What having a bipolar parent taught me

I’ve only written about it once and it’s my most read post. The views are mostly the result of internet searches on the subject. I am not a mental illness blogger by any means and yet they land on my site using search terms such as:

“If I’m bipolar is my child”

“Does my bipolar father hate me”

“Living with bipolar mother”

Every single day since June 2012, these searches come in. Questions in the form of emotional bricks carried in search of information, comfort, and healing.

There is a general pattern in the questions until I read this one:

“What did having a bipolar parent teach you”

I never thought of it in that way. Until I did, and it’s taken me over a year to write this.

As a young child, having a bipolar parent taught me to feel insecure. This resulted from unknowing the emotional parameters I would wake to. It could be a day of general stability. It could also be a day of unpredictability, irrational behavior, or verbal abuse.  My parent’s emotions varied widely and the variables needed to produce positive emotional outputs were unknown to me.

I woke up and the day could lead anywhere. It could bring shopping and ice cream. It could also bring the contents of my bedroom being thrown out the window from the second floor as I get off the bus from school. It could end in another extended hospital stay.

Growing into my “tween years” having a bipolar parent taught me anger and detachment. Why didn’t I have parents present in my life?  Why were their actions so out of the norm from what I saw around me? Why did I always feel like the enemy?  These were questions without answers. As I grew, I started to piece the answers together myself. I started to comprehend the verbal abuse and language used towards me. There was a pivotal point at this time in my life which I was able to examine the environment around me and know that I was the only one looking out for me. I was it. If I was going to make it through this, I had to mentally detach from the unstable and chaotic environment. I was 10.

The anger from my teen years stayed with me through my young adulthood but I felt more in control of my life due to detaching at a young age.  I had friends, I made life plans, and I was going to make it. Dammit.

As an adult, having a bipolar parent taught me longing, sadness, and acceptance.  Though I hadn’t lost a parent to death, I was sad that the relationship will never be what I wanted. Getting married, having children, bonding over common adult experiences was not going to be my reality. I grieved the relationship that was never to be had.

Eventually the mental illness would progress to the point where the only choice left was acceptance. This is how it is. I’ve grown to know people who are mentally ill are not in control of most of their brain process. They do not choose to be that way. They carry their own emotional bricks without the foundation of knowing how to process them.

And that’s what I’ve learned.

_____________________________

Based on responses I have received, I have decided to write more about growing up with a bipolar parent here. 

211 thoughts on “What having a bipolar parent taught me

  1. As a child, I knew something was wrong. It’s just I didn’t know if it was me, or my little sister and brother. We were constantly told how bad we were and made to believe that no one would love us because of it. Punishment was brutal and maddening. I maintained that, “when I had kids I would not treat them this way.” Mother would laugh and say, “We’ll see.” I didn’t find the strength or reason to stand up finally to her until I had my own child. We didn’t live in the same state and didn’t have the opportunity to leave my child alone with my mom. However, one visit home opened my eyes. My best friend invited me to lunch. I asked Mother if she would watch him while I went to have lunch. I was gone 3 hours. Upon return home I find my 22 month old in a diaper only. He was walking aimlessly in the house with a blank stare. It was subzero outside. My mom met me at the door, screaming, “Where had I been?” I picked up my son and asked why he had no clothes on? She said he didn’t need to have clothes on. She was hysterical. I will never know what happened while I was gone. I never left my child alone with her again. On some deep level, the hysteria was startlingly familiar. This is when I began to put my memories under a microscope and figure things out. I battle, to this day, the feeling of guilt. I have to tell myself that I am a good person and I deserve to be happy. I am parenting myself. She is at the door. More later.

    • Decades later, mom has alzheimers laced with whatever else she has. I am not aware of a diagnosis. It would be a well kept secret. My son is an adult now. I’ve moved closer to help my sister take care of mom. I can’t imagine letting my sister go through this alone. This time I have eyes wide open. While I am sad for my mom, I make sure I keep my force field on to protect me from that which hurts.

    • Hi, I’m 22 and my dad is schitzoaffective, which means he has schizophrenic symptoms and a mood disorder. Living with him nearly killed me (I really really wanted to commit suicide). It was so bad that my sister at 14 started cutting herself and attempted suicide. The only reason why she is alive today is because it failed, and she never told anyone about it until this year. She is 17 now.

