Sunday, June 9, 2013

In His Own Words... My Son Shares His Experience with Bipolar Disorder

Tonight I had an enlightening conversation with my oldest son. Most of our conversation I’ll treasure for me alone, but he’s given me permission to share with you, in his own words, what it’s like to have a mood disorder.

My son shared that prior to medication, most of the time he felt sadness. The kind of sadness that makes you want to end your own life. He also felt anger a lot and that would lead to rages. Other times he would feel happy.

He found that the hardest experience to describe was his quick changing moods. There was a time when his moods would change from happy to sad in a matter of moments. It would scare him and often he would cry out for help to make his moods stop changing, or he would bang his head on the ground hoping to disrupt it. But he said that trying to explain what it felt like is impossible, “it’s like seeing something so beautiful that there’s no words for it, only this wasn’t beautiful, but mysterious.”

He also talked about seeing “shadow men” hallucinations, I could tell this made him uncomfortable to talk about, as he said, “It still freaks me out.”

Then my son’s eyes lit up as he explained that he had another feeling he felt maybe five times in his life. He called it, “crazed with power.” He said a feeling would come over him that made him feel like he had one thing that he needed to do, “to destroy and get rid of anything in my path that would try to stop me.” He said it was like he was a robot programmed to do one thing and he couldn’t do anything else. “If you tried to stop me, I would hurt you.”

He explained that this crazed power was fun, but dangerous. He said he would feel overpowered with energy and that he felt like he could do anything. He said that this kind of power might make you want to jump off a cliff, but you wouldn’t have the understanding that it could kill you. He also described it as a feeling of being stronger than anything, he said that he felt like he could stand in front of a moving train and not die because he would be stronger than the train coming at him. He said he felt like he could survive anything, like he had an “infinity of lives.”

When he was experiencing this crazed power, he said that he didn’t pay much attention to those around him, he said, “It’s like everyone else was a speck of dust and I had to get through them.” He also said that he would take down anyone who stood in his way. That’s why he would rage against me.

In comparing his energy level during this time, he explained that if a normal person ran a marathon they’d start to wear down and tire out. But when he was feeling his crazed power, he felt like he could run two marathons and it would have no effect on his body—he’d never get out of breath. He felt like he could always do more, more, more... in the end he described it as “infinite energy.”

My son shared that sometimes he could sense these moods coming, but he didn’t know what to do with it, “should I lock myself up or tie myself down?”

I may not have understood it at the time, but I saw this “crazed power” he talked about. There was a particular look in his eyes. I could also feel an energy coming off him. I could feel it in my gut, it always made me anxious. Even today if he raises his voice I can feel my body tense up, fearfully anticipating the return of this negative energy.

Thankfully, since he’s become stable on Lithium, these symptoms are almost gone. As he said, “I feel like a normal kid most of the time with normal kid problems.” As his mom, I would agree.

* * *

I’m so incredibly impressed with my son’s ability, at only 12 years, to put into words what I’ve witnessed for years. When he was younger, he didn’t have the cognitive ability to express these experiences, but now that he’s older, I’m able to learn so much more about what he experiences as a child with a mood disorder (Currently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder NOS). 

I wanted to share with you—with his permission of course—so that you too may understand what your child may be going through, especially if they’re younger. I hope people can understand that our kids don’t desire to be oppositional, they really want to do the right thing and please their parents, but our kids are battling a war inside their brain. As we like to say, “the brain is making mistakes and there is no control.”

After hearing what my son has dealt with for so many years, I can only say that he’s absolutely amazing. That fact that he’s been on the honor roll his entire first year of middle school, that he’s making new friends and overcoming challenges and ultimately thriving under these conditions is miraculous. I’m so incredibly proud of him.

Tonight we ended our long talk with a hug and laughed as he could barely fit on my lap, with his knees scrunched up to his chin. He may be as tall as me, but he’ll always be my little man.


  1. Wow! What an amazing son you have. How wonderful that he is able to articulate so clearly what he is feeling. Of course kudos to you for giving him the permission, space, safety and love that clearly has made it possible for him to travel the road to becoming a remarkable young man.

  2. Hi! I'm a nineteen year old girl with ADHD who stumbled onto your blog while writing a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde paper for college. I felt like I should comment since I've been living with a mental difficulty all my life and I want to tell you that as a mother you're doing good. You talk to your sons about how they feel all the time and that's important and you have a place of your own to let out your feelings, that's healthy for you. It's always a good idea to talk to your children who have mental difficulties about what they're feeling even when they're young. If my mom had talked to me instead of shoving books in my face, telling me what I was feeling, we probably would have had a better understanding of the situation and a better relationship. (We have an awesome relationship because we talk so often, but I wish in my younger years that she had established this connection and safe space and saved me years of loneliness and confusion and guilt.) I know it's hard to understand younger children, but please ask them. They have such good insight into how they're feeling even if they struggle to put it into words because if you don't allow your child a safe place to just vent, then they start venting to themselves and they get tired of hearing the same story and feel like they're making excuses. It's not healthy. Even if it's just describing of how it feels to be off the medicine or how they are on it or how it makes them feel to be on it and that others aren't, it's important that they have someone they know allowing them to vent about it and it's such a good update for you on your child's security with themselves during the years and how they're dealing with the knowledge that they have this mental difficulty. Just let them guide you with discussion, but tell them that you are open to listen. Don't bring up a book or a doctor, just let them tell it from their own perspective and you might be fascinated. Please realize that no one's mental difficulty experience is the same, no matter how many books you read or doctor's you consult, your child is the only one who can tell you exactly how it is. Good luck with the coming years with your children. As a bit of advice: with school or relationships, your sons might feel like when the struggle with these, they might feel like they are using their mental difficulty as an excuse for their poor skills in these departments. Please don't ever let your children think that the hurdle that they must get over every day is just an empty excuse for low intelligence or laziness. Thank you.


    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful post and for sharing your experience I learn the most from those who have walked down this path. Your story will help many of us moms who are trying to do our best. Good luck with your college paper, I’m sure you have some very good insight to share.