Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Meet Brenda—Mother of a Daughter with Bipolar Disorder

Today I’m sharing the second half of my daughter/mother interview. If you missed the first interview with San, a daughter living with bipolar disorder, please check it out first.

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Welcome Brenda, please share a little about yourself:
I’m a 56 year old female. I work in the I.T. Dept. of a Horticultural business. I’ve been employed most of my life, taking 11 years off to raise my children. I enjoy crafts, renovating, creating things where I have an end product. I enjoy learning new things.

When did you find out about your daughter’s diagnosis?
Early teens—around 13 or 14 years of age

What was this experience like for you?
Frustrating—when you don’t fully understand what they are experiencing you become frustrated because you can’t seem to help them and yet you don’t understand why they do the things they do.

You mention “them” in your response. Are you close to anyone else who has a mental illness?
Yes, I’ve been around it a good majority of my life. It can be very difficult at times – it seems one person is having a good day and the other isn’t. At times you feel like it’s endless.

Is it harder loving more than one person with a mental illness or does it make it easier since you have expereince?
It’s not harder – both are individuals with different needs and different illnesses. Luckily my daughter was aware of the illness and sought help. That wasn’t the case with my husband. It was many years before he’d admit that he had a problem and seek help. I don’t think his problem was as severe but at times it was hard to handle. He did work at a good job his entire life and supported us – we never really wanted for anything. Just the mood swings at times. You learn not to argue. I would refuse to argue – I would leave the room or remain silent. I didn’t want to go through my life fighting and arguing. That seemed to change things over the years. Medication seems to keep him level so as long as he takes it, things run smoothly.

Did your daughter’s diagnosis surprise you?
Somewhat—I knew she was experiencing problems but not to the degree that the doctors diagnosed

What was your daughter like as a child?
Very demanding—she was born prematurely and required a lot of extra care and attention from day 1. I’m not sure if this had anything to do with the problems that she experiences today.

Did you see any symptoms when she was a child or teen?
I saw the problems as a teen—she required a lot of attention as a child but I didn’t see them as symptoms.

Did you see the illness develop as she grew into adulthood?
Yes, I was hoping that maturity would lessen the symptoms, but that isn’t the case.

What were the first symptoms you saw?
Depression, falling grades at school, becoming anti-social, changing the types of friends she hung around.

What are the symptoms you see today?
Unable to cope with stress and mood swings.

What is this experience like for you?
Frustrating—I don’t understand the illness maybe the way I should and I often times feel that she’s not trying as hard as she can to be functional.

What was it like for you when your daughter was hospitalized for the first time?
The first time was scary having to go into the “mental health” unit of the hospital not knowing what I’d encounter. Basically it was just a lot of people with similar problems. Sometimes she’d want us there, sometimes she didn’t. The doctors recommended that we not stay if she didn’t want to see us that day.

Were you involved in her being hospitalized?
On one occasion—not on all of them.

What did you do to help get her admitted?
We just pushed the doctors for a referral to a larger treatment center.

Why did you take this step? What did you see in your daughter that you thought required this treatment?
We felt that she needed to have the diagnosis re-evaluated and medication adjusted. She was extremely over medicated and didn’t know where she was half the time. It was time for a second opinion.

Did taking this step scare you?
No, it was almost a relief when we finally had her admitted–it was hope.

How did you cope during her stay?
I spoke to her as often as I could and we would go and visit a couple times a week. I was working full time and with the hospital being out of town, we couldn’t visit every day. I don’t think she wanted us there all the time anyways.

What did you think about this expereince after she was released?
It seemed to help for awhile—then the medication was slowly changed over time.

Your daughter shared with us that she had ECT. What was this experience like for you?
The thought of it was very scary. I made her call me as soon as she returned from the hospital. I think it was mainly from the fact that I didn’t know much about it and didn’t truly understand how it worked.

What did you think of the results?
It seems to have helped. There are still days with ups and downs, but overall things seem better.

What do you think helps your daughter stay stable?
She enjoys doing crafts—that helps relieve stress. Trying to keep stress levels low and being available when she needs you.

How has this illness affected your relationship with your daughter?
I feel we have a good relationship. I try to be a “friend” when she needs one and a “mother” when she needs a mother. I’m just sad to see that a lot of her dreams aren’t being fulfilled. I always hope that one day she will reach for the stars and give it all she’s got to fill some of those dreams—am I being unrealistic—I hope not.

How do you cope with everything?
Fortunately I’m not someone who gets stressed out easily. I cope by trying to help out when I can.

What scares you the most about your daughter's illness?
I worry about the day that I will no longer be capable of helping her out—I need to see that she can survive without me in her life.

Being that your child is an adult, in what ways are you able to support her and help her?
I try to be available if she needs to talk or needs a shoulder to cry on—I also help her out financially when she needs it.

What challenges do you face in helping your adult daughter?
I become frustrated sometimes thinking that she should be able to find a job, go to work, and have all the things she dreamed of when she was younger. I’ve tried the supportive role, the “tough love” role with no change in the end result.

Can you share any mistakes you may have made?
I should have laid down more ground rules right from the beginning. Made her be responsible for herself at a much younger age. Whether it would have helped or not, I’m not sure.

Can you share any victories?
She did graduate from college. She is also living independently.

What have you learned through this expereince?
Society needs to view mental illness differently and take it more seriously. The help for anyone with mental illness is hard to find. They need more programs to teach people with mental illness how to become productive in society and live a relatively normal life. The doctors also over prescribe medication. That seems to be their answer.

What advice would you give other parents who are facing the same journey with their own children?
Do what you can to find help for your child. Be supportive but also lay down ground rules. People with mental illness can be demanding and manipulative. You need to figure out the fine line between helping and being taken advantage of.

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Thank you so much Brenda for sharing your experience with us. I appreciate your honesty and the wisdom you have to share with us.


  1. It makes me happy and proud to have such an amazing, patient and supportive mother that's always been there for me, and involved in my treatment. Fortunately, I have a pdoc that both her and I like who doesn't have a "more medication is better!!!" approach.

  2. Thank you both for sharing your story- you help us all!

  3. Dear Brenda, Would make San more responsible at a younger age help your her ? No one knows because no one has a crystal ball to do it.
    About keeping a job and fulfilling her dreams, there is still a lot of space to fullfill such a dream. Because adulthood is not the end of progress.

    As an adult suffering from ADHD, SPD, LDs and hearing loss by perinatal TBI, what makes me sad is seeing parents having regrets because of "things they haven't done" or "dreams not fulfilled".
    Even if you "have done this or that", you will never know if things would had been different. Maybe they would had been different, maybe they would had not been different. You cannot know what would had happened.
    And for your dreams and San's ones, doors are still open even in adulthood. Maybe even wider now that San is healthier.
    Adulthood stops fulfilling dreams and progress only when you choose to.

    As an adult, please, don't regret anything. You did what you could, with what you knew at this very moment.
    Regret is the worst soul poison ever.

    1. I hate that my mom regrets things, but those were the questions asked. I think she did a good job with the circumstances. My mom also grew up in a different era than some of us did.

      She did what she thought was best for me. She supported me through so much, and I can't thank her enough. She still continues, and I have a supportive mother for life. I've put her through so much and she's still there.
      I couldn't ask for more.
      Please don't criticize her. I wish for my mother to not regret as well.

    2. I want to share that I asked the questions to Brenda, in no way do I think she lives her life with poison. Her regrets may have never come to mind had I not asked her. It was an important question for me because I have regrets myself. I don't wallow over them or let them "poison" me, but rather I acknowledge that this is a tough journey and I made mistakes. I would find it hard to believe that any parent wouldn't experience some level of regret while raising their children. I am so thankful that Brenda could share her experience, both the good and bad so that I can feel not alone. I have to say, in my conversations with Brenda's daughter, San, I can tell you that Brenda is a wonderfully successful parent, I see so much love and respect between the two of them. I hope to have the same someday when my son is an adult.

    3. I am sorry San felt criticized while it was not my intention. I was just saying that San did the best she could, with what she knew at the time.
      That's all San needs to be sure about. Nothing else. She is a successful parent because she did her best with what she had, that's all what matters.
      That's all I wanted to underline to her.

  4. I did talk to my mom about the interview, who has a lot of respect and wishes the best for Mama Bear, and she says she isn't poisoned by regret but she says she would do things differently if she could, but only a few. My mom is wonderfully supportive. She said she answered as honestly as possible and as thoroughly as possible with the hard questions. She doesn't focus as lot on the past, she has a "it is what it is" attitude, and focuses on "it will work out" for the future. She ALWAYS says that: "It will work out".

    Today I brought up going to school for pharmacy tech, not a new subject, but getting a job when my pdoc allows me to save up and whatnot. She's supportive. My mom isn't one to focus on the past. She has never yelled at me or said "Well, you should have done [that] differently." It's always tomorrow, next week, next year.