      When I was her age, my dad was so scary. I don’t think he could handle me growing up (I’m the oldest). It felt like all of his anger was directed towards me. I was so afraid and I wanted to run away, but realistically I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to drive and I didn’t have a job. I wasn’t allowed to have one, and my parents wanted to keep me home so I wasn’t taught how to drive. I tried to convince my mom to leave him, because there was something obviously wrong with him (this is before I found out that he was mentally ill) but she wouldn’t. This is when I started thinking about suicide. The only thing that got me through was the idea that my situation wouldn’t be like that forever.

      My dad had a mental breakdown last year which resulted in him being taken to the hospital and being diagnosed. He was seeing a therapist and taking meds. I told my therapist that I would cut ties with him if he stopped taking his meds. I immediately knew when he stopped taking them but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Eventually I asked my mom and she told me that he had been off for a while. He also managed to convince his therapist that everything was better so the therapist let him go.

      Both my parents live in an alternate world where everything is fine. I used to feel like I could confide in my mom about anything but when I moved out, almost two years ago, it became different. She told my sister that I had abandoned her… I didn’t even know what to say to that. Now when I tell my mom something she’ll say I’m “too sensitive” or I “take things too hard”. It feels like she is dismissing me. I feel like I get more support from my therapist than the person who birthed me. I talk to her about my dad needing to be medicated, because he could have another hysterical moment but she denies that anything is wrong with him. She says that he only was hallucinating because of all the “exotic pot” he was smoking. She doesn’t see what I see. He has always believed and said odd things. He has hallucinated more than just that one time. Apparently everything has been calm over there, even my brother has said so, but I know it won’t be like that forever. For as long as I have known him he has been angry and unpredictable. You don’t stop being mentally ill.

      I’m so angry. I have realized that my upbringing has had bad influences on me. I was in an abusive relationship for 2 1/2 years because I thought my ex-boyfriend’s behavior was normal and it was just something I had to put up with. I thought if my mom could do it then I can do it too. I remember things that happened when I was a kid and now that I am an adult I can see how all of it was bad. The more I try to change the situation, the more I feel like I am the enemy.

      I want to leave my home town so bad, and cut off ties with my parents. I need to get away from their influences. I don’t feel like I will have full control over my life until I leave. I try to not think about this, but I go to college in town but I applied to 8 schools. I only got letters back from the ones in town. When a school denies you they send you a letter saying so. I don’t want to think that my parents might have thrown away letters, but they talk about me taking jobs in town or me living back home with them. I don’t think they ever want me to leave. I have thought about leaving for over 9 months now. I feel conflicted; I want to runaway but I also feel guilty. How should I even go about it? I don’t think there is anything that I can do to resolve the situation. I will not talk to my dad about it and my mom just keeps shutting me down. I’m graduating from college, but I can’t go to grad school right now and I’m having trouble convincing my boyfriend to just move out of the city. I think I might use my savings, which isn’t much, to go alone. I don’t know what to do. You said that at some point you weren’t living in the same state as your mom, how did you get the strength to leave? Also, I’m so afraid to have kids because I’m afraid that’ll be just like my dad. I know that I have a mood disorder (I’m pretty sure it’s not bi-polar) but I haven’t been able to get properly diagnosed. My therapist tells me I won’t be, because I’m aware of the potential and I want to be medicated. I can’t help but not believe her. Were you ever afraid that you could be like your mom? And if so, how did you get over it?

      I’m sorry that this is so long.

  2. Thank you for writing about this, it truly helps. And also thank you to everyone else here who shared their story. This is the first time I share anything about this online, but I feel like I need to release some of my sadness, maybe this will help me and perhaps others. I am twenty five and have a father who suffers with bipolar and a mother with borderline schizophrenia. As a child I didn’t really notice that things were wrong, my parents were just different. My very young childhood was in a very loving and warm environment. We were always poor, but I only started to be fully of this when I hit puberty.

    When I was thirteen I found out my father was addicted to heroine. He started when he was trying to cope with the stress of my mothers severe illness and depression. Of course this only made matters worse. They had fights all the time and me and my brother were always in the middle, having to take sides. He has quit the drugs so many times but relapses as soon as he has money or feels very low, it was very hard for me to accept this. I’m so glad my brother was always there to protect me from the horrible reality at a young age, even til this day he helps relieve the emotional burden and is a huge support to me.

