A Reader Responds to "Being Raised by a Bipolar Parent"
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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. 

From Anonymous: 

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 authority position.

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 them.

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 promise.

Published June, 2006


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