I know a few adults who struggle with bipolar or addiction. I’m sure you do too. The sense of helplessness we can feel around this situation can be crippling. Seeing a friend or family member hurting in this way, knowing the tools you have to help them are limited, is frustrating and leaves you grieving day in and out.
Depression runs in my family and as a mother to three kids, I’ve worried quite a bit about how this will affect them. Will they experience depression or personality disorders? How will I deal with it?
One woman is talking candidly about her journey supporting her son, Dylan, who has bipolar disorder and his struggles with addiction. Janice Morgan, author of Suspended Sentence, realized after her son, Dylan, was arrested for drug charges and possession of a stolen firearm that she’s in this struggle with him. A conversation with Darlene, her son’s social worker, was a turning point for them:
“I could see Darlene’s social-worker skills coming to the fore. She listened calmly and with empathy to both of us, but intervened at one point, saying, ‘That’s all in the rear-view mirror, Dylan. We’re in a car and we’re going forward; we can’t just continue to gaze in the rear-view mirror—yes, a glance now and then, but overall, we’ve got to look ahead to be able to steer this vehicle forward.’ She talked about new choices, new possibilities—not in a grandiose way, but very practically. Small steps, day by day—as in…This was a message my son needed to hear, and from somebody else besides me.”
— Suspended Sentence
When we have children, those mama bear instincts stick like glue and there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for our children. Their health and happiness is always in the front and center of our minds regardless of what they are going through.
As they get older and situations and experiences get more serious and can have lasting effects, it becomes harder to talk about the decisions our kids are making. We may feel embarrassed, alone, and worry about what others may think. And of course we want to have other sound adults to talk to, but we also want to protect our child’s privacy.
However, Morgan decided that sharing her story and what she and her son went through would help other parents struggling with bipolar disorder– something which affects almost 3% of the population.
Scary Mommy talked with Morgan, who recommended that if you are a parent going through this journey with your child, “It’s important to resist the temptation to hunker down and retreat to bunker mentality,” which can often be our first reaction.
She advises finding a close friend or family member you trust. “On the one hand, you need to vent, and on the other, you need to get some feedback on your own reactions to make sure they are reasonable and not part of the crazy vortex threatening to take over your life,” she says.
Other helpful tools are to find a support group and, if you can, get some therapy of your own to help manage your emotions around the situation. Morgan found a wonderful support group through NAMI and says, “Those parents helped me get a cleaner perspective on my situation by telling me about challenges they faced with their sons and daughters.”
Self-care has also helped Morgan, who says she does everything she can to exercise regularly, get outside, and do things she loves like reading. “I heartily recommend a strong dose of laughter as medicine daily, along with dark chocolate,” she says.
Writing about her story was a part of this — it was cathartic for Morgan and has helped strengthen some of her existing friendships.
We all know it’s important for all parents who are trying to help their child, regardless of the severity of the situation, to take care of themselves too. Morgan’s story is a great reminder to not let the ball drop when it comes to your mental health, even if you don’t think you have time to consider your needs. It clearly helped her move forward through dark times.
As far as her relationship with her son, Morgan says she tries “to listen to him, not rescue him,” and she lets him know consistently she is there to lend emotional support.
Her hardest lesson has been that she needs to let him grow and figure out his own life. “I can’t provide well-being for him. I have a tendency to think my son’s battles are my battles and I have to be in there fighting with him,” she says.
Over time, Morgan has realized how little this helps her son and told us this isn’t about rejecting or stepping away from her child. “I love my son,” she says, “but I have to set boundaries for my protection.”
If you are a parent who is wading their way through something similar, Morgan’s book can help shed light on the situation. She wants all parents to remember to “be strong, be brave, and keep the faith that your child will have the chances they need to become strong and brave in their own way.”