    When I was younger I did not fully understand my fathers illness. I think I really realised about two years ago. My fathers manic periods are extremely stressful, he gets himself into huge amounts of debt. Sometimes he loans money from the bank and buys excessive amounts of books, magazines, films and drugs because he’s convinced they will help him to achieve superior knowledge. He calls me in the middle of the night because he wants to discuss ideas for projects and books, if I don’t pick up the phone he’ll text me and send me hundreds of messages online until I answer. When I plead him to go see his doctor he refuses, he thinks I want to send him away. I just want him to get help. He refuses to share the name or phone number of his most recent doctor. Last time he was manic I called his psychiatrist and warned him that my father told me he wanted to stop taking his medication.

    He recently started messaging my friends online, I asked him to stop but he is out of control. He’s been in and out of hospital on a weekly basis the last six months and I am stressed to the bone. He refuses to take his medicine and tries to hide this fact from his doctor. Since I called his psychiatrist he changed doctors and refuses to tell me the name of his new doctor. There is nothing I can do.

    My mother has been having extreme episodes of paranoia, she thinks everyone is a witch or a devil who wants to hurt or steal from her. In her eyes I’m either an angel or a devil. My brother and I try to help out where we can, but nothing we do is ever good enough. We’re selfish because we have our own lives. She says we don’t really care about them.

    My parents have both been in hospital before after attempting suicide and they often threaten to kill themselves if we refuse to do something they ask of us. But after a while we’ve learnt to set certain boundaries and tried telling ourselves that it is not our fault and that we did not cause them to act like this.

    I am having difficulty concentrating at work lately, when I am at home I just sleep all the time and try to forget. I want to get on with my life and be happy but I feel that as long as they are around I am stuck. I love my parents so much, I just want them to lead a peaceful happy life. I believe I recognise the feeling of mourning very much, mourning the relationships I have with my parents, the fulfilling relationships I long for so desperately, and the guilt and shame I struggle with constantly. The helplessness is by far the worst. But it is comforting to read that so many others deal with similar situations.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • My older sister was the same for me. I recently had to move back in with my parents and really struggled to explain to my friends why I was so scared. Luckily my dad seems to have gotten a lot better and I can always hop in my car and leave if I need to. It’s still hard for me to understand or validate what I went through because I’ve blocked out memories that cause too much pain.

    • Thank you for sharing. I’m passing through a similar situation. To be honest, there are times that I lose hope. I felt I was the only person going through this.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I am a Father to a wonderful daughter who is struggling with these same emotions and feelings due to having a BPD, PTSD, Bi-Polar Mother. While it took me years to be able to effectively cope with my BPD, PTSD, Bi-Polar partner, my daughter has started to detach. She finally told me that her biggest fear was being or becoming like her Mother. Daughter has been in therapy in an effort to help, but it is weighing on her heavy. We are continuing to try to find the right path

    • Glad you’re getting help for your daughter. I wish my parents had been as observant growing up. My father is bipolar and my mom was not emotionally present growing up and won’t really admit it. I detached emotionally by the third grade. I’m 24 now and trying to heal so I can feel emotion fully. It’s been a long journey, but everyday is a little better. Honestly I’m scared to put my real name on any blogs like this because my dad has hidden his mental illness from anyone outside my immediate family. That makes it so much harder to get help.

  4. I am currently going through one of the tough phases in my life. My father is bipolar and my mother is suffering from Alzhelmer’s disease (dementia) from last 7 years. My father was govt. Employee and retired couple of years back. Its been hell of a journey as doctors couldn’t find his bipolar disorder in early stages and treated him for depression for many years. My dads Increasing anger had put so much mental pressure on my mom for long time. She couldn’t take it no more after 30 years of long married life.he used to come home drunk and abuse her physically and verbally, i used to get scared and tried to stop my mom from crying which never helped as she used to protect me and take everything on her. As i grew into my teenage i started coming to front and take verbal abuse or hitting from him and used to tell my mom to lock doors. As i got out of teenage my life was no normal, i had one sister who moved out of country to pursue her studies and lived most of her childhood life with my dads sister. It was long fight for me which i didn’t realize until i was 26. I used to bring my dad home from bars, or roadsides…drunk and abusing people. I used to get worst possible verbal abuse and some hitting of course every year. My mom was now less affected by all as i stood in front but it all haunted her and i could see and not do anything about it. Years passed and my sister sponsored us to move abroad. New country and i thought things would change, i will have work and can take care of my mom, but things totally went opposite, her dementia increased, now she has forgot almost everything, my dad lives with me and mom, i try working as much as i can to run my home…govt. gave assistance for my mom. One hour of nursing which includes giving her bath. My dad stays home with her most of the time. Verbal abuse is what i see there for both of us. I am now on edge of cracking up anytime and run away with my mom far away where i can take care of her .one answer is what i need . Should i do it or not. Accepting things is making me depressed. I know hard decision is what will prevent things from going towards biggest downfall of my life.. holding strong is the only option. Have to face harsh truth.

