Sunday, March 13, 2011

Explaining Bipolar Disorder to Children

My son, John, is in an acute treatment facility. It is a psychiatric hospital. A lot of children who know and love John are learning some new vocabulary, like Bipolar and mental illness. It's terribly confusing to them, I'm sure. One of his friends prayed for John's headache to go away soon. (Which is an incredibly sweet and innocent thing!) It's confusing to most adults. So, I thought I'd try to help, in case any of you are confused or have children you would like to explain it to. (I know it's really long, please pick which parts you'd like to share with them or modify with examples that apply to your own children.)

John has something called Bipolar Disorder. It affects how happy, sad, angry and worried he is. He doesn't have anything wrong that you can see, like a broken arm or a runny nose or a cut or a bruise. He doesn't even have an IV and isn't staying in a hospital bed.

When you find out you get to have cookies, it probably makes you happy. When you find out your grandma is coming for a visit you might be even happier. And when you find out you are getting to go to Disney World, you might get so happy that you run around, dance, start dreaming about what to pack and sorta get hyper. Something in John's brain gets confused and he can get Disney World happy over having a snack. Or he gets so excited about an idea that he does dangerous science experiments without adults.

When you drop a penny and can't find it, you might get a little sad. When Mom cooks something for dinner you don't like, you might be more sad. When your friend is really sick or a pet dies, you might get very, very sad. Sometimes dropping a penny can make John very, very sad. Or something very bad can happen and John doesn't even seem to care.

Different things probably make you different levels of angry. Sometimes John gets very angry about something that isn't very important. If someone bumps into him or teases him, he might think they did it on purpose and are trying to be mean. So he might hit, kick, scream or do something mean. When he gets angry like that, his brain thinks little kids are big, mean and scary like full-size bad guy grownups. This doesn't make it ok for John to hit and kick but it might help you understand that he's not doing it on purpose. It is important to tell an adult if you see John acting in ways that don't seem right to you.

Sometimes John worries about things that are adult problems. He worries if there is enough money for groceries. He worries that we might run out of gas or get lost. If he has a nice toy, he worries that people are going to steal it. He worries that people aren't going to be his friends or that he might hurt his friends or his sisters. He worries that his Mom and Dad don't really love him. (But they love him, very, very much!)

When the Bipolar is really bad, he can be sad, happy, scared, and angry for no reason at all. Last week, John started doing that and he was afraid because he got so angry that he might hurt his little sister. It is really scary to be that out of control of how you feel.

The day he went to the hospital, John even got confused about which parts of his life were pretend and which parts were real. Sometimes he knew and sometimes he didn't. He also has hallucinations which is kinda like having nightmares while you are awake. On Wednesday, last week, John got so sad and scared, he wanted to stop living.

Now he is in a hospital where they are giving him medicine to help his brain figure out the emotions better, so he won't get too angry, sad, scared, or happy. They are also doing classes with him to teach him to know the difference between regular angry feelings and too angry Bipolar feelings. The people in the hospital watch him all the time so he can't accidentally hurt anybody or hurt himself until the medicine starts to help him. He will be staying there until he is safer and until he stops having those daytime nightmares and he isn't confused about which things are pretend and which things are real.

It is very hard work for him to do. His brain is telling him that someone has been very mean to him and that he is very, very angry but he has to stop and tell his brain that isn't right and to calm down and look for special clues to let him know it's not as bad as his brain thinks it is.

He is very tired of the hospital and wants to come home very soon. He misses his friends and family. They keep him very safe and are helping him but nobody wants to ever be in a hospital. You can pray that his medicines will work right and that he will learn the special clues so he won't get so angry, sad and worried.


QFchaos said...

You explain his condition so gently, it's easy for us all to understand this struggle. We shall pray for everything to work peacefully together, all for John's & your entire family's well being! Love to you all!

lahancock27 said...

Thank you for taking the time to explain. I didn't understand very well either. I'm tearful right now imagining how it must be for him right now and for you guys seeing him and only wanting him to feel better.

Amy Smith said...

What a wonderful explanation. You are such a sweet and loving mother. Lean on Jesus friend.

M said...

Thank you for this post. You explained it very well and I know it's very helpful. <3

Carissa said...

Beautifully written, Holly. And your heart and love for him shines through. So glad that he is home again. Thank you for taking the time to explain this so well.