Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fall Girl and My Girl Marybeth!

Marybeth Smith
Over the summer I got to enjoy a few books, one of them being the book Fall Girl by my friend Marybeth from Meet Marybeth Post last year. If you haven’t heard of her before, let me introduce you. She’s a fantastic wife and mother of three who’s raising a son who has bipolar disorder. What intrigued me about her, besides her hilarious wit, was that she too lives with bipolar disorder. So from the beginning of our friendship she’s been a valuable resource for me in finding answers to symptoms that I didn’t understand. Since then, she continues to serve other families through a valuable website she created called Ask A Bipolar. Over the year, the site has expanded to include a handful of authors, who like Marybeth, have wisdom and experience they can share with others. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do it today!

The other thing that intrigued me about Marybeth was that she’s an author. So when I had the opportunity to read her first published book about a teen growing up with a brother who has bipolar disorder, I jumped on it! I have to say, even though I wasn’t her target audience, I had a lot of fun reading it and look forward to her next book.

As a special treat, Marybeth has agreed to do an interview with me about her new book, which by the way, when released was listed as the #3 top selling book on Kindle’s 100 list under children’s ebooks. Way to go Marybeth, I’m so proud of you!

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Thank you Marybeth for joining us today, for those who are new to my blog, can you share a little about yourself?
I am a perpetual perfectionist living out my daily life as an imperfect, bipolar mother of three little ones, my middle child also having bipolar disorder. In 2010, after coming across a post on Mama Bear’s website here, I was struck with an idea, so I put the idea in motion and founded the website www.askabipolar.com, where me and a group of authors suffering from bipolar disorder answer reader’s questions about mental illnesses. In my spare time I write, blog and design websites. Fall Girl is my first published novel, and I hope that one day, through this book and my website; I will be able to help bring an end to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Can you share a little about your book?
I wrote my book about a girl who’s brother and mother both suffer from bipolar disorder. I wanted to show the effects bipolar has on the family as a whole.

What made you want to write for a teen audience?
I am a perpetual teenager in my own mind. I read young adult, I write young adult and I hate to admit it, but on occasions I think and talk like one too. But that’s totally rare!

How did you get into the mind of a teenager to write this book?
I read old journals, LOTS of young adult fiction, and blogs written by teenagers. I suppose you could say I did my research.

Having bipolar disorder yourself, what made you decide to write a book about a sibling with bipolar disorder?
Well, I actually got the idea after my son was diagnosed. I was sitting there wondering what effect his illness would have on my other two children. And just like that, the idea was born. 

How did you research the sibling perspective?
I observed my children. Many of the situations in the story were loosely based around things which have actually happened. I also read support forums for siblings and family member dealing with someone with bipolar.

Were there any challenges you faced in writing this book?
There were many scenes outside of my comfort zone so I was constantly asking people, “Do you think this will offend people?” I’m not one to really use profanity, but I wanted to be true to my characters. And the kissing scenes... I’m so not good at writing kissing scenes!

What did you learn about yourself in writing a book from the sibling perspective?
I kinda somewhat felt guilty for having put my siblings through so much of the same stuff. I now have a much greater respect for them.

Did you gain a new perspective regarding your own sibling relationships?
I’m lucky enough to have very close sibling relationships as it is. But the one thing that did totally shock me was my sister’s reaction to the book. She said it was like she was hanging out with my brother back when they were teens. I never even considered what it must have been like for her hanging out with him so much, which was probably the most shocking part of all!

What was the greatest challenge in writing and publishing your first book?
Fall Girl was actually the third novel I finished, but the first one I published. Writing it was easy. The story pretty much wrote itself. It was what came after that was difficult. I originally started querying agents. The response wasn’t horrible, but I just didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. On my previous novels I just up and moved on to the next book, but this novel... this one was too important to me. I NEEDED to get it out there. So I made the choice to self publish. It has definitely been a learning experience. I made MANY embarrassing mistakes, but in the future I think it’ll be much easier. But the greatest challenge so far is trying to find a way to get it into actual stores and libraries. It’s my current project.

What was the most rewarding experience?
Some of the responses I received. Especially the ones from teens who have thanked me for writing about this topic in such a realistic manner.

So, are you going to write a sequel?
I have to be honest and admit that I had never really considered a sequel. However, it has been made very clear to me that I MUST write one... SO yes, I’m in the process of plotting it out. There are some new characters, some old characters and a whole crap ton of drama. So much so that even I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it! Let’s just say that Annabelle will never be the same after everything that happens!

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Find Fall Girl (Kindle Edition) on Amazon for only $0.99:

Paperback version:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

57 Days—A New Record!

Today is the boys’ first day of school—I’m jumping for joy! After the cancellation of school last week, due to the evacuations in our area, we had 1 bad day where my son was impulsive and irritable, demonstrating “on the prowl behavior”, then the day finished with some depression and trouble falling to sleep. Though the day was challenging and stressful, it was no where near the severity we’ve seen in the past. I felt like we were on the edge of a rage, but it never happened! This is huge!

