We are the three-person-team of O’Cavan Copywriters. As principal and senior writer of the team, I have a son who has suffered from bipolar disorder since he was about 3 years old.
My Son Caleb
Caleb was a well-behaved child who was complimented just about anywhere he went, except in school. The requirements of the private school classroom to sit still and focus were closer to cruel and unusual punishment for Caleb, but with his outgoing and happy disposition, he would find ways to get out of his seat for trips to the bathroom or to sharpen his pencil or to throw away a piece of trash. To this day, as an adult, sitting still is tough for him. Initially, it was thought he had attention deficit hyperactive disorder, but treating it was in its early stages, and I had far more concern for the demise that was happening to his self esteem than I did about his first grade classroom movement.
Shame Rears Its Ugly Head
However, he began to come home from school in first grade filled with shame. The teacher, who was a transfer from a sixth grade classroom, was impatient with his desires to go to her and hug her and to go to the pencil sharpener too often…and would tell him he was going to be a juvenile delinquent. He took it hard. He’d come home and brood…. and loathe himself…. at 7 years old. Transferring him to another school with a patient, young teacher made a huge difference and brought his joy back, but something bigger was clearly going on. Lack of confidence, a willingness to always be the doormat in every game the kids played, inability to grasp boundaries, etc became more and more troubling to me. He was my second child, and I thought it was his individuality for awhile. I have heard stories of young children having outbursts and fits of rage and then being treated for bipolar disorder. But that was not Caleb. He was well-behaved and charmed people wherever he went.
What makes a 10 year old want to die?
However, the periods of deep emotional anguish continued. By the time he was in fifth grade his agony turned to contemplation of suicide. Again, I thought he was just especially sensitive and I tried to encourage him.
When Something’s Wrong, Blaming is Easy
His dad and I had gone through divorce when he was 20 months old, and it was easy for me to blame his dad for all our son’s troubles. His behavior in the classroom became more and more difficult for his teachers…taking on the role of class clown, unable to focus at all, and punished often, his school life was not a happy one. Then, in 7th grade, I began noticing a change in the friends he was inviting over. He had one very nice boy that lived nearby and was a constant companion, but we had to move. And after the move, his friendships seemed to be among those kids that appeared ahead of themselves…and eager to experience “too much too soon.” But, it was when he was 14 that he melted down in a way I’d never seen. Rage took him over and I saw a side of my son I’d never seen. That was the beginning of the serious rage that would soon define his life. His brother had struggled with chronic depression so I decided I should take him to see a family friend who was a psychiatrist. As soon as he heard Caleb’s story, his first question was: Why am I just now hearing about this? He’d known him since birth, but had only seen the sweet, friendly boy who played with his kids. That was the beginning of a long and painful adolescence, during which his cruel agony built upon the anguish of his childhood and brought him to crises neither he nor I could have imagined. It wasn’t until he was 16 that he was diagnosed with Bipolar I. He experienced the first balance he had ever had on medications when he was 17: lithium and zoloft. As the years wore on, his balance was fragile, his daily life erratic, and drugs and alcohol became a part of him through the often-coined phrase, self-medicating.
Psych hospitals and Rehabs
There were psychiatric hospitals, rehabs, even jail and more than a few times. His pathological impulsiveness and grandiosity led to incident after incident, some life-altering…and damaging.
Kicking addiction.. but not necessarily the addictive tendencies
Caleb spent many years, well into adulthood, fighting through the dual diagnosis nightmare of bipolar disorder and addiction. With the help of the medication baclofen, a muscle relaxant, he was able to kick the crack addiction that had him by the throat for so many years. Apparently, baclofen has a strange side affect for some people, in that it can reduce or remove the craving for certain substances. And it worked for him. He is an adult now, very intelligent– as is common for so many bipolars–creative and sensitive. But the medications only give him a median balance. He is able to live at home and not explode into the street and disappear for undetermined periods of time anymore. But he still has rough ups and downs, seasonal periods of depression or mania, combined with mixed states day to day, that can result in rash explosive rages. He has attempted suicide countless times…but thankfully has never succeeded.
Through all the experiences of Caleb’s life, we have grown as a family. We have all been angry at times, heart-broken at others. But always loving him and celebrating his amazing sense of humor and charm, his creative gifts and his warmth and loving personality. I learned long ago that none of this was his dad’s fault, and hopefully his dad learned it wasn’t mine. And… we always hope that he’ll find stability to a degree that he is no longer in danger of dying from this disease.
Our purpose in this blog is to invite others who suffer with this illness, and those who love them, to come and talk about what you deal with. Once a bipolar person reaches enough stability to function, they still have the challenges of sobriety, responsibility for working in the workforce –if they are able– and probably most importantly, they need relationships. They need to love and be loved. For many, family is distant because of the upheaval they’ve caused, and romance becomes too painful to risk.
We would like to offer our experiences to those who are new at this and want a sounding board. For those struggling in family or romantic relationships, we’d like to offer a place to talk about the struggles and the things that make relationships different in this case. Rules need to change a bit for relationships to work. And we’d like to talk about ideas for making life better for bipolars and those who love them.
The sky’s the limit so come and spend time with us. You are welcome. There is no shame here. Let’s be friends.