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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.
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.