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.