Teacher Professor

February 8, 2010

An Unwilling Expert

Filed under: Bipolar — Teacher Professor @ 4:49 pm

I got a very unusual phone call today.  A local man is writing a novel and wanted information on the best home environment for a child with bi-polar disorder and ADHD.  Turns out he has a 30-year old son with these issues whom he no longer has contact with and he’s trying to process his grief through writing.  He found me through the university’s contact source and wanted an “expert’s opinion”.

I had to tell him that while a strong, loving secure home can HELP these conditions, it can’t fix them.  Environment PLUS medication can help a lot, and make some issues go away, but the biology doesn’t change the fact that these conditions are there.  I referred him to a counselor and the fantastic book “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through his Son’s Meth Addiction”  by David Sheff.  While there are differences (Nic Sheff has drug addictions, his son is NOT taking his medications), there are similarities- broken marriage, striving to make an environment where the child can be successful, addiction to the “high” of drugs for one, the mania of the other, loss of communication with the adult child who can’t handle their own life, but really wants to.  Really, over the course of 25 minutes, I learned quite a bit about this man’s life.

As a professional, I can sit in my little office and discuss how sometimes, the person who needs to focus on recovery is the parent.  How the hardest part is providing options, choices, support and love, but ultimately, the child is the one who has to want to change themselves.  How a child can struggle with issues and how we want to FIX things, but we can’t- only they can.  How so much of this is biology and genetics, and you cannot cause these things, and you cannot fix them- you can only deal with them.  I can say that as a professional.

But as a person- as a daughter- as a mother… where is that line where you “allow them freedom” and why does that feel so much like losing them?  At what point does “love” become “tough love”?  At what point does “tough love” become “abandonment”?

As a daughter, I am deeply grateful that my mother did not give up on me and continued to be there when I needed her.  That she listened to our latest crisis and did not declare that it was more than she could handle.  That she continued to provide options.

And as a mother, to what degree do I allow my child to fail before I help him or her?  Do I keep helping?  When do I step back and let them find their own strength?  And how on earth can I ever say “No”?   I can say “no” to little things- “no dessert without vegetables at dinner; no tv without finishing homework; no, you can’t go outside until your room is clean”.  But this man’s son is living on the streets, and he has to say “no” when his son asks for money because he knows it will go for drugs, and he’s afraid his son will kill himself.  And he doesn’t know what to do.

There are no easy answers- I know that.  Parenting is a job that you figure out as you go along.  There are no recipes, no formulas and no guarantees.  I know this with my professional part.  But my mother part will go home, hold my son and daughter, be grateful that I can still kiss away the booboos, and I will pray.

And I will be grateful that all I have to say “no” to tonight is the enforcement of homework on a Monday night and dessert after dinner.  My heart’s with you, sir.


  1. Your post made me think about how I would have liked my environment to have been when I was a child.
    As someone who suffers from both bipolar disorder (and bipolar depression) and ADD (I seem to have been cheated out of an H) I might suggest this:
    That parents be understanding, encouraging and non-reactive. Parents should let their children know that just because they flit from project to project or can’t concentrate, they are neither lazy nor stupid, just different. And, what I have come to learn late in life is that “Irritability” is a major indicator of bipolar disorder. Do not take the verbal attacks personally. Absorb them or deflect them, but do not respond in kind. It will pass and it is not caused by you and not necessarily directed at you.
    You are correct in stating that they can’t “fix” them, but they can create an environment that is empowering and that focuses on the positive instead of the negative.
    And yes, maybe some tough love too, because left to our own devices, we may be entrepreneurial, but we are not especially disciplined.
    Marco http://bipolarized.wordpress.com

    Comment by marcodante — February 8, 2010 @ 7:13 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you for this insight… as someone with a family member with bipolar disorder, I can see the attractions of the “other side of the curtain”- certainly mania can look really productive, insights are amazingly perceptive, and life can be really sweet during the upward swings. But the downs were frightening to me. I was not the parent and the feeling of helplessness as you watch a family member struggle can be terrible. I think that your voice is very necessary…

    Comment by profmother — February 8, 2010 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

  3. I also appreciate this different viewpoint. We need to consider these issues from all points of view. No easy answers here, but this blog is a great way to keep the conversation going. Thanks, Claire.

    Comment by Wendy M. — February 11, 2010 @ 12:27 am | Reply

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