Then I counted the days. It’s been 57 days of sweet, amazing stability! This is an all time record. Seriously,  prior to Lithium, the longest we’ve gone was 29 days back in April of 2010. But what’s even better is the fact that the breakthrough symptoms were not as bad as they were in the past. By the next day, my son was already commenting on the fact that he was feeling so much better and was back to his normal self.

Being that our psychiatrist told us that breakthrough symptoms are considered normal and recognized as being part of a successful treatment plan. I didn’t worry about the episode, instead I focused on teaching my son that there will be days where the symptoms come back and that he should focus on coping while he waited for the good feelings to return. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I’ve had a good cry on and off the last two days. With my boys still home from school due to the evacuations in our area, I tried to give them a fun day out. Things didn’t go as planned. But it isn’t what you may be thinking, my oldest wasn’t the challenge, it was my youngest.

I’ve been holding this concern for sometime now, but haven’t had the heart to write about it yet. I’ve been concerned that my youngest is developing some issues. About a year or two ago I took him to our therapist when he started to show some anxiety. He started to regress with his toilet skills and had problems sleeping alone. He was scared a lot of the time. It seemed like a no-brainer since my oldest was going through a period of violent rages. To say the least, they were very scary, so it seemed obvious that my youngest would have a hard time processing what was happening and according to our therapist, was most likely developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I understand that some readers may be thinking... “that’s ridiculous”, but you have to keep in mind that his exposure to unpredictable violence started when he was around 2 years old. Over the past 4 years, I specifically remember many occasions where my small child was terrified by his brother. There were times when our oldest would go into a rage and my youngest cried while covering his eyes with his little hands, trying to block out all that was happening around him. Other times, he would witness me being attacked as I yelled at him to go hide in his room. There were the nights where he would hear a rage for hours on the other side of his bedroom wall, flinching in fear at the sounds of destruction and the pounding that rattled his own walls. He’s been a victim of his brother’s impulsive behavior and now is conditioned to run whenever big brother appears upset.

So is it any wonder that he’d develop some fear and anxiety? I think most families living under these conditions would have some form of PTSD. Even today, I feel my pulse quicken when my son raises his voice, even if he isn’t getting out of control, my body seems to overreact.

But were starting to see more than just anxiety and fear in my youngest. At 6 years old, he recently went through a phase where he would repeat any sentence he said in a whisper right after. (Exactly like the boy in the tv series The Middle). It goes something like this:

Little Brother says: “I’m going outside to play.” then whispers, “I’m going outside to play.”

We’ve also had issues at school where he overreacts to other kids, gets angry over change and he appears on edge and screams a lot at the small stuff. He also experienced night terrors when younger and has had sensory issues for as long as I can remember.

But this past week, I’ve seen for the first time him having tantrums beyond normal behavior. It was like his brain gets stuck on something and he’s overcome and goes into meltdown mode. It’s not the same as a rage, it’s very different. He’s never malicious to others or exhibits predatory behavior like his older brother, it’s more like a child that has to have things a certain way to feel secure. For example, last night while tucking him into bed, he had a meltdown and couldn’t go to sleep because his fitted sheet wasn’t fitting his bed perfectly. To my observation it looked fine, but something was wrong with it and he couldn’t sleep because of it. This same scenario can revolve around his shoes, the carpet square he sits on in class or the foods he eats.

So today I made the decision to call our therapist. His response was, “It sounds like he’s developing the anxiety disorder OCD, lets schedule him an appointment.”

A part of me feels relief because I’ve been at a loss on how to help little brother and I look forward to getting some guidance. But my stomach twists as I write to you now because I feel sad and guilty as a mother. Could I’ve done a better job of making little brother feel more secure while handling big brother’s rages? Did all those hours of holding big brother during a rage or trying to keep him in a timeout leave little brother neglected emotionally? Was this unavoidable due to our family’s genetics? Or is this an aftershock of bipolar disorder in our home?

Either way, we’re moving forward to help this little guy and thanks to older brother’s recent stability, we can.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

First Day of School Cancelled!

Well, we were all ready for school with backpacks filled, lunch boxes set out and clothes selected for the big day. And did I mention I was day dreaming about my long awaited free time after the boys were in school? Well it was all for nothing because our district had to close down our school due to evacuations in the area. Big bummer!

I have to admit, I was feeling pretty low with this announcement, that meant no “me” time after our long summer together. But what surprised me was my boys’ reaction, they were devastated, even crying over this news. It’s hard to believe, huh!

But I have to admit, it was refreshing to see my oldest so excited for school. Last year he was pretty depressed and would’ve paid good money to not go to class, but seeing him so thrilled to get back to school to see all his friends brought me so much joy. Having to tell him it was cancelled was another thing, kinda like canceling Christmas morning.

So tomorrow, summer is another day longer and we’re going to make it something special, anything to cheer these boys back up and for me to enjoy our time together. Though I will admit, I may be day dreaming a little about the first day of school on Thursday.

