Q: A Reader Responds to "Being Raised by a Bipolar Parent"
First, a Note from Dr. Phelps:
Readers may remember seeing a recent question from a
woman whose husband has bipolar disorder; and in the context of a divorce
proceeding, she commented that she did not feel the children would be safe with
him (Being Raised by
a Bipolar Parent ). In my reply, I mentioned that some people reading her
letter might be feel angry with her. Well, here's an example, below. Before you
read it, try for some empathy for the divorcing woman, worried about her
children; try to imagine the fears someone might have who does not know much
about bipolar disorder. Notice in this that we can treat her just as we say
"person with bipolar", rather than "bipolar person": we can think of her as the
woman who doesn't know much, yet, about bipolar disorder -- rather than as "that
ignorant woman". Then read this comment on her letter.
I can't resist responding to the woman who doesn't want
her children cared for by a bipolar patient. I said a lot so feel free to just
pass it on. These prejudices make me more angry than anything in the world.
I have bipolar I with all the fancy stuff that makes it very hard to control.
I am also a mental health professional, working in long term care for severely
mentally ill adults. And I also work in traditional nursing homes, in an
I own a home. I have a master's degree. I make a lot of money, much of which
covers my medical bills. I have NEVER done anything dangerously impulsive or
reckless. In fact I can be pretty sure you that have done more dangerous
things/unhealthy things than I have, given that I am 30, have never drank,
smoked a single cigarrete, thought about trying drugs, and I am a virgin.
That's right, 30 year old bipolar virgin. By choice. Because I'm bipolar, but
I'm also well aware of my belief system and able to control what I am doing or
to ask for help when I
I am perfectly capable of monitoring myself and controlling my disease so that I
am able to live this way. And I hae set up elaborate systems to assist when
needed. It's entirely likely that I have better impulse control than the woman
who wrote this. In my case (and this is highly related to meds and being
female) I know I can never have children and I know that I will have my tubes
tied before that can ever be an issue. I make totally responsible decisions for
myself. The ONLY difference between her and I is that I make my decisions with
the help of my treatment team.
My neighbors probably think I'm a bit eccentric as I don't sleep much (in a tiny
town where they practically turn the lights off at 11:00), I spend most weekends
resting, and I rarely have visitors.
My patients? No clue. My patient's families? No clue. My co-workers? No
clue. I have had good friends who never guessed for a year or more until I told
So really? Take out your anger at your ex-husband for the real reasons. Nobody
denies it is hard to love a bipolar patient. I know, I love about 75 of them.
But that doesn't mean that bipolar makes anyone less capable of anything just by
having the diagnosis. Truly, if someone with my severity is taking care of your
dying mother, (and making decisions about when she is ready to leave the nursing
home, because I do that), then you can be absolutely positive that having the
label should not disqualify someone from seeing their children. Had you been
able to describe all the uncontrolled things he has done in recent months, how
he refuses meds, refuses therapy, refuses the doctor, drinks/does drugs, makes
dangerous decisions about what the children can do when he is manic, that's
another story. But my guess is that if those were the things you'd seen you
wouldn't be asking what you've asked.
You have to understand, I grew up with an unmedicated bipolar parent. I know
very well that it is not easy. The hardest lesson of my illness was learning
that I was not just like my parent.
I don't even know how to end this. Just, once again, please, please realize
that you have NO IDEA who is bipolar in your life and the lives around you. I
Published June, 2006