Is My Child Bipolar? (A Guest Post by Mama Bear)

Is My Child Bipolar?

Ever since my son started to have rages and thoughts of killing himself at the age of 7, I had to ask the question… “Is my son Bipolar?”

I wish that I could tell you that I knew. That after 3 years of medication and working with our psychiatrist and therapist that I had an answer to that question.

Instead, I only have more questions.

Will my son ever have a diagnosis?

Will my son outgrow these symptoms as his brain develops?

Are we using the right medications?

Do our doctors really understand our son’s case?

Will he survive this undiagnosed illness?

Have you asked these question yourself? Like me, have you read The Bipolar Child book, along with countless other books on bipolar kids and thought… this is my life, this sounds just like my child.

If so, you’re not alone. There are so many parents like myself that are left with unanswered questions regarding our child’s illness. I’ve been told that my son has a Mood Disorder NOS (not otherwise specified). He’s been labeled with other fancy stuff like, anxiety disorder, explosive disorder, impulsive disorder and depression. But yet, our doctor can’t diagnose our son.

Some would think… wow, you’re lucky, your child hasn’t been labeled with a lifelong illness, but to be honest, sometimes I think it would be easier to know what we’re dealing with, than to not know. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t desire my son to be bipolar, heavens no, but we’re living through hell. I’ve witness things that resemble a nightmare and I’ve felt such deep emotional pain after being injured by my own son. I so desperately need an understanding of what can transform my beautiful son into something I don’t even recognize, something I fear.

But our doctors stand firm in their belief that our son can’t be diagnosed bipolar as a child. That there’s still hope that he may someday outgrow most of his symptoms and maybe only deal with depression or anxiety as an adult. But I don’t feel hope, instead I feel helpless.

Maybe it’s the Type A personality in me, wanting to take charge of this illness, wanting so bad to control what I can’t. How can we fight this illness if we don’t even know it’s name. How do we find support or research medication choices if we don’t even know what’s causing my son’s illness? How do we “wait and see”?

Well I’m trying to figure that out. Maybe someday doctors will have a blood test or a brain scan to determine what my son has. But for now, we have to move forward with what we know, so we’re treating the symptoms with medication and we’re meeting with a therapist every month. I’m trying hard to focus on today and not think about all the “what ifs” in tomorrow. (not easy) I’ve opened up to those close to me, finding strength in those that love our family and I’ve even started a blog to let go of my pain and reach out to others who share it and finally, I’m praying… a lot.

I’m praying that God would give me peace, courage and hope to fight something that remains a mystery and every night as I tuck my son into bed, I pray over him that he would be healed and know that he is loved regardless.

* * *

If you too are a parent searching for answers, I would love for you to share how you deal with an undiagnosed illness, I think we can all learn from one another.

I’m a 38 year old Mama Bear married to my sweetheart for 18 years. We have 3 beautiful boys ages 9, 7 and 5. My oldest started showing signs of a mood disorder around 3 years ago. He’s currently taking Tenex and Trileptal and is in therapy with our HMO. Recently, I turned to the internet looking for support and a place to express all the pain I carry inside. I feel blessed to have found a community of families who understand this tough journey and along the way I’ve found strength, healing and great friends like Marybeth.

4 thoughts on “Is My Child Bipolar? (A Guest Post by Mama Bear)

  1. Mama Bear, I started reading your blog this summer shortly before Erika’s post there. The two of you gave me help when I needed it most. It was a difficult summer but, thanks to you it was much more manageable. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Your family’s experience is so similar to ours it’s scary! Now you ask about diagnosis. I have been looking for these same answers for years.

    My son recently turned 8 years old. Since the day he was born, I noticed there was something about him that was different. As he grew, he was easily frustrated and often had meltdowns. Not tantrums, he needed to wreck things before he could feel better. (We have not had nik-naks since he was an infant!) Even though his older brother was well behaved with no issues being disciplined, doctors chalked it up to being spoiled and suggested my husband and I take parenting classes.