  5. I wasn’t told that my mother was bipolar until after she had died. I was 16 when she died. I remember when I was about 10, my mother had returned home after being detained for her own safety, and she showed me and my sister her wrists where she had cut them. She told us she wanted to die. Once I had reached the age of 12, my own behaviour became somewhat out of control. I bunked off school, drank underage and smoked copious amounts of weed. I had amazing teachers at school, one in particular who helped me get through my exams. I wish I had behaved better for them. I wish I had been told about my mother’s illness before she died, I could have done more to understand how she felt and I realise now that it wasn’t her fault, and I have to live with the guilt of telling her I hated her almost everyday. Having my own children has made me realise that all I wanted was a relationship with her, and that she probably did love me as much as I love my own children. Awareness is needed to help people with bipolar, and their families.

  6. Very moving to read all these posts. It’s taken me 58 years to fully – well, almost fully – come to terms with life with my bi-polar mother, and only because I was lucky enough to meet an extraordinary person who helped me with this long and exhausting process. Not sure if any one would like to look at it, but my book about living with a bi-polar parent will be out soon: it’s called Burnt Dress, it’s highly serious but also highly satirical, at times. In its extremes, it mirrors the manic-depressive condition itself, but I hope also that it is both compassionate and insightful and may help those who have felt – and are still feeling – trapped by a bi-polar upbringing: the book is principally intended for you! It’s in the last stages of editing, if anyone’s interested in reading it, let me know. Good luck to all of you out there, there is life after a bi-polar parent.

  7. I grew up with a bipolar/manic depressive/paranoid schizophrenic father and reading this post was literally the exact realization I finally came to in my 30s with an elementary aged child of my own.

    Until very recently I still clung to hope that we could have a normal father daughter relationship but only in the ‘sometimes’ when things were okay. It feels a little like infidelity- flirting with an unrealistic, idealized relationship that is doomed anyway. The hurt and disappointment that follows when that’s not what materializes is crushing. Or when it materializes for a fleeting moment and disappears.

    As a child bracing yourself between a wall and a door because he’s having an episode and is wielding a knife at your family and thinks you’re evil, followed by a visit to the hospital where he made you a beaded necklace at craft time is more than enough to make your head spin. It’s all almost as crushing as knowing that deep down they don’t want to be this way either. That your parent would give anything to not need the meds that make them fit in with the ‘normals’ and eventually feel bad. Sluggish. Uncreative. Then they drop the meds and the cycle starts again.

    There are the phone conversations that feel close to normal and would give me hope that maybe this time would last longer. That maybe he would finally stay on his medication. That maybe he was capable of legitimate interest or -any- human connection with my daughter. She’s just scared of him because of his erratic behavior despite my educating her on what I can about mental illness and compassion over snickering.

    Deep down there is fear. And on some level it’s there for me too.

    Thenthere were the frightened phone calls from the mental hospital, and the financial burden of making sure bills are paid during extended hospitalizations so your parent doesn’t end up on the street.

    My mother is and has always been a reserve of strength, their marriage lasted 20+ years and we had multiple bouts on welfare and the church paying our bills and putting food in our pantry during multiple extended hospitalizations. She got down to less than 90lbs and at one point struggled with hair loss. She loved him, but he was tortured and it nearly broke her.

    She told me recently by the end of their marriage she used to hide the knives at night. That broke me. When you love someone and they are sick it’s natural to want to help them. It’s extraordinarily hard to leave.

    She finally found acceptance and left when I was in high school. After years of sleeping on the couch, I was so happy to see her sleep in a bed again. She has since happily remarried and is enjoying being a grandmother.

    For children of a bipolar parent, that acceptance is different. You can’t divorce and reparent. You do have to make tough choices, and sometimes those tough choices hurt both parties. But I’ll always answer the phone. I’ll always be a net when there is financial need. I’ll always keep contact, even when it’s not fulfillling for me, but I won’t be dragged into it every single day. And I no longer look for something that I’ll never find. It’s just that I have finally accepted that our version of father daughter is different than others… and I am finally okay with that. I guess I needed to see others articulate that too, because now sometimes I am perceived as callous by my family. “Don’t be too hard on him, he can’t help it. He’s still your dad.”

