Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tackling Taboo: Bipolar Parents

With the decriminalization of Postpartum Depression through massive amounts of media coverage, I'd like to try and create a new initiative: decriminalizing and myth-busting Bipolar Disorder in parents.

You see, I'm a Bipolar Parent.  It's something that I tend to keep to myself, so writing this post is monumental for me.  With the pop-culture examples like the story of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest and the fictional but true-to-life tale in Blue Sky, disclosing Bipolar Disorder to the general public is met with discrimination and even fear.  Telling most people that you're a PARENT and Bipolar, though, is met with judgement and assumed abuse.

That is absolutely not the case in many (if not most,) families with a Bipolar parent.

See, we're no different from a mother with PPD or a father with PTSD.  We go to counseling, we make decisions in conjunction with our physicians on which therapeutic pharmaceuticals to take, and we manage our lives so that outside stressors and triggers are avoided.  If anything, parents with BPD are MORE careful in how well their disease is managed.  We are, afterall, parents.  It is not our disease that defines us in most cases; it's our children and our desire to be functional members of society just like everyone else.  Our disease is simply a speed bump that must be navigated around.

Now, that's not to say it isn't difficult sometimes.  As with any long-term disease, certain treatments may cease to work to their fullest.  Physicians and therapists will occasionally move or close their practices.  Outside stressors and triggers can't always be avoided.  In those situations, it's crucial to have a support system in place such as an understanding partner, supportive family, and a friend or two that is close enough to be trusted with watching our children for an emergency doctor's appointment or a late-night phone call for a sanity check.

A common myth is that a woman who gets pregnant - either by choice or by mistake - is automatically putting her fetus at risk by taking dangerous drugs that will cause terrible deformities.  This is exactly that: a MYTH.  I will not discuss specific medications in this blog because I am not a licensed pharmacist or physician, but there are multiple psychotropic medications approved for the management of BPD that are also considered relatively safe for use during pregnancy.

Another myth: mothers with BPD cannot breastfeed due to the medication they're taking.  Wrong again!  See above for the debunking of this myth.

Myth 3:  BPD is genetic and any person who reproduces is automatically sentencing their child to a life of misery and insanity.  Incorrect!  While yes, genetics do play a role in BPD, it is not a guarantee that the offspring of parents with BPD will end up with a positive diagnosis later in life.

Myth 4:  Parents with BPD are incapable of being responsible enough to take care of children properly, or they are child abusers.  This is probably the myth that bothers me the most.  Being Bipolar does not automatically make one a bad parent!  It is my experience that those of us with BPD are *MORE* attentive to our children, even OVER attentive, and due in part to that myth exactly!  BPD is no more an indicator of how fit a person is to parent than Diabetes or Asthma or Allergies is.  Joan Crawford is NOT the norm, here, people!

There is a wonderful web resource for friends, family, and those afflicted with BPD called Bipolar Lives if anyone has more questions or would like to research the condition more.  Please - educate yourselves!  Help debunk the popular and incorrect opinions that run rampant in our society today.  Most importantly, remember that even those of us parents with BPD are people, too.


  1. Thank you so much for writing this! I was researching harassment from teachers against bipolar parents when I came across this. I just broke down in tears because everything that you said is true. I'm an amazing mother who just happens to be bipolar, but that doesn't mean in any way that I am an abuser or unfit. I've had to deal with unspeakable humiliation and emotional abuse because of the stigmas associated with Bipolar I disorder, and it must stop! We did not ask to be sick, but we are, and we deserve the same kindness, respect, and tolerance of anyone else with any other type of illness.

    1. Oh, mama. I'm so sorry to hear that you've experienced the shaming and bigotry that is still just far too common. I'm even sorrier to hear that it sounds like you're having a problem with the little's school. That is probably the most difficult for me. For the most part, I can handle people judging me silently because, let's be honest -- they only have as much of an impact as we allow them to have. When it's someone who plays a role in our lives that is in some way authoritarian or otherwise intrinsically linked directly to our *family*, it's 10 times more stressful and hurtful. Especially when it concerns a little, and being told in one way or another that even though this person don't know you, they truly *must* know that you're a bad person because you have this label. Nothing is free of sanctimony these days, and it seems especially so with the Mean Girls/Good Old Boy clubs that schools have turned into /in regards to the adults/! If you're not one of the clique, then you're just not worthy.

      I can't offer you any advice on how to handle your situation directly, because I don't know the details and I'm not even sure if you'll check back to see my reply. I will tell you my thoughts are with you, though, and let you know that even though you're an anonymous commenter on my blog, I have faith that you can come through this rough patch to the other side, and be even stronger for it. Don't let this bully drive you to mania. Remember, you're just as much of a person as they are, and if anything, you may be a bit better. After all, you're not the one throwing stones.

      I contributed a follow up to this to Tales of an Unlikely Mother that you may find a bit bolstering, as well. It can be found here: http://www.parentwin.com/2013/08/down-rabbit-hole-on-parenting-with.html

      Lastly, please don't hesitate to email me. I check that account about once weekly, so if you choose to, give me about a 7 day turn around time.

      Hang in there. You can do it. Remember you have at least one person solidly in your corner. <3

  2. Excellent post. I believe that this is something that really needs to be discussed more so that the education can get out there. There are still too many false stigma's associated with being a parent who has bipolar disorder.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! If you couldn't tell, I'm a bit passionate about this. ;) It truly is one of the higher ranking social plagues. And it's not just limited to bipolar disorder. However, I think being bipolar falls towards the harsher side of the scale in regards to how vehemently we're judged. I have actually contemplated doing a photo narrative about the legs of the journeys we parents with mental illnesses have to travel. Sort of a day in the life or even a slice of life type narrative, where we are essentially sharing with the world that we love our families in the same way everyone else does.

      I'll definitely be announcing it here if I do.

      Additionally, I posted a follow-up/continuation of this post over at Tales of an Unlikely Mother where I have become a regular contributor. It details how to handle things when your littles get a bit older, and start understanding and asking questions. You can find it here: http://www.parentwin.com/2013/08/down-rabbit-hole-on-parenting-with.html

      Thanks again for your supportive comment. Be well!