Monday, August 22, 2011

To IEP or Not... That is the Question

Tonight I just finished writing my son’s 504 plan for our meeting tomorrow. Basically, the principal meets with me and the teacher to go over any accommodations we’re requesting to help my son succeed in the school year ahead. Because we’re fortunate that he’s still performing well academically and the school is meeting all of our needs, we haven’t created an IEP yet.

But I still wonder.

Should I have an IEP in place before he starts middle school a year from now? I had this discussion with my therapist and he mentioned that it was possible we wouldn’t qualify for an IEP because my son was getting good grades. What are your thoughts and experience in this area, I would love to know!

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A link to a resource I used from CABF for educating my son’s teacher about his disorder:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Boys—A Must Read!

I came across this essay written by “Anon in the Midwest” through CABF. It is her story, yet I believe one that most of us can relate to. It is from the heart, raw and intense, yet clarifies the complicated life we live. Reading it made me ache and made me want to fight for our families. If you haven’t checked it out yet, go there now and read it for yourself!

A Tale of Two Boys
(This story is found under the headline: A Son’s Demons)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bipolar 1 Disorder

Last week we met with our psychiatrist and I shared with him our recent concern about my son’s silly behavior in the store and how it scared him. At the time, our doctor in his typical fashion, didn’t have much to say other than, “I don’t really know what’s going on,” then quickly went to his computer to organize our prescriptions.

Being the pesky mother bear I am, I emailed him asking for more clarification. I started with the following question:

“Does our son’s amazing response to Lithium, combined with his known symptoms, indicate what type of mood disorder he has? ”

Then I asked,

“Could his scary, uncontrollable, silly behavior in the store be a short episode hypomania?”

I was surprised to see that for the first time within our HMO, our psychiatrist had an opinion. He said that our son’s depression, episodes of increased energy and elated mood, episodic psychotic symptoms in a child who does not appear schizophrenic and family history suggest that much of his difficulty has been a manifestation of real bipolar 1 disorder.

He also mentioned that a person’s response to medication, including Lithium, does not prove or disprove a diagnosis. But he found our son’s response to Lithium to be very encouraging. Then followed up with, “too little is understood about real bipolar disorder in prepubertal children.”

So there you have it.

An official opinion.

This is not a diagnosis, but rather as our therapist calls it, “A working diagnosis.”

I believe this is the case because as our doctor mentioned, too little in known about children and real bipolar disorder. Don’t you find it funny that he used the word “real”.

So, you may wonder... how does this make me feel now that we have an official opinion?

First, it makes me very sad. This is not what I wish for my son and I still hope that he’s one of those kids who will overcome many of these childhood symptoms and only struggle with depression as an adult.

It makes me scared because I know how serious this road can be. I’m also aware that research shows that for those who develop bipolar disorder as a child, the disorder tends to be more severe as an adult. I know what challenges may lay ahead and it scares the crap out of me.

Then there’s the part of me that has known this all along, that has felt this was a possibility. I feel for the first time that the doctors may be recognizing what I’ve seen all along. After years of sharing all that I could, I feel like they’ve finally heard me and that they believe us and take us seriously.

Finally, hearing this opinion has given me hope that maybe we can give him the best outcome possible by treating the symptoms while he’s young, teaching him the importance of staying on his medication and giving him coping skills along the way. I’m also keeping in mind a piece of advice from Dr. Manpreet Singh from Stanford’s Pediatric Mood Disorders Clinic, “When it comes to symptoms in children, we can’t guarantee what’ll happen, we need to wait, watch and wonder. Don’t let your anxiety define your child’s outcome.”

In the end, my grief and fears are too much to think about, so for the moment, I’m holding on tight to the hope.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Camping Trip

I just got home from an amazing camping trip with my boys. This is the second trip we’ve ever taken the kids on, the first one resulted in our toddler wandering off into the woods within minutes of arriving while unpacking the car. The panic alone almost put me into labor with our third boy. After that trip, we decided camping wasn’t for us until the kids were older.

Now, with our oldest still doing great on Lithium, we decided to join our family on a special trip with their Grandparents and Aunt and Uncle. I’m so glad we did it.

My Dad is amazing with them, as the boys refer to him as their “Adventurous Grandpa”. He took them on nature walks through the woods, he taught them how to pan for gold and even brought out his metal detector to search for buried treasure! Their Aunt and Uncle taught them how to row a canoe, how to work a paddle boat and how to affectively splash their brother. Thanks to them, I was able to relax a little and read a book!

For me, the most amazing thing was when all three boys put on their life jackets and swam across the entire lake! Yes, it was a small lake, but for 3 young boys, who have never been in water over their heads, this was a huge achievement.

To see my son trying new things, enduring stressful situations all while being out of his element was a significant test that the Lithium is still working. While there were some minor moments, he demonstrated outstanding ability in overcoming his stress and was really able to enjoy being a 10 year old boy!

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Thank you to my family for being so supportive and making this trip spectacular!

Photo Source:
I took this photo of the lake while on our nature walk.

Friday, August 12, 2011

iCarly Makes a Joke out of Mental Illness

This week, Susan Resko of CABF blogged about the new episode of iCarly airing this Saturday night on Nickelodeon. If you haven’t seen iCarly, it’s a tv show aimed at young, preteen kids. This particular episode stigmatizes adolescent psychiatric hospitalization. In an effort to stop this kind of negative message reaching our next generation, Susan has encouraged us to write to Viacom to ask that they pull this episode. Here’s the letter I’ve sent to both Viacom and also the producer of iCarly. If you too want to voice your opinion, check out the links below, as well as a link to Susan’s blog. Even if the episode has aired, it’s still worth it to voice your opinion because if you’re familiar with children’s programming, you’ll know that they love to air reruns, over and over and OVER again!

Here’s my letter:

I’m writing to you about an upcoming episode of iCarly called “I Lost My Mind”. It’s the episode in which Sam checks herself into a mental hospital for kissing a boy she doesn’t like and the other kids try and break her free from it.

I have 3 young boys who watch this show. As a family, we have always enjoyed it. My oldest, at 10 years old, has a mental illness. He has had psychotic episodes where he sees monsters and depressive episodes where he wants to kill himself. The likelihood of my son being admitted into a mental hospital is extremely high in the coming years ahead.

This upcoming episode of iCarly will have a negative affect on my son and all children who live with mental illness. First by mocking the institution which may one day save his life, next by making a joke out of my son’s mental illness and finally for exposing him to society’s negative view of mental illness. If he relates a mental hospital to something that is to be made fun of, that comes with a negative stigma that even iCarly pokes fun at, he will be more resistant to the vital care he may need someday to save his life. As parents, we are trying our best to teach him while he’s young that he has value and that his illness does not make him a bad person, but your programming tears apart all we are working towards.

You may think... “Well don’t have your son watch iCarly”. I wish it was that simple. Many of his classmates watch this show. So even if my son doesn’t see the episode, his peers will and this will continue the negative stigma that he already fights against everyday.

Please reconsider airing this episode and be sensitive to the children that suffer everyday with mental illness. Our kids need love and support, not mockery.

—Mama Bear

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Susan’s Blog Post about iCarly:

Contact Viacom:

Contact the Producer of iCarly:

Could this be Hypomania?

Ever since my son has been on Lithium we haven’t had any rages or depression, thank goodness and overall he’s doing amazing. The only unusual experience was the previous “I need to clean” impulse that I blogged about recently and then last week, we had a new episode that has left me guessing.

It all started one evening when I took my son to the store to buy some organizational tools for the game he was inventing. All day he was being very creative and spent hours designing a new dice game with a rule book and characters. I have to say, it was pretty darn clever.

When we arrived at the store, I could tell he was in a great mood and was very excited to purchase these needed tools. But as the shopping continued, he became very silly. During this time I just blew it off, thinking... “boy he’s having a great time”. As the minutes passed, his mood became more elated and out of the ordinary and he started repeating his made-up word, “Kerplupidunkin”. I just laughed it off and focused on the next item on our list, but as time went on he continued relentlessly, saying the word over and over again. Every once and a while, he said with a smile on his face that he didn’t know why he was saying this word but he couldn’t stop. Because his comments came with a silly smile and goofy attitude, I didn’t think much of it. But at a certain point, I started to sense some stress in it all, maybe because it started to make me feel uncomfortable in my own skin.

Once we got to the car, my son made the comment, “Boy, I feel much better now”, I responded with, “Yeah, you sure seemed to be having a silly time.”

Then I heard it... the soft murmur of tears falling as he said, “I really tried to stop acting that way, but I couldn’t. It scared me.”

I was caught off guard with this, rushing to give him a big hug as I reassured him. I had no idea that he was uncomfortable and that he was struggling in any way. While in the store, he was smiling the whole time, maybe a little annoying with his repetitive word, but it looked like he was having fun and just being a silly boy. Had I known that he was scared by it all I would have responded differently in the store, but I didn’t recognize this as anything to worry about, until I heard the words, “It scared me.”

So is this a breakthrough of hypomania? Could this be the same thing as the episode of impulsive cleaning? Is that why he was so creative all day? This is all so new to me. I’ve experienced the rages, the depression, the anxiety, the rapid cycling and scary thoughts, but seeing him suffer when he’s “too happy” is scary because I know that deep down, this could be a symptom of bipolar disorder.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bipolar Mood Monitor App!

I just found this Apple mobile app that allows bipolar patients to easily track and chart their moods everyday using simple tools right on their iPhone or iPod Touch. It also includes comment and alert functions and one-step email so charts can be sent to specific addresses, like your doctor. Users can make entries in a matter of seconds and review details at any time.

Here’s an example of one chart available.

You can read more about it in the Scoop Health article listed below or find it for yourself in the iTunes App store for $4.99. I just discovered it, so I haven’t tried it out yet, but I took a peek at the graphics and thought they looked pretty cool and easy to use. Let me know if you’ve tried it and if it’s something you’d recommend!

Scoop Health Article:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Perfect Day

Today we took the boys on a day trip to the ocean.

There were no rages,

no sadness,

no anger,

no irritability,

no impulsivity,

no agitation,

no sensory issues,

no stress,

no problems what so ever,

it was a perfect family day.

Oh and the ocean was pretty cool too!

(smiling ear to ear!)

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Photo Source:
Me and my nifty camera!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Meet Author Tami Lyn

Happy Friday Everyone! If you’ve been following my blog this week, you’ll recall that I’ve been sharing the book, Raising Stephen: One Day at a Time. In my previous post, I interviewed Stephen’s sister, Traci. Today, I’m so excited to share with you an up close and personal interview with the author of this book, Tami Lyn. Sit back and enjoy this post and at the end, please ask Tami any questions you may have in the comment section below. Tami was nice enough to agree to be available over the next week to answer your questions and hopefully you’ll walk away with more understanding and knowledge like I have.

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Hi Tami and welcome to my blog, lets start from the beginning.

When did you first realize your son was different from other kids?
He was on a lot of antibiotics as an infant and toddler and quite often didn’t feel well from frequent ear infections and strep throat. But from age 3 on I could really see signs that he got frustrated easily. 

What were his symptoms when he was a child?
Very impatient, hated to lose at ANYTHING, didn’t like being bumped into even accidentally, could go from 0-10 in an instant with his anger and increased strength. (Never seemed to care about the feelings of others during this time, or notice the hurtful things he would say). Didn’t like change, hated pant legs riding up—needed elastic hemmed pants, got very agitated with things out of place, mittens coming out of cuffs of coats, silverware not lined up next to plate “perfectly” before a meal or his room out of order. His blankets and pillow had to be just right before he could settle down to sleep. 

Did his symptoms change as he got older and if so, how?
With certain meds his obsessive compulsiveness decreased quite a bit, for example, a messy room was the norm, which didn’t bother him surprisingly! But his emotional symptoms worsened as he got older, larger and stronger. 

How did you learn that he had bipolar disorder and what helped the doctors reach this diagnosis?
His 3rd grade teacher lovingly hinted that maybe he should talk to a professional. This was put off for 2 years because my husband and I were not on the same page with a decision. In 5th grade he saw the school psychologist who recommended a therapist, who then recommended a psychiatrist. The first psychiatrist mis-diagnosed him as ADHD. The symptoms are quite similar and can look alike. With mental health, the diagnosis is usually the result of a lengthy questionnaire. 

What symptoms or events lead to your son’s bipolar diagnosis? How did they know it was bipolar disorder?
Because our son showed such extreme opposite behavior at times, teachers felt in elementary school that he should be seen by a professional. His mania consisted of immature symptoms, being the class clown, hurtful to others, too much rough contact during phys Ed, etc…  Later on, it was spending sprees. 

I’m not sure if he ever went a sleepless night, but he’d stay up very late at times having to finish some huge activity or project, such as, building something that was on his mind. He couldn’t rest until it was done. This happened in our garage once as a young adult when he actually built a bed frame out of wood. Even if he didn’t have the correct tools, he “had” to complete it; therefore it wasn’t as well made as it might have been otherwise. 

Has your son shown classic signs of mania? Or does his mania appear more as irritability and anger?
His more frequent mania is and was shown w/ anger and rages… sometimes lasting a week or so. He has sadly, burnt many bridges. 

Did his symptoms become worse as he got older? If so, at what age did this occur?
Because of his muscular and tall physical changes, his symptoms became more dangerous to others in his teen years and more harmful consequences to himself. 

Driving too fast and becoming promiscuous were our main concerns along with always worrying that he’d get into fights or run his mouth too much at work. He’s lost numerous jobs. 

Were you afraid to try medication?
YES… so afraid! But, it was the best thing we ever did. 

Did medication help and were you glad he took it?
We were very glad we finally tried medication and do not regret it. The tricky part is finding the right combination of meds. The patient also has to go to frequent doctor appointments, trips to the lab for blood work and so on. At times the child will need to take medications during their school day, which annoyed our son. As he got older he would privately not take his medication which would lead to poor choices, consequences and “self medicating” with alcohol and experimenting with some drugs.

Does mental health issues run in the family? Do you think that Stephen inherited it?
It runs on my husband’s side, I believe that yes, it can be heredity. We have a paternal 18 year old nephew diagnosed with the same emotional disorder as well. My husband also suffers from depression and suicide desires, especially recently which has been hard for me. 

What was the most challenging part of raising your son?
At first it was the “not knowing” why he behaved different from his sisters… we thought it was just because he was “all boy”. Once correctly diagnosed, it was such a blessing! I now knew that I wasn’t imagining what I observed! 