    I’m not… I just finally made peace with the fact that our relationship will always feel one sided but it will always be there. And if it wasn’t… well I wouldn’t be here or the woman that I am today. I know he us proud of me and my experiences with mental illness have greatly shaped who I am. And that’s okay, too.

    This weekend I lost a family member at the hands of another due -in part- to the influences of mental illness so this has been weighing heavily on my mind. That is a wound that reopens many others but maybe it can help us heal, too.

    Mental illness is an ugly, ugly thing. And brings tremendous pain. But… in acceptance there is peace. And the ability to face anything. And educate yourself on the importance of treatment and advocacy.

    We aren’t alone in this, and our emotions are familiar.

    Sort of a badge, I guess.

    • My mother has narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, along with a wide range of illnesses from heart disease to lupus and she takes 22 pills a day. I’ve been her sole caregiver since I was 13. I’m 32 now and it has more than drained both me and my husband. I have a 6 year old who is unfortunately more of a caregiver than he is a child. The narcissist in her will not allow me to have hardly any time to myself. It’s overwhelming. I don’t sleep. She needs me all through the night and most times I’m already up when my alarm goes off at 6 to get my baby ready for school.

  8. It’s Christmas and once again my mother is in her manic cycle. She’s been this way ever since her first major break-down in the early 70s. So much of what has been written here sounds so familiar. Why does this illness have to be so cruel? Even on meds the mania surfaces twice a year, in late spring and now. Though I know it’s her illness making her act this way, it is exhausting and wears you down. She doesn’t understand why she has lost all her friends and has alienated her family and apparently can’t remember how she behaved when she comes out of her episodes. She quite literally harried my father to death – he died of a heart attack caused by the stress. After forty-odd years of going through this time and again, every time thinking it will be different, I now accept that she won’t ever be ‘better’. I don’t feel guilty about her anymore, I just wish she was dead so that we could mourn her with dignity and put us all out of her misery. Awful though it sounds sometimes suicide is a mercy.

  9. Wow just stumbled upon this since I am researching how to begin a blog about the struggles i’ve gone through. My own mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and clinical depression, and she is also a meth user. I had to deal with all of her episodes for most of my 20’s. It got to the point where she was so viciously nasty with her words towards me and so far gone to ever want to get help. Once she started using 2 years ago everything went downhill for good. I’m 30 and my daughter is now 3 years old and she only had contact with her for about a year. The story is very long but what happened after that was something out of a movie. The drama she created with the whole family caused by her using/not taking her meds were unbelievable. She got my dad involved, sister, posted crazy things on facebook..the works. Basically I was an emotional wreck once a week after getting a phone call, reading a nasty email from her etc. It wasnt healthy for my marriage and certainly not for my child. I chose to disconnect completely, along with my grandmother who would call from time to time trying to back up my mother. It’s been about 2 years now that I havn’t really spoken to her. It’s a struggle daily and the guilt is out of this world, even though I get confirmation that I’m doing the right thing..what is the right thing really when dealing with something like this?? I can say I’ve been happy and our life is stress-free but that bond I once had with my mother growing up is gone. She feels dead to me. But after the holidays these horrible feelings come back and sometimes I wish I could have a button to zap away the guilt, or flee to a Buddhist temple in India to become a monk lol. Whichever one sounds great. Anyways thanks everyone for your insight, always nice to know others are in the same boat.

  10. I am growing up with two mentally ill parents(on of them is in denial and toxic). All I want to say is that though as hard it is to just understand and accept, mental illnesses can affect your overall personality and life choices. It always used to bother me on how other people seen my dad more than how he presented himself to me. So many people in schools I went to glorified bipolar disorder and thought it only meant that the person has occasional mood swings. They didnt understand how even the little things he did and his bad habits were becuase of it. Growing up with the mentally ill sure taught me how important it is to know about mental illness and how important it is for others to know about it. I feel like thats why I refuse to waste my time hating my parents for something they cant control. I hate the things they do and when the dont want to seek help. I get fustrated a whole lot but I just accept it like it is and I feel as though I wont have much regrets. I dont think anyone is wrong or crazy for still loving the ill person who brought them into the world.

