Adventures in pediatric bipolar disorder

When someone asks me about our journey with mental illness the first thing that comes to mind is the musical “Next to Normal”.  I love musicals and was reading an article about it while while waiting to talk with the psychologist about The Boy (TB)*.  This was in 2009. Little did I know what impact it would have on me personally three years later.

The doctors had mentioned pediatric bipolar a few times starting when TB was five but also seemed to dismiss it just as quickly because it’s difficult to diagnose, especially since it can co-occur with other disorders such as ADHD and sensory issues which he’d been diagnosed with a year earlier.  It’s also very different from adult bipolar because the cycling is much more rapid.

TB will start off the morning pretending he’s a cat, yell at me for asking what he wants for breakfast, explode and throw his clothes when I tell him to get dressed and cry when I tell him it’s time to get on the bus.  All this happens in the span of 30-45 minutes.

The cycling usually continues once he gets to school.  TB’s excited about telling his teacher and the other kids about a Lego guy he created but he’ll become frustrated if he thinks people aren’t listening to him or making fun of him so he’ll run to the library to calm down.  He also constantly interrupts the teacher and tells her she’s wrong, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about or she’s not the boss or him.  On the really bad days he can meltdown so severe he has to go to the in-school suspension room and they call me or his father in the hope we can get him to calm down.

One of the most important things we’ve learned about loving and raising a child with bipolar disorder is there are days nothing seems to work.  When that happens we do the only thing we can and ignore him.  The screaming will escalate to the point he ends up going into his room and slamming the door but after a while he’ll come out much calmer and we talk about what happened.  He also apologizes for his actions (i.e. throwing things) and anything he said that we consider inappropriate (cursing, screaming).

I accompanied my niece to a production of “Next to Normal” at one of our local theatres last year.  She was writing about it for her journalism class and since I’m a professional stage manager, and theatre fanatic, I would be able to fill in any questions she had about the production.

I was able to chat with the actors prior to and after the show.  I shared with them what the show meant to me and about my son and his struggle with pediatric bipolar.  I know this will sound odd but it’s almost like seeing the show and talking with the actors made this whole experience come full circle.


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