In light of the month of May which is Mental Health Awareness Month and Mother's Day I decided to talk about my lovely mother and her mental illness. There are many mental illnesses and although I will only be talking about the illness she dealt with, I advise you to educate yourselves on what ever illness is personal for you by purchasing the DSM-V (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This book contains etiology, symptoms, and treatment and has been very helpful in my journey to understanding my late mother.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder (also known as manic depressive illness or manic depression) is a brain illness that results in unusual changes in moods. These types of people have 2 moods as described below.
- very happy
- more energetic than usual
- feel very up and high
- have difficulty sleeping
- more active than usual
- talks really fast about a lot of different things
- agitated, irritable, or touchy
- participate in risky behaviors such as spending a lot of money or having reckless sex
- very sad
- feels down most of the times
- sleeps too much or too little
- eats too much or too little
- feel like they can't enjoy anything
- have trouble concentrating
- thinks about death or suicide
Did you know that there are actually multiple types of Bipolar disorder?
· Bipolar I disorder: Periods of severe mood changes from severe depression to severe mania
· Bipolar II disorder: Severe depression and hypo-mania (less severe symptoms of a manic episode)
· Cyclothymic disorder: Less severe but more chronic bipolar condition
My mother, Terri Lynn Sykes, was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I. She was liked by every person she encountered. I definitely get my personality from her because many would say that I am always optimistic and their "go to" person when they are having a bad day. My mother was the same exact way. During my lifetime our relationship mirrored her moods.
For 2 years while I was in high school we actually shared a room AND a bed lol. I can laugh at this now but at the time I HATED it. We were living in my grandparent's 2 bedroom home and we shared EVERYTHING; room, closet, clothes, hygiene materials, and even her car. Although our living situation was not ideal, we had managed to become best friends. I talked to her about everything, we would go shopping every weekend, and I was basically a free teenager with a friend as a mom.
What I didn't realize at the time was that all of our good times were a result of her being on her medications regularly. Her symptoms were so well controlled that I didn't even realize she had a mental illness. I knew she took a multitude of medications but I assumed it was for things like her diabetes, hypertension, and thyroid disease.
During my college career my mother became a different person. She would talk rapidly about nothing and eventually she began to have hallucinations which led to me being trapped in a house (more details in my book so look out for it). She began to yell at me for unbeknownst reasons and would tell me that I would never be anything. I lost my mother physically 3 years ago but this was the moment when I had lost her emotionally and mentally.
How did I deal with this?
I ignored and avoided her in every way possible.
Why did I treat her this way?
Because I was uneducated and misinformed about her illness. My family did not talk about her illness and acted as if nothing was wrong. I did not know why she was acting this way or how to respond to the way she was acting.
THIS WAS THE ABSOLUTE WORSE WAY TO DEAL WITH A FAMILY MEMBER WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS.
How should you deal with a family member who has a mental illness?
Avoid annoyance and support them. Attend doctor appointments with them (if they allow you). As a child I would always go with my mother to her psychiatrist appointments. Of course back then I had no idea this is who she was going to see but I could tell that she enjoyed me being there.
In my mother's case, I also had to be understanding of her mood swings. Whatever your family member's symptoms are, you must understand that it is an illness and they are not always responsible for their actions.
Listen to them.
At times you may not know what to say or how to respond. It may even be uncomfortable at first but listen anyway. I understand that this may be hard considering that the person may even be talking down to you. However, I am sure that it is even harder for your family member in the moment when they are unable to control their emotions.
Find ways to adjust their behavior.
For example, if your loved one seems to be antsy and is having a hard time calming down-- go for a walk with them. You could even find a hobby that distracts them and include their friends and relatives. My mother LOVED to eat crabs.This was our go-to activity during the summer. We would sit in my grandparents backyard and eat bushels of them. This activity was her favorite and she was sure to be in a good mood if her hands were busy breaking crabs apart. Now, whenever I return home to VA my maternal grandmother and I like to sit in the park, eat crabs, and talk about our memories of her and we ALWAYS have a good time.
You must also understand that the above may not always be possible.
Don't beat yourself up about things. It is okay if you DO get annoyed every once in a while or if you are overwhelmed yourself. However, you have to continue to look for ways to improve so that your loved ones can also improve.
Lastly and most importantly, understand that treatment is VITAL.
Help them figure out what treatment is best for them. They may have to try many different treatments such as medications or psychotherapy. Encourage them to partake in treatment at ALL times.
YOU may also need treatment. I began to go to the counseling center at my University while I was in college and it was very helpful to vent to someone with no strings attached. Counseling and therapy is NORMAL and I highly recommend it. This helped with my acceptance, adjustment, and eventually my grief.
If you know someone who is in a crisis and may try to harm themselves or others:
- DO NOT leave the person alone.
- Call their doctor.
- Call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.
- Call the National suicide Prevention Lifeline, toll-free: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Please keep in mind that I am NO expert. Most of the factual information provided in this blog was obtained from the DSM-V and other reliable articles or websites. The remaining content came from my personal experience and is my opinion. The information provided above is not all you should rely on. Every person and every illness is different and should be treated differently.
Thank you so much for reading and Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!