  11. I have had the strangest childhood, and I still don’t know what to make of it – how much was bipolar disorder, how much was something else, which is what led me here. I can definitely identify with the “mother of the year” versus “worst mother ever” comments. I came from an upper middle class family with a corporate mom, and because of that, much of what happened at home was very hidden. If I told, she said I would end up in foster care and never see my sister again. At an early age, I was gullible and believed her even though I had a father that loved me, who divorced my mother when I was one. She convinced me he left because he didn’t want a child. Over the years, she fabricated many stories about him, dropped my sister and I off at my grandmother’s at random times so she could “go home and commit suicide” because she wanted to hear us beg her not to, chopped up my stepfather’s bed with a camping machete (while I had a friend visiting overnight), and tried to set me up with a 40-year old Muslim doctor when I was 16 so I could hopefully marry him. I have many friends from various backgrounds, but most all of my family and I are Christians. When I explained I did not want to date someone outside of my faith (let alone the age problem), she cried and said I could convert him. Of course, this is the same woman who held Bible study at home for 3 hours on Sundays, but when I would go to church (same denomination and with permission), she would sometimes randomly decide to whip me with a belt for punishment…all the way until I was almost 18 and refused because to let her because I finally realized how nuts the situation was. On the other hand, my mother was magical. She told me stories and taught me my love of writing and politics. She caught bugs with me and took my younger half-sister and I “exploring” on hiking adventures. She worked hard, too, to take each of us once to Europe because she said we needed to see the world while we were still at an impressionable age. With this being said, I share my story because it’s almost Christmas, and yet again my mother isn’t speaking to me this year, and at 30-something years of age, I still don’t know what to do with my feelings for her. I love a mom who has been physically and emotionally abusive to me. Who has told me multiple times over the years how much she loves my sister because she’s like her and hates me because I am nothing but a little version of my Dad. And all of this makes me wonder how messed up I AM that I still love her and miss her…because I think so much of the bad things she does are maybe caused by her illness (or illnesses).

    This is my first time sharing this info online. I just don’t know if anyone has experienced a similar level of negative actions from a parent with bipolar disorder or my mother’s behavior goes beyond just dealing with BD.

    • Erin,

      That dichotomy must be common. When I was younger, I would sometimes think of my mother as “tiger mother” = “no one is going to mess with my offspring except ME.” Using a tiger analogy is really not fair as I don’t believe female tigers harm their young purposely. I used it because of her extreme charisma, her power, her love and imposingly powerful mania and anger, both verbal and physical.

      I was an only child with no father present, but was extremely fortunate to have a salt-of-the-earth grandmother that I could look to for unwavering love and some idea of how a “normal” parent should be. I won’t go into details, but I experienced most – or similar – situations that you and others have written about on this page.

      Most of it was hidden, but sometimes exploded to involve police, psuedo-suicide attempts and so on.( I now think of BP as extreme narcissism or the sufferers deepest insecurities at their very worst…virtually anything to get attention and tearing others down to build yourself up.) She would also sometimes do the most amazing generous things for us and others. Truly a yin and yang. You never knew quite what to expect.

      I moved out of the house as soon as I legally could and to another town. For many years, as I saw it, I continued to “put up” with her behaviors so that I could continue to have a relationship with my grandmother as they lived together. She knew she had me over a barrel with breaking ties while my grandmother was alive.

      Don’t get me wrong – I loved my mother and felt a great deal of empathy and sympathy for her. But she would never admit to her illness, nor take accountability in terms of treatment or apologies. We were just supposed to go on and pretend like nothing happened while she settled on a level plane until the next firestorm.

      When my grandmother passed away in 2001, I visited to take care of funeral arrangements and vowed that I would continue to try to be loving and supportive of my mother as I knew it would be difficult for her without her rock of a mother. We wept together, packed things for various relatives and did ok for another 6 months. My next visit ended in my leaving while she chased me in her car, trying to run me off the road.

      A few weeks later, I was finally ready to answer a phone call from her. She was very cool to me, not mentioning anything about the great car chase, I thought of it as her “testing the water” demeanor…for the first time in my life, I was straight up with her. I said “I am unable to have a relationship with you unless you seek professional help. I love you but I’m not doing it anymore.” She called me a “little bitch” and was just getting going with a number of other profanities when I hung up the phone. I was 34.

      We did not speak again before her death in 2009 when she committed suicide. She had remarried and moved to another state by then. My great aunt had kept in touch with her and I knew that she had also affected her husband’s children in negative ways.

      I still miss my mom and every once in awhile I can see her smile or laughter when she was happy – those were good times. But looking back now at age 49, I am glad that I chose to cut ties with her when I did. I do not feel guilty about it. It just is what it is. I finally had peace in my life that I had never experienced before. And I think, or hope, that my mother finally found peace too.