The next hardest was never knowing what a day would bring, what mood he’d be in, how many times the teacher would call, etc… With increase in age, these behaviors became more risky, involving others, wondering if he’d fly off the handle at school, frequent fights, suspensions, the law, etc… 

Our son was always an AWESOME athlete. We’d attend every game excited to watch him use his great talents, but always a little anxious wondering if he’d go over the line with his tackles in football or using his great arm in baseball the wrong way, not to mention hearing comments from other parents in the stands. Our son had to be removed from games quite a few times for this type thing, as well as being insubordinate. 

Did you face ridicule from other parents regarding his behavior and how did you deal with it?
Other parents, as well as family members, simply didn’t understand what we dealt with. They just assumed we needed to increase disciplinary measures. We started seeking spiritual council for Stephen as well which helped some during the sessions, but hard for him to continue once home. 

How did you get support for yourself and family?
As we look back, now knowing how this affected our other children and our relationship as husband and wife, we should have gotten more council and therapy as a family and as a couple. I really regret that to this day. I would encourage everyone to do this.

Did your son’s disorder ever put a strain on your marriage? If so, how did you get through it?
I would hate for him to think he was a burden, but to be honest, yes it did, daily. I’d try and make our home a happy place, meal times, bed times, etc… we did have many laughs. I love humor and Stephen can be quite funny too! But the main issue in our marriage (then and still today) is that we do not agree on how to deal with our son. You must not allow bad behavior or condone UN Christ-like decisions. There should always be consequences for sin and rewards and blessings for obedience. This strengthens your child and helps them lean on God more and less on you. We to this day, do not agree on this, which, to this day is a strain on our marriage. 

Were you ever scared of your son?
Yes I was, but doubted he’d ever hit me. 

Did he ever physically hurt you or your husband during a rage?
Our son made scary threats to us, his weapon of choice is destroying others with his words, to the point of me uncontrollably shaking at times, he damaged many things in the home, but didn’t abuse us physically. He chased me upstairs once trying to get the cell phone out of my hand as I was calling 911. I’d lock our bedroom door at night, just to be safe in case he ever desired to carry through with his verbal threats. 

How did you make the decision to call the police for assistance? How did you feel about it after they came to your home?
As Stephen got older, one of his psychiatrists said to me, “Do not be afraid to call the police, if things escalate.” Well, that is the only thing that calmed him down and I was always glad I called. His one sister called before too, but his dad never would.

Were you ever worried that he might hurt himself?
Yes, and no. You have to take it seriously if they mention suicide, but Stephen hated pain, so I doubted he’d ever do that. He would get injured by busting a window, etc... in a rage, but not with suicidal attempts. As he became older and the trials in his life increased, he did contemplate driving off a bridge or into an oncoming tractor trailer before he admitted.

How is Stephen doing today?
Stephen will be 28 in a matter of weeks. He continues to keep me on my knees. He can be so awesome and dedicated to doing what’s right, but then, off his medications he goes and then the poor choices come, creating more grief for him and his family. He has 3 children and now a wife and 3 step children. They are having great problems staying together as of this writing. He is not getting treatment at this time for his illness. 

Now that he’s older and living his own life, what challenges do you face regarding his bipolar disorder?
We fear more for his safety, continued job losses and babies created. We just love being grandparents, but it can become quite sad if you let it. I’ve tried to think on the positive and give it over to God. I just hate to see a child with a broken heart, it kills me. 

How do you cope now?
I do a lot of designing and creating of home décor and fashion and accessories. Etsy has been a great place for me to display and sell my items. This is a tremendous “out” for me as well as writing short stories, gardening, enjoying our grandchildren…  I’m not sure what the future holds, but, believe me, nothing surprises me anymore! 

What made you decide to write your book Raising Stephen: One Day at a Time?
My desire to write the book first started as a sort of diary on the computer, and the more I wrote, the more God was leading me to share our story to help others maybe see similarities in their own lives, and also be a testimony because without God, this would be an entirely different read. One day as Stephen got older, maybe 14 years old, he said to me, “Man, my life could be a book!” I said, “Actually I’ve already started one.” That made him smile and feel special, I think. But depending on his mood on any given day, his feelings can change regarding the book. I asked him if I could get his permission to put it in a local library and he didn’t want me too, so I didn’t. I can understand that. 

Did everyone in the family support you writing this book?

Was it therapeutic for you to write this book?
Yes, it was. But, some parts were hard to relive. I have enough for a second book, but doubt I will.

Were there any unexpected lessons learned in the process of writing this book?
Well, as far as the actual process, I was surprised at how difficult it was to get published and find an honest publisher, and I was totally blown away when I realized you had to pay THEM to get a book published. I would do it differently if I were to do it again. I did a lot of research the first time, but I would do more the next time. I do have a children’s book I’d love to get published, which is my next desire. It’s about 3 children who are very similar to my own children, go figure.

Were there any regrets in writing it?

