When Your Child Knows More Than You Do

imagesThis week is Spring Break, the ideal time for my girls to sleep in late while I enjoy some quiet time each morning. But Murphy’s Law kicked in, and today my nine-year-old sprung out of bed ready to run a marathon just a few minutes after I woke up.

I am never as grounded and patient with my children when I don’t complete my dawn routine, which is nothing fancy – just meds, coffee, yogurt, surfing the internet and writing a little bit.  When Avonlea was raring to go at 6:00 a.m., she found me groggy and somewhat grouchy.

She brought out her collection of yarn.  I yawned at her, clutching my giant mug of Peet’s coffee with a death grip.  I watched her dazedly as she excitedly started to “fork knit” a chain of the soft lavender yarn.

“Can I teach you how to fork knit, Mommy?” she implored.

On other days I would have said no, citing that I needed that time to get ready, or that I wasn’t awake enough. But the eager tone of her voice swayed me this time around.  Never mind that I am not a crafty mom at all, never mind that I wasn’t interested in any kind of knitting and knew I never would be in this lifetime.

I wanted to make her happy.  After a big sip of coffee, I was all hers.

I was humbled and impressed by her knitting prowess.  She made the technique look unbelievably easy, but I struggled and I could barely follow her simple instructions.  Avonlea was patient with me and she chuckled over the fact that her mom couldn’t get the hang of a simple fork knit.  At least I had given fork knitting an honest try, and she was satisfied with my effort.  I also got a huge kick out of my daughter being my teacher instead of the other way around.

I looked at her differently afterwards.  For a long time I have been in denial about how my little girl is no longer truly little anymore.  I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that this young child is her own person. Frankly I’ve been infantilizing her.  For the most part, I am still treating her as if she is still my eight-pound, drooling, big-eyed, adorable baby.  By doing this to Avonlea, I am not allowing her to fully blossom, and if I keep this pattern up she will resent me and I believe she will regress in her behavior.

Like multitudes of nine-year-olds, Avonlea is becoming more capable and savvier every day.  Craig and I have to be very careful about what we say in front of her as she picks up on every word.  She’s so full of questions that we lovingly tease her that she’d make a great lawyer.  Aside from fork knitting, she has also become an expert at using the “Rainbow Loom” (making bracelets, rings and more out of tiny rubber bands – it’s the current rage) and she’s a mean cupcake baker and mathematician.

Of course there’s one thing that I hope my daughter will never know more about than I do…

Not long ago Avonlea asked me if she’d “get” bipolar.  It was hard for me to answer her, but I knew she’d want the truth.  I told her, “Yes, there is a chance you could have bipolar disorder, but there’s also a good chance you won’t have it.”  (The National Institute of Mental Health reports a 15-30% chance of a child having bipolar if one parent has the disorder.)

Then I told her something that my father, who had bipolar disorder, told me when I asked him if I’d get bipolar disorder.  I said to Avonlea, “Researchers all over the world are working very hard to find a cure for bipolar disorder.  There is a chance that could happen, but if they don’t find a cure, we will get you any help you need.” She has been satisfied with that answer, for now.

While we have these years together I hope and pray to all the powers that be that she doesn’t suffer with bipolar disorder.   I am connected with organizations including the International Bipolar Foundation, the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, CREST BD, the UCLA Mood Disorders Research Program, and the University if Michigan’s Prechter Foundation.  (I know there are other great organizations out there, but that list is plenty to keep me busy with for now!)  I stay in contact with them to keep posted about advancements in bipolar disorder research, especially related to onset in children and adolescents.

I am happy to always know more than Avonlea about bipolar disorder.  I dream of this disorder being cured, of the stigma toward mental illness melting away and becoming a moot point, and of being able to spend my energy on other topics aside from bipolar disorder.  I dream of Avonlea asking me if she’ll get bipolar disorder and my answering her, without any doubt in my mind, “No.”

Photo on 2014-01-28 at 11.35 #2


Hoping for a cure for bipolar – why the heck not?

imgres-3imgresimgres-2Last Thursday evening, I watched the first live episode of the “The Bipolar Panel Project”, an online series created by Jared Wilmer of “I Am Not Crazy” (www.not-crazy.org/) .

The panel featured Jennifer Killi Marshall (“Bipolar Mom Life” blogger & the creator of the “This Is My Brave” show), Natasha Tracy (“The Bipolar Burble” blogger), Andy Behrman (author of the awesome memoir Electroboy) and Bret Bernhoft (founder of the “Being Bipolar” community & a medical cannabis advocate.).  Each panelist discussed his/her background, and then Jared chose viewer-submitted questions for the panel to answer.

A question by “Kevin” was presented to the panel:

One of my big questions about bipolar disorder is because there is no true cure for the disorder, why should we go through a lifetime of perpetually trying to do the impossible…impossible being curing bipolar disorder?”

While I huffed, puffed and wondered, “huh?” (I was using my elliptical while watching the show) Natasha Tracy addressed Kevin’s question.

She replied,So we’re not trying to do the impossible; I’m not trying to cure bipolar disorder; I know that’s not possible and that’s not going to happen.  What I’m trying to do is live my best life possible, so I’m trying to get the best treatment that I can, be as successful as I can, and live a life that I personally consider to be fulfilling.  So the goal isn’t impossible – the goal is to live your best life.”  

After listening to Natasha’s quote twelve times to make sure I typed it correctly, I believe that she was advising viewers not to get discouraged with a “cure” concept, and to focus on the here and now.  However, I felt that her answer was incomplete.  She could have mentioned how there are numerous major research organizations (The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund @ the University of Michigan, CREST BD, and the UCLA Mood Disorders Research Program to name a few…) that are aggressively seeking a bona fide cure to this treacherous illness.

I know it’s unethical to lead people on with false hope about curing such a complex brain disorder.  I’ve never even thought of a cure as being a possibility until quite recently, but I must admit it’s a nice subject to ponder.  It’s particularly poignant for me to imagine a cure since I have two daughters with an approximately 25% chance of inheriting bipolar disorder.

You simply never know what to expect in life.  If you told me fifteen years ago about the existence of the internet and my precious Kindle, I would never have believed you!  Flight, the polio vaccine, and many other advances of all kinds were once thought to be impossible.

Why not a cure for bipolar disorder?  

A few days ago I was at my monthly check-in appointment with my psychiatrist.  I felt so thankful that it was a “shooting the breeze” type of session rather than the crisis meetings we used to have.  I brought up how ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar, I felt like I was “damaged goods”.  Since we were almost out of time, my doctor suggested I explore the concept further with my therapist, as I see her more often.

I thought about this theme of “damaged goods” as I drove towards home.  Let’s say a cure for bipolar comes our way.  Would a cure increase my self-esteem?  Would a cure give me back the past eight years since my postpartum bipolar disorder emerged?  Would a cure make my life easy?  Of course not.  But it would be so nice to give up my fear of relapse, cease taking meds, and stop thinking about bipolar so much of the time.  It really would be lovely.

So I’ll let myself dream a little.  There’s a saying, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”  I hope all those bipolar researchers are dreaming their little buns off!

You can watch the first Bipolar Panel Project episode here: