Living In The Shadow Of Bipolar Disorder

Life at home for me and my brother when we were younger was different to other kids, but I didn’t know it yet. My Mum had undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder and so she was either over-medicated with Valium for agitation and anxiety and would sleep or be completely out of it all the time. She would become addicted to this medication. Or she would be un-medicated and all over the shop, swinging from anger to pure hopelessness and helplessness. She would also swing from overly controlling to neglectful at the drop of the hat. If we did something naughty the belt would come out and she would unleash a torrent of anger. One thing I am grateful for is the fact that children are very resilient.

My brother and I would spend a lot of time out of the house, at parks, at shops, we would spend time around other friends, we made some wonderful memories and got to experience life to the fullest while out and about, exploring, mastering our outdoor environment and going on our little missions and adventures.

As I got older I realised things were not right. Mum would go on her anti-depressants, she would be ok for a while, but then she would end up having to come off them because they made her feel like, and I quote,

“Throwing rocks through all the windows and screaming.”

My brother would run away from home at least twice a year and sleep in abandoned cars at the rubbish dump or on top of the school lockers. I was an angry teen at home but I was so out of touch with the way I felt, I didn’t know why I was so angry and spiteful. At school I was horribly bullied because all my life I learned I wasn’t allowed to behave the way I wanted to, I had to do what I was told and agree with everything others said and doing that at school makes you a target because you are seen as weak. I look back now and realise it was because I felt like I was a burden and therefore I didn’t feel like I had the right to be who I was.

In 2007 my brother was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. He was spending his fortnightly pay within two days on polo shirts, expensive colognes, DVD’s, expensive lunches, he would sit down with a bunch of strangers at a pub and shout them drinks, and then he would run out of petrol, not be able to get to his job, and then he was fired. It was a vicious cycle which endured for years. He had at one point been homeless and before that he always bouncing from house to house because his housemates couldn’t deal with him.

One day my Mum of all people suggested he may have Bipolar. So off I went to the doctors with him for support and added my two cents worth as to why he may have it. After a psych appointment it was confirmed, he has Bipolar Disorder – Type 1, the most savage of them all, with rapid cycle and mixed moods. It was this diagnosis which sent Mum back to the doctor and psych, and it was confirmed, she has type 2 Bipolar.

Looking back I think my Dad may have had Bipolar as well. I would sometimes wake up at night and hear him sobbing, and when I tried to comfort him he would push me away. The last time I saw him I was 6 years old, then we moved to another state, we had a couple of phone conversations, then I never heard from him again. My brother rang me last year and told me he died from lung cancer, I was so sad that I never got back in contact with him again but there’s nothing you can do about that when they’re dead, I just had to move on.

For whatever reason, I seem to have so far escaped this curse but I carry around a bit of ‘survivor guilt’. My brother has recently lost his marriage, his house which he and his wife bought, he doesn’t get to see his son as much as he would like because she has moved on, she is happy and she now lives 4 hours away. He is now living with my Mum and our Step Dad who don’t really get along like a house on fire, in fact, I thing my brother sometimes wants to set the house on fire when they argue. He is on Government Payments. He can’t get a job yet because he is rapid cycling at the moment despite being on medication, and there is no way he will be able to hold onto a job at this time. I can’t bring up any painful memories otherwise he breaks down, shuts off and pushes me out of his life for a couple of years.

My Mum can’t remember anything in between 1990-2003, she has lost a lot of her precious memories during the most crucial and formative years of our lives due to her long depression cycles. I know she mourns for the parent she could have been, wanted to be, but just couldn’t do it in her undiagnosed state, and for that I feel truly sympathetic towards her. I know if she could go back and change it all she would. I imagine she has times where she cries and begs God to take her back in time so she can fix everything. This is why I could never resent her or hold a grudge against her, she was truly helpless, more so than us when we were children.

And here I am, my husband and I have been together for nearly 11 years now, married for almost 6 years. We have three beautiful, well adjusted boys. We don’t take drugs, we don’t drink, we don’t bash each other, we have been doing the same jobs for the duration of our relationship, we have a very loving relationship. We’re not perfect but we work well together. All five of us. I try so hard to change the cycle of neglect and abuse for my children, and I am so proud that I think I may be achieving that! But the guilt remains and I don’t know why. I love to help my Mum and Brother, encourage them, I love to love them! They are my family. Watching them fail is hard, and watching them rebuild themselves again is met with mixed feelings of pride but also uncertainty.

I guess I just wish so much happiness for them, and I guess that because I am so happy with my life at the moment, how things have gone right for me so far that I wonder, “Why it am I so lucky? What did I do to deserve it?”