Friday, May 7, 2010

Bipolar Episode

Last night, my husband and I watched Bipolar Mysteries: Families in Crisis on The Discovery Health Channel. Our initial thoughts... these kids act just like our son.

Throughout the episode I was looking for any information that may help me understand what’s going on with my own son. But I feel just as confused this morning as I did prior to this episode. For one reason, the episode focused mainly on rages and not all the other symptoms that make up this illness. So for a parent searching for answers, I feel like I’m still looking for insight. If I based my son’s diagnosis on what this show aired, then I can conclude that my son is bipolar, but you see, it isn’t that simple. The American Psychiatric Association is proposing a new diagnosis called Temper Dysregulation Disorder. This new disease will not be used for labeling kids until 2013, when the new version of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-V) is released [1]. I’ll be explaining this more in a future post, but for now, my son shows all the anger symptoms seen in Temper Dysregulation Disorder, but he also has many more symptoms and a family history of bipolar, leaving the doctors with a “let’s wait and see” approach to diagnosis. So for me, I wish the show touched on all the symptoms that these kids are suffering from, but I do realize that it’s just a tv show and it would take a series to portray bipolar disease in its entirety.

Here are my thoughts on the episode that aired last night as well as questions for Kristen, a parent who appeared with her son Chase in the show. Kristen has offered to answer any questions we have on this blog, so if you want to reach out to her, please leave her a comment below.

First, I want to say that I’m so thankful for these brave families. Kristen, my heart goes out to you and all the other single moms doing this on your own. Both my husband and I wondered how you survive as a single mom, it’s hard enough with the two of us. I’m so impressed with you Kristen, you’re so good with your son, you do such a great job of handling the tough moments. Your story about Chase hurting you while you were driving was just terrifying, again, you’re so brave! I think that as much as we question why this is happening to our children, I wonder if God brought these children to us because He knew we could handle it, we could love these kids unconditionally. (just my thoughts)

Watching Kristen fight to carry Chase up the stairs while he was going into a rage was an image out of my own life. I find myself on those steps many times wondering if my son is going to injury us both, it looks easier on camera than it really is! Also seeing the images of Chase running off out the front door, it made me laugh because I’ve been there more than once! I also appreciate you Kristen for sharing to the world that you give medication to your son, not to make your life as a parent easier, but to make your son well, to give him a life. People need to hear this.

It hurts to see these kids suffer, I recognize that "look" in the children’s faces when they go into these rages, it’s the same look our son has. I’m glad this episode showed how these kids are affected by their peer groups, trouble with friends and fitting in. I also appreciate the openness of these parents, sharing how they fear their kids, especially as they get bigger. I also love the statement by one father that “There’s no fixing this, only work." That is so true!

I was touched by the scene where a younger brother, Morgan, went to check on his sister, Kelsey, after a rage in her room. He asked if he could go into her room and she didn’t want him to because she was afraid if she got mad she was going to hurt him. This alone shows that this isn’t a child that’s a bully, but one that’s suffering from something that makes her rage beyond her control. These kids don’t want to hurt others, they just can’t help it. I’ve seen this with my own son. It’s this reoccurring behavior that has hurt my son’s self esteem. He thinks he’s a bad person because of how he’s hurt us in past rages, even though it’s out of his control.

I thought the doctors represented on the show were all caring and in touch with their cases. I felt that the show limited the view on bipolar to only rage issues for the most part, it would’ve been helpful for me to see more of the other symptoms since we’re still trying to determine what my son has and like many kids, it’s a lot more than just rages.

I wish it was possible to get a better view into these kids lives. For example, seeing your child rage, then want to kill themselves, even grabbing a knife, demonstrates the illness in such a way that you have to agree that it’s not a tantrum. I just think it’s hard for anyone video taping to capture how bad it really gets. In the toughest moments, a parent can’t stop to video tape, instead they’re trying to keep their child from jumping out of a window. So unfortunately, I don’t think what these kids are REALLY going through can ever be documented. But on the flip side, there are subtle moments seen in this show that show a deeper view of what’s going on. If you remember in the beginning, where Chase is throwing things around in his room, he says that he “needs someone to help him”. This is not a tantrum, he really does need help! Then there’s a very subtle clip where a girl is screaming in anger, throwing stuff around, but in a small gesture, actually “straightens” the puzzle on the table that she has ruined, then goes on to throw more stuff. This shows a piece of her, under all that rage, that hates what she’s doing, she hates that she has ruined her sibling’s puzzle. This subtly demonstrates that there’s “good” deep down in these kids when the rage takes over.