      I am not a religious person. For me, it was my grandmother’s love and humor, my wonderful lifelong friends that are like family to me – they ARE my family – and my dear husband. Not to mention many wonderful pets over the years…I’ve always found great solace in nature and the cycles of birth, death and rebirth in the seasons. I finally took responsibility for WHO was in my life and that they were people that I care about and support and they do the same for me.

      This is your life – it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person if you make choices to do what it takes to make it better for YOU. When you’ve been out of the drama for awhile, I think it will help give you real clarity.

      Good luck and take care, Pattie

      • Pattie,

        Thank you so much for your response to my post. I only saw it today, but it comes at a much needed time as I work through the idea in my mind that I may very likely never see my mother again.

        Some may think that extreme, but like you, I decided enough was enough, and she didn’t like it. Missing her, despite all she has done, is still hard, and I have strong, rational doubts she will ever change her ways or come around again. So, I think that grief has been the hardest – the idea that I have to pretend in my heart that she died. And it’s hard to admit, but the idea of never seeing her again does break my heart. This is why what you shared was so poignant to me.

        Thank you for your honesty and for the encouragement. I do hope time and separation will provide better clarity. I’m working on it, and while I do not wish this fate on anyone else, there is comfort in knowing my situation was not an anomaly…that it wasn’t just me.

  12. How about the polar opposite perspective (see what I did there),

    I have 2 step-children. My husband says they are “afraid” of me. I don’t raise a hand or my voice. He says it’s the way I say things and the look in my eyes. I cook, clean, take care of them every other weekend for visits. I play games and have fun. But sometimes, I don’t feel right. And instead of exposing everyone to an unstable person, I isolate in my room and my husband says I don’t feel good. I realize I am emotionally unavailable to them, but I think they know that I’m fiercely loyal and will do anything for them. Their Dad is my life. He wonders why I can’t give them the same love I give him. I know I should, and I try, but I can’t. I feel it is unjustified to be afraid of me. I know what abuse is and just because I don’t talk to you in the coddling voice of your parents, doesn’t make me an abuser. It is called, one day little princess, that cacoon you have been hiding in, where no one says harsh words, disagrees or tells you the truth without sugar-coating it, will come off and reality will set in and you will not be equipt to handle it. Every time I tried to teach you a life’s lesson, your mother would undo it, when Your father told me to get involved, your mother would push me out because of her own insecurities. So, I may be odd, but I have the best intentions. Sometimes I’m in my room for days at a time, but I’m doing it to protect you. If you did come to me, you would be surprised how readily I would jump in to help. I may not hug you or tell you I love you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t. I am odd. It doesn’t mean I am harsh or abusive. I may be trying to actually help and I might have good things to say if you would only listen.

  13. I have never seen anyone more evil and hurtful on her lows and someone more joyfull and loving on her highs.
    I have never known what it is to have a normal childhood. She almost never liked anything about me. I felt like a failure in everything i do, i was never good enough. I watched her drink herself to death and take uncontrollable doses of pills.
    I was 14 when i witnessed her first episode. I had to stop her from slitting her wrists.
    I was 14. I had to call my uncle to break down fhe bathroom door to prevent her from killing herself. Everything after that became a downward spiral.
    Years and years passed, she managed to keep me on her side yet making me resent my own father blaming him for all her unhappiness. Until this day we cannot manage to have a normal father daughter relationship.
    As an adult, i am not allowed to br affected; you have to be strong they said; youre the big sister now.
    I was always too fat, too lazy, too messy… to her. I was never encouraged although she failed to see that; neither of my family understood me, my situation; why is it never about what im feeling and how this changed me? Even after being diagnosed (finally) Each time i tell myself shell be different, she ends up surprising me. Every chance she had, she left us. Leaving me to take care of my little sister(because my father never knew how or even tried to do so) when i was only still 17.
    Till this day, she goes from being the best mom in the world to the meanest person i know. Thebfunniest part is she barely rmmbers anything she did to me, to us. She breaks my heart and takes away a small part of me each time she has an episode. Its hard to keep “understanding” when u have noone to “understand ” u. I need a break, i want this to end so i can peacefully move on with my life.
    How can someone hate and love his own mother at the same time?

  14. My father has undiagnosed bipolar. He gets manic while trying to control the family’s decisions, i.e. in what should I major in college.

