I silently went up the stairs, then knocked on my youngest daughter’s door. “Yes?” she said.
“Can I come in for a bit?” I said.
“Um, okay,” she said,
She opened the door wearing an old dance costume. She still enjoys playing dress-up even at thirteen. I wondered how to open this adult conversation.
“Can I talk to you for a minute or so?” I asked.
She said okay. She kicked a few things out of the way on the floor, and I moved a few stuffed animals around on her bed to make room to sit.
I was still praying on how to do this conversation the right way. I decided to admit that I wasn’t sure what to say. “Mommy needs to talk to you about something, and I am wondering about how to say it right”
She nodded. “About what?” she said.
“Me,” I said.
She looked at me oddly but didn’t say anything. I decided to go simple first. “You know Mommy has problems.”
She nodded. “What do you know about my problems?” I asked,
She shrugged her shoulders. “Do you know what it’s called?”
She shook her head and said, “No.”
“It’s called bipolar disorder. Do you know what that means?”
“No,” she said
I told her that sometimes I would get very sad and depressed and other times be really angry and irritated, but other times where I was all right, not any of those things. I said I would switch between both sides, and that was why they called it bipolar disorder. I explained that I had had trouble with it all my life, starting when I was eight, but that her Mamaw and Papaw didn’t know what it was or what to do about it.
I paused. “Do you understand what I’m talking about?”
She nodded but I could tell she really didn’t. She was nodding to end the conversation,
I said, “I’m telling you this because I never got medicine for my problems until after you came along. We knew I had problems, but we never put together what was wrong until after you came along. And this is with Mommy learning about bipolar disorder with her work for disability—I still didn’t know that any of that was happening to me. But you need to know about it because it is hereditary, and you need to know that if you ever start feeling really, really funny in your mind to come talk to Mommy and Daddy about it. ”
She nodded again, and this time I think she understood at least the last part of what I said. I asked if she had any questions, and she said no. I said I just wanted to talk to her about it and make sure she understood what Mommy’s problems were all about. “You know how Mommy sometimes goes to the hospital?” I asked.
She nodded and said “Yes.”
“Well, it would be because Mommy sometimes gets really, really sad and other times really, really anxious and upset. That’s why I take medicine all the time now, to keep from that happening again,” I said,
I stopped and just looked at her. She nodded. I could tell she was anxious to get back to her playtime. “If you ever have questions or like I said, start feeling really funny, you need to let me and Daddy know.”
I said, “You know how I know I started having problems? When I was eight years old and in third grade, I would chase boys around the playground trying to kiss them.”
She laughed at that. I said, “That’s way too young to do anything like that, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “So that is one way of feeling funny in my mind about something,” I said. “It really caused me a lot of problems at school that I was doing that.”
She said, “I bet.”
I told her I would let her get back to what she was doing. I had given her a lot to think about, I could tell. But it was a talk that had to be had, and she was old enough to start understanding.
Julie Whitehead currently writes and blogs from Mississippi at her personal blog. She has been a university lecturer, a disability examiner, and a freelance writer. She carries a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and blogs to create awareness and help others understand the disease and its effects.