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Having bipolar disorder is, well, fill in the blanks. Even when you’re its host, bipolar is a difficult disorder to understand. Thus, making it even harder to explain. But when we’re blessed with children, the time inevitably comes when we have to formulate an age appropriate explanation for our bipolar symptoms. And we often have to do this more than once, revising our descriptions to fit aging maturity levels.
We could try to keep our disorders secret. But this would eventually become exhausting and possibly even exacerbate our bipolar symptoms. But most importantly, our children deserve answers. Children are wiser and more resilient than many of us give them credit for. They’re also intuitive and can sense when something is out of sync, even mom’s circadian rhythm.
My experience has been that the more open and honest we can be, the better. As secrets keep us sick. However, I’m by no means suggesting that anyone detail the depths of depression, such as sharing details of a recent suicide attempt.
But we should take the time to formulate age appropriate definitions. Block out quiet time to sit down with our children and have a discussion. Further allowing them to ask questions while being prepared to answer them.
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It’s important to have this discussion when our moods are stable and we’re feeling clear-headed. While being careful not to overload our children with too much information all at once, especially young children. A general explanation may be all they need in the beginning. And after mulling it over on their own, they might come back to us with questions.
We should read our children’s cues. We’ll know if they’re overwhelmed or overflowing with questions. Allow them to set the pace. Realize the initial impact this information could possibly have on our children. Look at it from our children’s perspective. They’ll be hearing that a parent is sick. That could be scary. But it’s our jobs to help them put it into perspective and make sense of it.
It can also be helpful to have someone present for support, like a spouse, if possible.
Depending on your family’s history and your past behaviors due to bipolar symptoms, family therapy sessions may help to facilitate this discussion. Bipolar can easily turn into a family disease, with mania possible of producing reckless behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse, gambling sprees, and shopping sprees. Family-focused therapy is highly effective at helping families heal by educating and cultivating understanding and communication.
Tell us, how did you explain bipolar disorder to your children? What questions came up?