    He particularly relishes saying in retrospect that he was right, for this or that reason. I believe this emboldens his arguments so that he establishes increased levels of perceived power, as if he’s so smart and others need to listen to him for their own sake. He is in his 80s now and I thought he had mellowed out a lot, but he’s back at it, trying to control others. He doesn’t have malice, but rather the “best of intentions” which can lead to a hell-ish road. I’m at the point that I’m not particularly concerned about hurting his feelings, and definitely not interested in hearing much of his “advice.” After he goes on a rampage, I typically wait several days before speaking with him again, in order to give him some time to calm down.

    During my teen years, there was a lot of serious family dysfunction, thanks to my father; too much to say for this context. My mother, who didn’t follow social norms, also developed a mood disorder. She was verbally abusive and highly unpredictable. One day she would be this loving, nurturing mother, and the next she would be angry and verbally abusive.

    No wonder I went into the mental health field!

  15. I have a bipolar mother who has never been officially diagnosed by a doctor. I have fiercely protected my now grown up 3 sons from this disorder. My father died 7years ago and as they witness their grandmothers behaviour I find it difficult to explain it’s been like it for all my 60 years. So I think it’s worthwhile to prepare your own children at an early age that this is not normal behaviour. My heart goes out to anybody who has a family member with this disorder

  16. It’s so good to know that I’m not alone. I’ve dealt with my mother for years and have grown to accept that it’s just the way that she is as well. However, I recently found out I am pregnant and it’s brought up new issues I’m now trying to learn how to deal with. The dynamic of our relationship has now changed. Before when it was just me and her I was more compassionate and understanding but now thinking of my daughter having to possibly deal with what my mother has put me through it’s made me fiercely protective and I’m not understanding with my mother anymore. Maybe I’m being harsh, I really don’t know, but I feel as though I need to set boundaries for my daughter so that she’s never hurt or put in danger the way that I was. I wish so badly that things were different. I can relate when you say that you have grieved for the relationship that never was or will be. I wish I had a normal mother that taught me how to be a woman. I wish she could be a normal grandmother that could babysit and help me figure it all out but she’s not and never will be. This is the way it is and I have to figure out how to deal with things again bringing a child into it. Anyway, it’s just nice to kind of talk to people that can relate.

    • Wow I can relate to what you’ve said. I have a bipolar mum and a two a half year old son. I get very and stressed when I take my son to visit her because the environment is unsafe and unsanitary. If I visit her without my son it is easier because I don’t have to worry about his safety. I tried avoiding taking him to her house or not going inside and it’s caused a lot of conflict. Sometimes she makes an effort and cleans up but I never know what I’m going to get.

  17. Thank you for sharing and helping me realize that I am not the root cause of this and this illness stems from somewhere else. You have no idea how much this has helped me.

  18. Thanks so much for sharing this, and for the many other comments on here that I can relate to. I always thought my mother was just very difficult, selfish and cruel, until recently my daughter was unexpectedly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I realise now that my mother had undiagnosed bipolar disorder too. As a child I was sad, lonely and frightened, my father had died and my mother was inaccessible, angry and destructive, so in effect I had no parental love, support or protection, and just did my best to survive, thinking, as children do, that it was somehow my fault.

    However, I did survive, and now my daughter has been diagnosed with this condition, although it has been difficult, now I understand what it is I hope I can use some of my experiences and the things I learned as a child growing up with a bipolar parent, to help her.

    I’m sorry so many of you have experienced the same sadnesses as I have, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but you are all testimony to survival, and thank you for sharing your stories. Hopefully this cruel condition will be better understood in the future, and there is at least now a range of medications that help, and a better understanding than there has been.

    Peace and hope to you all! x

    • wow this has opened my eyes to how my children feel about their father, we are almost divorced and this disease runined our family of 17 years, they feel heartbroken, hate, anger, sadness, resentment to a man that was once there hero. He chose drugs/ bipoplar and a women that does drugs to leave his family. Your right you have to ACCEPT THE PERSON for who they actually are. This disease destroys everything in you especially when the person with the disease doesn’t seek help or keeps their appointments or take meds. They go down a path that sometimes can’t be unchanged. I pray for everyone that deals with this becasue it hurts ALL affected.

      god bless

      • NO one chooses to be bipolar, like no one chooses to have an autoimmune disease.

        If you’re fortunate enough to be healthy, lucky you. That’s all it is, is luck.

        I was not so lucky. It’s incredibly unfair of you to say that not having a debilitating, isolating and embarrassing disability is a choice. No one would choose this.

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