Over all, I’m glad this show aired. I’m also sad to say that this looks like our life in so many ways. Thank you Kristen, Chase and all the other families for sharing your life with us, I believe good things will come out of this.

Questions for Kristen:
The last I’ve heard, you’ve not seen the episode yet since you were in Disneyland, but based on your experience and public reaction, are you glad you participated in this show?

What are Chase's symptoms overall?

What symptoms made the doctor label him as being Bipolar?

Does he have more of the “giddy happy” mode or more of the “depressed” mode going on?

What symptoms does Chase have that has required hospitalization?

How have you dealt with the devastation of hospitalization?

Do you ever have medications help Chase, then completely stop working?

What seems to help Chase the most?

Thank you so much for opening up your life to us, you’re helping so many parents, we appreciate you!


  1. Hi! I'll try to answer all your questions. Hope the answers are helpful.

    1. I never actually saw the entire episode before today. I saw bits and pieces and knew what was going to be included. I couldn't even watch it at Disneyland. I watched it as soon as we came home from Disneyland, after a 7 hour drive.

    As far as public reaction, the people that REALLY matter to me are happy that we took the risk to give Chase a voice. Those people being our family, friends, and the people affected by these amazing bipolar children such as yourself.

    Chase's symptoms are constantly changing with age and cycles. Obviously rages, mood changes, mania, depression (only starting to see clinical depression lately) and I could go on forever. When he is manic, he tends to be edgy and overly aggressive. He won't sleep or eat and generally looks like a wind-up toy. When Chase was depressed he used to be irritable and raging. However, with age, his depressive cycles look a lot more like adult depression. His rages happen when he's in more of a manic state. Wish I could give you a simple answer for this!

    The doctors initially labeled Chase as ADHD. I didn't doubt that he had ADHD but I knew there was something more after his initial episode of psychosis in the car. At that moment, my sweet child left and another scary person took over him. We continued to "treat the symptoms" with Chase's psychiatrist. I really agree with that approach. It wasn't until Chase was getting ready to start kindergarten that I pushed for a specific diagnosis. Without a specific "label" the school had no idea what I meant when I described Chase as a high needs kid with a possible mood disorder. That's when the word "bipolar" was given.

    Chase tends to be VERY even with mania/depression. He used to bounce back and forth between states on an hourly basis and now he's looking more like an adult with weeks at a time in each state.

    Each hospitalization was based on a 5150 status. The first 3 were for "harm to self" and the last 3 were "harm to others." The first hospitalization was when he was making a plan to kill himself and was getting everything "set up" to carry it out. Most recently he was 5150'd after coming after his uncle with a kitchen knife.

    Each hospitalization triggers a flood of emotions. At first I just felt like a failure that couldn't keep my own child safe. But the last few hospitalizations were almost a relief for Chase. He knew when he went into the hospital, his family would be safe. I could live in denial forever... saying he won't ever seriously injure me. But if he ever did, he wouldn't be able to forgive HIMSELF. We also go into each hospitalization hoping that SOMETHING will help.

  2. I have had plenty of meds help Chase for a short period of time. The one that made the most difference for Chase in the last year was Abilify. He was out of the hospital from July 2009 until Feb 2010 while on Abilify. Then it just stopped. One day it lost 100% of its effectiveness. We messed with the dosage for a while but it just wasn't working anymore. He's been on Geodon since April and so far things are great. Its important to be thankful for each day that your child seems to be stable and to understand that little kids have NOT been studied enough regarding meds. Their metabolism is so different from ours.

    Nothing is consistantly effective with Chase. He really thrives on structure and predictability. He also does better with more individual attention. I wish I had a better answer for this question though.

    I need to get going. We just got home from an amazing trip to Disneyland. I couldn't have even DREAMED that a trip would go so smoothly. Take care and thank you for your kind words.

  3. Kristen, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, it’s very helpful for us parents who are still searching for answers. I’m glad your trip was a success and I hope your transition back to regular life goes smooth!

  4. Kristen
    Thank you so much for taking time to answer questions.
    And even more important...I thank you and Chase for being brave enough to let the world in on your daily struggles.

  5. Does anyone know how to get a copy of the episode? I would like to use it for a staff training.

    1. Hmmm... I’m not sure. Here is the blog for one of the moms that appeared on the episode "Kristen":

      She hasn't written in a while, but maybe leave a message on her blog. Also, try contacting the network?
      Good Luck.