    When he was 4 I had him evaluated by a child psychologist. I wanted help for him before he entered the school system. The doc stated he felt there was a possible mood disorder, maybe bi-polar, but couldn’t diagnose him with anything specific. He was of no assistance to help our son start school. When I asked about sensory integration therapy, he said it might help. It was a tremendous help. We use what we learned there every day. While getting sensory help, the therapists suggested we not label him. Just help him.

    He began seeing a different child psychologist last fall. He has been learning coping techniques, ect. and just having someone to talk with seems to help him. This psychologist told us he doesn’t think it is ADHD, most likely neurological. He likes to focus on therapies helping my son help himself, without meds. During the school year my son would still have meltdowns after school, for up to 2 hours. He would walk in the door and begin trashing the house, hopefully ending up in his safe place, his bedroom. His psychologist had him evaluated by a psychiatrist. (We got the results last week. Possible mood disorder and Asperger’s.)

    3 months ago, he started having rages. ( I consider rages to be the next step after the meltdown stage.) He would tell us he wanted to kill us and himself and was very physically and verbally abusive. We would sit on him and hold him down for 45 minutes, while he spit at us, hit, bit, kicked, scratched and threatened us. His rages have become more severe and are lasting up to 2 hours, now.

    Although it seems that his behavior seems to be escalating, it is my belief that as he matures he is better able to hold more and more frustration at bay. Instead of letting go of his frustration throughout his day, with tantrums or meltdowns, (Or, silly me, in a positive more appropriate manner!) it builds up to a point where it is so big, it is out of his control.

    He has seen numerous psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors and therapists. (Thus far they have told us it looks as though he might have a possible mood disorder, anxiety, sensory issues and Asperger’s.) No one has diagnosed him with anything specific. They also state they don’t want to make a specific diagnosis, until he has further testing. Some have told me he doesn’t need a specific diagnosis and suggest we don’t label him.

    Last year, our public school had someone from a county run program help him during school. These are the only people who, if we get assistance from them, will definitely have him diagnosed with “something”.

    We have help for him from the school psychologist, the county run program, his pediatritian, his psychologist, numerous psychiatrists, nurses, case workers, and even our insurance company. I don’t know we will ever know what it is, even if he is diagnosed with “sometihing”.

    My son is in the process of weaning off of Zoloft, while taking 2.5mg of Abilify in am and pm. The Zoloft gave us a 2 week window of seeing our sweet, endearing son without anxiety. Then his rages worsened and he was started on Abilify, while hospitalized. The Abilify gives him presence of mind to cope with his frustration in appropriate ways, before he reaches the point of no return. (Sometimes.) Hopefully, taking him off Zoloft will take away some of the anger. And so it begins…

    I appreciate everyone with the strength to share their story. I am especially greatful for Mamma Bear, MaryBeth, and Erika. Thank you! Nina

  2. Mamma Bear & Nina,
    Thank you both for sharing your stories. It’s women like you and others who publicly advocate for your children that will bring positive change to the psychiatric community. The mental health system will have to examine and re-evaluate their entire approach for treating children with mental illnesses. Continue your courageous fight to make your voices heard!
    My hats off to you ladies.

  3. Wow! Thank you both for your kind words. I really believe it takes a community to get through life together.

    Thank you Nina for sharing your story, it always helps me to know that I’m not alone in this struggle and my child is like so many other kids. It also makes my day when I know that I’ve helped someone along the way. You’re experience with rages sound so familiar to my own, isn’t it heartbreaking at times? I’m so sorry that he had to be hospitalized, that must have been a difficult time! It sounds like you have a big team supporting you, I hope you find stability for your son soon and I hope to hear from you again!
    Mama Bear

  4. Great post, as usual, Mama Bear! And thanks Nina for telling your story, too. Mine is SO similar to both of yours and we remain equally undiagnosed and unsure of how to help our son. I have an older son who is EXTREMELY well-behaved (at least in public…), so much so that my friends used to call him the “stepford child”. If not for him, I swear I would have killed myself thinking it was our parenting. Over the years, we have been subjected to so many offers of parenting advice, mean stares, and whispering behind our backs. I wish so much there was an answer for all of us. I’m going to see Dr. Phil sometime this month, so I will do my best to advocate for us all!


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