.
There’s a great resource for parents with bipolar disorder published by CAMH. You can find it at the link below: