My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Family Then and Now (part two)

After the postpartum period began to become more under control, my relationship with my own mother blossomed.  She was able to step in and care for my daughter when I was overwhelmed by postpartum depression.  In addition to her developing as a grandmother to my child, I felt that she over the years began to learn to let go of feeling responsible for my illness or for controlling my illness and was more able to be just “a support.”  She became someone to talk with about feelings and issues when needed.  At other times she was a person to bring the family together in a weekly meal at her house.

I attribute NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to a lot of my mother’s development and understanding of behavioral health issues.  NAMI programs helped her just to be there for me as a Mom and a friend.  NAMI taught my mother I believe the importance of just being there – not necessarily doing anything but just “being there.” Granted there were times in the past that I felt that she wanted to be intimately involved in my care and in my therapy in a way that I did not want.  When she gave up this control and decided to focus on being a support, our relationship blossomed as did the growing relationship between her and my daughter. 

Over the sixteen years of my daughter’s life, my mother has become a great presence in our family interactions.  We get together most times weekly or more than weekly for a meal or a soccer game or both. Today in covid-19 times that has migrated to a daily phone call and some outside social time with masks and social distancing. 

My relationship with my husband James has also matured as my health has progressed.  We continue to have our favorite arguments, but in general we are on the same page of putting our daughter first including school time, school work, hobbies like Cross Country, Track and Chorus and her spiritual development.

My husband has continued to be one of my most staunch supporters but not in a way that is easily described.  More than giving me a safe harbor in which to rest my myriad of thoughts and perceptions, he has challenged me to find my rock bottom and work my way out of it.   He is no way gets involved in my illness but rather gently or sometimes not so gently reminds me that my illness is mine to deal with.   This expectation that I will deal with my illness is both verbal and non-verbal.  In addition to working though my illness, my husband has largely been accepting of the fact that a high paying job is likely not going to be something that I can stick with and maintain.   It is with his support that I have been writing this text off and on for the last several years.

In addition to my Mom and my husband in recent years and my sister in years’ past, my in-laws have been extremely supportive of me and my efforts toward financial security.  From the beginning of my relationship with my husband, they have provided fiscal support that has allowed me to work from home on a variety of health and health measurement concepts. Through this work, I have traveled for presentations in Zurich, Switzerland as well as in Brighton, England.  Work also has been presented at CJR School of Public Health.  Without the fiscal support of my in-laws, none of this work would have been possible.  

My family support over the years has grown in parallel to the understanding of the illness among the public and among medical providers.  My family always has provided me support over the years even through some of the most heart-wrenching episodes of my life including fits of blaming them for my troubles. 

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Family Then (part two)

As an additional exception to the “normal life” rule, my stepmother and my father died respectively in 1988 and 1989 of cancer.  I did not have the opportunity to work through the bipolar illness with them as their deaths were within a few years of my diagnosis.  I remember feeling secure in the fact that I was able to survive my father’s illness and death without a major hospitalization or illness breakthrough. 

On the other hand, my mother and step-dad were quite present in my life from 1985 forward.  Over the next 30 years until my stepfather’s death in the spring of 2013, I would continue to develop relationships with each of them as individuals and with both of them together as parents.  Granted, they did not always know what to do to help me through my bipolar episodes.  Quite frankly, no one did.  But they never stopped trying both as a couple and as individuals.  In any case, I always felt loved if not understood. 

My sister Jane in particular was a huge help during the early years of my illness and always provided an open door for me when I was ill.  This was when I was in my mini-break period from about 1988 to 1995 and stayed with her and her family for 3 to 7 days at a time about twice a year.  This time with care in a family environment gave me the confidence to begin to seize control of my illness outside of a hospital environment but still taking meds.  

Later throughout the difficulties of the postpartum period and forward, my Mom and Step-Dad played an integral role in supporting me through my illness.  After two years into my daughter’s birth, my parents moved back to Augusta to be present in her life.  Weekly dinners together helped form bonds that were stronger than the bipolar illness itself.  My relationship with my Mom grew and grew as she became more involved as a grandmother and I had the opportunity to witness the development of that relationship.  Since the death of my step-father seven years ago, we continue to get together with my Mom on a weekly basis, sometimes more often.  Covid-19 has changed this frequency some – so we talk by phone at least once a day.