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6 Things I Learned from Having a Daughter with Bipolar Disorder

My daughter is bipolar

My daughter is 14 years old, and was diagnosed for bipolar disorder with psychotic features when she was 11.

The last three years have been the most difficult times I’ve experienced in my life. I grew up with a bipolar father, but with him the disease was on the periphery for me. With my daughter it’s front and center. It dominates my thoughts, emotions and actions. It holds me in a state, where I feel a constant sensation of free falling, never knowing where I’m going to land.

Despite how difficult this has been, I have also found strengths in myself that I didn’t know existed. I have evolved as a mother, a wife and a human being. My daughter’s bipolar disorder is part of who she is, but it’s also part of who I am, and who I will become.

Here is what I’ve learned from having a child with bipolar disorder:

  1. I am strong – With adversity, you either gather your strength to do battle, or you crumble under the pressure. Throughout my daughter’s illness, I have found incredible strength inside myself. I still have days where I cry and feel hopeless, but I get through them and soldier on. This strength came to me through education, determination and an incredible support system. When she was diagnosed, I researched and learned as much as I could about what to expect moving forward. I found the best adolescent psychiatrist in our area, and a therapist that worked well with my daughter. With each new medication I researched and learned everything I could about how they worked, possible side effects and efficacy. Arming myself with knowledge has been empowering for me. Having tasks to accomplish makes me feel more in control of the situation.
  1. I have learned to control my temper – I have worked hard to be a more calm and understanding mother. This is not to say that I don’t have moments of failure. I do. However, my previous methods of yelling and being reactive, brought out unimaginable volatility in my daughter. I try not to be the spark that ignites her rage and instead be a calming influence.
  1. I have learned how very few things in life matter – We are all guilty of it. We desire, we covet, we burn with jealousy over what someone else has. We make looking good, having the right clothes, the right car and the right friends our priorities. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Over the last three years, my thoughts have changed, my priorities have shifted. I’ve had moments of jealousy over different things, like happy kids and peaceful households. However, I then remind myself that everyone has challenges, some more apparent than others, but challenges nonetheless.
  1. I have learned to give up control – This has been exceedingly difficult for me. Any feelings of being in control are fanciful at best, and I have spent my life fighting for this to no avail. Control over my life, my body, my children, my parents, my husband and even my friends. Having a child with a mental illness has taught me more than ever that I cannot control other people. Over time I have come to accept this. I’m learning everyday how to take things as they come, and how to be brave in the face of the unknown.
  1. I have learned to take it one day at a time – This sounds so cliché but it’s absolutely true. I have always been a planner. I thrive within routine and familiarity. When my daughter started showing symptoms of her illness I quickly learned that I had to become flexible. Unlike adults with bipolar, children usually cycle rapidly. Their moods can literally change moment to moment. This causes a lot of uncertainty in her life and mine. Being unyielding only adds more stress to the situation.
  1. I’ve learned to be thankful – There are many things that I’m thankful for, and it took this upheaval in our lives for me to realize some of them. I’m thankful that we have the financial means to get the best possible care for our child, and that we live in a big city where care is readily available. I’m thankful there are medications she can take that will hopefully help her live a normal life. Also for the incredible support we have from our friends, family and her school. The thing I’m most thankful for, is her. She is an amazing person, and maybe she wouldn’t be who she is, if it weren’t for her bipolar disorder. My daughter is creative, talented, intelligent, and passionate. I know she will do great things with her life, and for that I’m grateful.

Having a child with a mental illness is overwhelming and scary, but I have faith the future is brighter.  Bipolar disorder is complex. I’m still learning everyday how to help her manage her condition, and to find balance and stability for her and our family. Someone once told me that the only “cure” for bipolar disorder is acceptance and love. And of course, some really good meds. I couldn’t agree more.

If you or someone you know experiences bipolar disorder, or other mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author:  Alisa Studer is a full-time mom of a 14-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. A dedicated advocate of eating well and exercising for mental and physical health, she started a blog this year to support and promote all aspects of a living a healthy lifestyle.

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc.

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4 thoughts on “6 Things I Learned from Having a Daughter with Bipolar Disorder

  1. Susan says:

    Thank you for this article! My daughter was diagnosed with bipolar I a few years ago, in her mid-twenties. I am one of her triggers and this is very painful for me. I don’t know how to undo it, or if it can be changed by her.

    Your observations in control are spot on. It’s so difficult to let go. I always want to protect her and be her advocate. Naturally, she views this as invasive. Your advice is most helpful!

  2. Holly says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! It is so nice knowing that someone out there can relate to what I am going through, because as you know, sometimes I feel all alone! I too have learned to not be the fuel and as Susan said, I too am my child’s trigger more often then not. Human brains are constantly changing and we can learn and rewrite ourselves. Thank you for your words of encouragement!

  3. Jackie says:

    My 13 year old daughter was just diagnosed with bipolar. In a sense it’s a relief. Reading this I actually felt I was reading my own thoughts. The past couple of years have been a nightmare. I’m hopefully that now that we are on now on the right path. There is so much shame in this. Not at her diagnosis but at how we’ve been living. It’s been so horrible. I felt like no one understood. I’ve watched my lively child spiral out of control. It’s such a helpless feeling, I am also her trigger. Although I feel as I can’t handle anymore for my daughter I will find the strength. Thank you for your words. They have provided some hope.

  4. Jay Boll, Editor in Chief www.rtor.org says:


    As the parent of a child diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I have felt many of the same emotions. It is common to feel shame in such a situation, but it’s not really warranted. Your daughter’s disorder is not your fault.

    I’m glad the article helped. Thank you for reading the blog and commenting.


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