Reflecting on all you’ve been through in raising your son, what would you do different? What would you do again?
I would get counseling for myself, which I never really did. Whenever we’d leave Stephen’s counseling sessions, we always felt so much better, closer and hopeful! It helped a lot and if we could have afforded it more often, we would have. It is a must. Medication alone is not the answer, although that is another must. 

Always have a sense of humor. 

Always remember, most of your plans will get interrupted and changed if you are living with a child with a mood disorder. Their mood tends to set the tone for your home.

Try to keep other stressors at a minimum, simplify your life in other areas, because you’ll need that respite. 

What wisdom can you share with moms like me, who are still raising children in our home with mood disorders?
Please, please, please, keep loving them and telling them daily if not hourly, they need to hear that you love them, repeatedly. 

I would also suggest writing a journal of your thoughts and concerns, prayers, etc… 

Also, seek counseling for yourself and talk to other moms with similar situations. 

Have a hobby and close friends to talk to. 

Remember God entrusted you, knowing you are the perfect parent for your youngster. Give him praise and thanksgiving, even in the bad times. 

The good times got me through, record every one! 

God bless you! 

Thank you so much Tami for doing this interview with me, it’s such a blessing to ask such deep questions after reading your book. I truly appreciate all you’ve done in trying to help families like mine. I wish only good things for your family and hope to hear from you again!

As for my readers, please leave your questions for Tami below and have a great weekend! 

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meet Traci

If you read my last post, I shared with you the book Raising Stephen: One Day at a Time by Tami Lyn. Today I’m excited to share with you an interview with Stephen’s adult sister, Traci, who as a sibling of someone with a mood disorder had her own unique experience. As a mom of 3 kids myself, I know that my son’s mood disorder affects more than just my son, I hope that by hearing from Traci, I can learn a few things to help my other children thrive under these unique circumstances.

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Hi Traci, welcome to my blog, lets start with a few questions to get our readers familiar with you.

Can you tell us a little about your family for those who haven’t read your mother’s book?

Sure! I grew up in a loving home with godly christian parents. I have a brother and a sister. My brother is the youngest and at a young age he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

What did your home life look like?
My home life was happy most of the time. We all (parents and sister) did tend to walk on egg shells a lot around my brother. We never knew if we would get the happy, loving, compassionate Stephen or the rage-filled one.

How old was your brother when he started showing signs of a mood disorder?
Very young. Two years old maybe?

When did you realize that your brother was different from other kids?
Oh maybe at age 6 or 7 when he began to play organized sports. That was always when the rage came out... when he got his blood going.

As a child, did you ever worry that you may also “catch” this illness?

No, believe it or not I didn’t. 

Were you ever embarrassed by your brother’s behaviors?

Yes. Whenever my brother got into his rage mode, it was hard for him to snap out of it. For instance, in a sporting event... he would start throwing stuff, have a bad attitude and make a scene. That would leave his family (us watching) in an awkward position.

Were you afraid about friends at school finding out?
No, not afraid. Most of his friends found out by interacting with him outside of school. One by one, (sad to say) friends would withdraw themselves from him.

Was his illness kept a secret in the family or did your family and friends know about it?
When people asked, we told them. A lot of times people blamed my parents for not doing enough, not disciplining enough, etc.

Was it hard for you to make friends or keep friends?
No, my brother’s illness did not affect my friendships.

What did you do as a child to help your brother?

I would play with him, write notes back and forth with him with scripture and try to encourage him.

What challenges did you face as a child living with your brother?

Hearing a lot of yelling on my brother’s part. I didn’t realize till I was out of the house that I was verbally abused by him during my childhood.

What helped you cope day to day?
My relationship with God. He was (is) my rock.

What joy did you experience from your brother when you were a child?

Oh my, we would spend countless hours playing outside in the woods, throwing a baseball back and forth, swimming, playing with animals, fishing together, etc. We had a lot in common with our love for the outdoors and sports. The “good” side of my brother was a JOY to be around.

What was the hardest thing for you growing up with your brother? 
Hearing him argue and fight back with my parents. 

Were you ever scared of your brother?

Yes, but he never laid a hand on any of us.

How did you respond during his rages?

I would go to my room, but soon open my door and yell back... “Don’t talk to Mommy and Daddy like that!”

Did you ever worry he would do something violent to cause serious harm to himself or others?
Yes, many times he would punch holes in walls and doors. He also spoke of hurting himself and ending it all.

In the book, your mother recounts episodes where the police came to your home to assist during a rage. What was that experience like for you?

Very hard to watch, but somehow I felt safe when they did that.

How did your parents help give you special attention?

My dad would take turns taking me and my sister out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. That was really special. My mom was always there for us; she never worked outside the home.

What outside support did you get?

Oh we had a wonderful youth group, besides loving parents and a close realationship with my Heavenly Father.

Did you ever see a therapist?
No. Sometimes I think I should have but by the grace of God He was my strength.

