To start, our therapist spent some time explaining that their brother has an illness called bipolar disorder and like many people with illnesses, this impacts not just the individual but the entire family in a positive or negative way. She then went on to share many conditions families face such as cancer, paralysis and even diabetes to show that our family is not unique to illness and we can work together for a positive experience for us all.
She then went on to ask each of the kids how their brother’s illness affects them and what challenges they face when their brother has mood changes. My middle son (age 9) seemed engaged and shared his experience and how he typically handles it, where as my youngest (age 7), expressed no interest in participating and refused to respond to any questions as he played with the toys in her office.
From there she spent a little more time with my middle son and explained that he has a right to protect himself and encouraged him to stand up for his rights instead of trying to please his brother to avoid conflict. I think my middle son liked this guidance.
After that she spent the rest of the appointment playing a game of Sorry with them, while watching the kids interact as they displayed their temperament.
As the appointment came to an end she confirmed what I already knew. That my middle son is a very unique child who has a calming spirit and handles stress and disappointment extremely well. Where as my youngest has developed a lot of anxiety brought on from fearing his brother and often uses “avoidance” as a distraction, something that apparently is a bad thing that I need to fix. She came to this conclusion from her experience in watching him as well as my feedback on how he responds to things at home and in school. She encouraged me to use relaxation techniques to help teach my youngest how to self soothe and to help him relax when things get rough at home.
It sounds like good stuff and I’ll work on it, but honestly, the weight of responsibly I feel in helping my children survive their exposure to this illness is overwhelming. It’s hard enough trying to handle my oldest with a mood disorder, but to work on “rewiring his brother’s neural pathways that have been poorly formed due to fear” feels like just another mountain to climb.
But they say that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle, so I must be up for the challenge. Or as my dear husband sometimes jokes, God must think pretty highly of us.