What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Beth.
I feel grateful that I ran across this series. I am a 64-year old woman whose mother was diagnosed with bipolar when I was about 13 years old. It has been very healing for me when I read many of the similar accounts. I have felt a very close affinity too many of the characters in the stories I have read. I also grew up feeling isolated and that we had a big secret that could not be spoken. I came from a large family of nine children and my two younger siblings seem to have been affected the worst. I had a lot of very good memories about my mother and I played those over and over in my mind. I think that is what sustained me. I always knew I loved her. My two younger siblings told me often they felt she hated them. Because she was very withdrawn much of the time. They would walk in the door after getting home from school & she would not respond to them when they said hi. Prior to her illness she was very cheerful and would go around the house reciting poetry as she cleaned. She read to us many, many of the classics. I do not believe I would have ever read those books if she had not introduced them to me at that young age. When she became ill she was hospitalized and underwent several shock therapy treatments. And when she returned home she was never the same. She no longer recited poetry. She no longer read to us. She no longer was interested in poetry. She would sit by the window and gaze out. My mother was gone and never truly returned.
Years later she was diagnosed with bipolar illness and was placed on medication. Things did improve for her a little. I grew up feeling inadequacies that others have mentioned. I felt a great amount of guilt. When I was young I felt that if I could just be perfect enough she would return.
Years later I went to school and then I married and had my own family. Initially I was afraid to consider having a baby. I worried that I did not know how to be a good mother. I wanted to be sure that any child that I had would feel loved and cared for. I ended up having three children. Unfortunately my oldest child became ill with bipolar illness at the age of 13. She is now 36 years old. She has had a bumpy road as the mental health field has not improved much since my mother was ill. But at this time in her life she is stable, on medications and in close contact with the mental health team. For many years after my daughter was diagnosed, I felt a great amount of guilt thinking this illness was passed on from me. Over the years I lost two brothers to suicide and one brother was diagnosed with bipolar. Personally, I have been fortunate in that I have not had a mental illness. However, my life has been greatly affected by it. As the world gradually seems to become a more compassionate place, I hope that mental illness will be recognized for what it is. And that supports will be placed for not only the person suffering from the mental illness but also for those who are so closely affected by this. Just as when a family member goes in for open heart surgery counseling and supports are put in place for the family.