Building on the Strengths of a Bipolar Child

Many brain disorders bring with them built-in limits. Bipolar disorders do not. Some would even argue that they may equip the affected person with certain strengths: a high energy level, strong verbal skills, sometimes an especially creative way of looking at the world and solving problems. All parents hope that their adult children will find a way to use their special talents, and for people with bipolar disorders, these talents can help make up for the down side of their illness.

Encourage the good sides that you see. There’s nothing wrong with your child having a bunch of instant energy. They can take things that they really like and obsess on them, and maybe turn them into their careers. I think I’m a more creative person [because of this disorder]… sometimes, anyway.

—Carmen, age 17

As you consider helping your child to move from dependency to independence, know that he has many strengths to build a good future on. During this period, as it has been throughout your child’s life, your goal should be to help him internalize personal rules and habits that will continue to keep him safe, sober, and level for life.

Parents share their hopes

Following are five parents’ responses to the question, “What are your hopes for your child?”

I hope that he does not have to suffer the severe psychic pain of full-blown bipolar disorder. I hope he will be able to develop his talents and strengths and contribute to the world while enjoying life.

—Marlene, mother of 8-year-old Billy (diagnosed cyclothymic disorder)

My main hope is that one day she’ll be able to live on her own. As it is right now, I’m not certain that will happen. She’s still afraid to be by herself for any length of time.

—Donna, mother of 16-year-old Lisa (diagnosed bipolar II disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder)

I hope that she will be as successful as I have been. That she will eventually be able to self-regulate so she can marry and have children. I hope she will be a happy, loving wife and mother, and an adult friend to me.

—Stephanie, mother of 7-year-old Cassidy (diagnosed bipolar disorder, Tourette syndrome, OCD, ADHD)

I want her to get a handle on her mental health before she’s in her thirties, like I was. I hope for her to be able to apply her many artistic talents (art, music, etc.) as part of her career.

—Sue, mother of 16-year-old Vanessa (diagnosed bipolar disorder, OCD,borderline personality disorder, passive-aggressive personality disorder)

I hope that he can go to college, get a good job, live independently, marry, and stay stable and happy.

—Lynn, mother of 11-year-old Michael (diagnosed bipolar I disorder with mixed states and psychosis, OCD, tic disorder)

Dream for your child with bipolar disorder, just as you would for any child. Ground your dreams in reality as you must—for a child with severe symptoms, good health and safety are enough to want for now. But keep at least a little dream about a productive and happy life for your adult child alive, no matter what. Patients, their families, and the medical profession are learning so much that we all have reason to hope.

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