What do you wish your parents had done differently?
Let my brother learn somethings the hard way when he got older. Sometimes I felt like they enabled him by not letting him face some of the hard consequences.

What did your parents do that made a positive difference for you?

They were always there for us and always brought us to church.

What did you miss out on as a child due to your brother’s illness?

I don’t think anything? Sometimes we would have to leave family gatherings or sporting events if he got unruly.

How were holidays and vacations affected by his illness from your perspective?

Just never knowing what to expect. The good Stephen or bad Stephen.

In the book your mother shares that your father suffered from anxiety attacks brought on from all the stress. Did you suffer from post traumatic stress disorder after all the rages you experienced as a child?

For awhile I would get episodes where I felt like my throat was closing up and I couldn’t breathe. The doctors explained that this was related to stress. I did go on medicine for a short time for that.

As an adult, did you worry that your children may inherit this illness?
Yes, it has crossed my mind.

What kind of relationship do you have with your brother now?

When he is taking his medicine and stable, wonderful! I love him dearly.

How does your brother’s illness affect you as an adult?

It makes me so thankful that I have such a loving and compassionate husband. God really has been my guide and has blessed me tremendously. Different “intense” situations bring back memories from my childhood that I have to work through.

What does your relationship looks like when your brother is not stable and on meds? How do you handle it then?
As an adult, when my brother is off his meds I just keep my distance. I’ve learned it is better to just withdrawl myself from the situation because he tends to not see things clearly.

How do you cope with it?
Cry. Pray. Talk it out. Exercise.

What lessons did you learn?

Sometimes it takes tough love as a parent to allow your child to grow and change.

What would you tell other parents, like myself, who are trying to raise children who are siblings of a child with a mood disorder?

Make every effort to tell them it is not their fault. Don’t ignore them and give them a lot of praise for good behavior you see. It is easy to focus all your attention on the child with the “need” but the other children need you just as much, if not more.

Thank you so much Traci for opening up and sharing your perspective, it was a blessing to see that siblings can overcome the challenges and create healthy boundaries as they grow older.

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I’m so excited to share with you that Traci’s mom and author of Raising Stephen: One Day at a Time will be doing an interview with me also, check back soon when I ask Tami Lyn about her own experience, about writing the book and about lessons she can share!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Raising Stephen

In my desperate search to find out what was wrong with my son, I spent hours reading anything I could get my hands on about children with rages and other mood issues. One of the first books I read was Raising Stephen: One Day at a Time, a mother’s account of raising her son who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In this book, Christian author Tami Lyn bravely shares her observations and experiences with Stephen, starting from the age of 3. From the first paragraph, I was glued to the page as she described how her son experienced night terrors, rages and impulses. From that point on, she takes you through his life, sharing the questions she struggled with as she tried to make sense of his behaviors and outlined the many circumstances that I could sadly relate to.

Reading this book was like reading about my own son. Her description of her son as “Stephen 1” and “Stephen 2” and how they were two opposite personalities was identical to our own experience. Her description of his “hulk-like” rages, his instinct to quit if he couldn’t win, the car rides filled with verbal abuse, the sensory issues with clothing, his “defensive mode” and anxieties and even his lack of invites to birthday parties was all too familiar.

She also shares personal journal entries written by her son at the age of 13 (with her son’s permission of course), giving an inside look of where he was coming from and his desire to change. One thing that stood out to me was her son’s description of his bipolar disorder. He referred to it as his, “anger problem”. This is exactly what my son calls his own mood disorder.

As the book continues, she shares a letter written by Stephen’s baseball coach describing his unique behaviors and letters from her 2 daughters and husband that outline what their own experience was like. She also mentions techniques and therapies they tried and the notes they took to track food and behaviors. I wouldn’t think of this book as a novel, but more of a journal outlining the 24 years of raising her son. It gives a very real, personal account, sharing mistakes made along the way, as well as successes and lessons learned, all while clinging closely to God’s promises.

When I bought this book from Amazon I read some excellent reviews, but I was caught off-guard by one review that felt this book was “hurtful”, by airing out her son’s dirty laundry to make a profit. After finishing this book, I recalled this bad review and felt just the opposite. I felt this book was written out of love for her son and was a gift to families like myself. I am that mom that wants to know every unflattering detail, not because I’m nosey, but because I live it. I want to read about the challenges that lay ahead and the mistakes I should avoid. Though it’s great to have “how-to” books, sometimes as a mom, I just need to know that I’m not alone and that there are other families that have survived by leaning on God.

Thank you Tami Lyn for writing this book. Thank you for having the courage to share what most keep private and for giving a terrified mom like myself a place to land, learning that I can survive and more importantly, that my son can thrive.

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Find Raising Stephen One Day at a Time here:

Etsy link: http://www.etsy.com/shop/tamilyn?section_id=5538181

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Check back for my next post when I introduce you to one of Stephen’s sisters, Traci, who graciously allowed me to interview her about her own experience of growing up with a sibling with a mood disorder and how she learned to live and love through it all.