My son snuggled against me, on the beige leather couch, trying to get comfortable and forget the sensory sensation of his legs sticking to the fabric.
“Sweet boy,” I murmured, and smoothed his unruly hair.
The psychiatrist was instructing us in all the things.
The medications we needed to try.
The possible side effects.
The school options.
The therapies necessary.
The long-term likelihood of substance abuse and high percentages of suicide.
The calendar of appointments set.
The blood tests.
As she talked, I became acutely aware of how often she said his diagnosis, over and over again.
Because he is bipolar…
When a child is bipolar…
Being bipolar means…
Mental illness and pediatric bipolar disorder require…
Sitting there on that couch, it felt like one word would define my child for the rest of our lives.
I have been hesitant to share this particular diagnosis.
The world is not friendly to the mentally ill.
The fear and shame associated with this diagnosis, have been new and unfamiliar to me.
I have heard all of these diagnoses in reference to one or both of my two sons.
It wasn’t easy to hear them, but it didn’t feel shameful.
It wasn’t fun to hear them, but it never felt like a life sentence.
It wasn’t what I wanted, these diagnoses, but they all felt like something I could handle.
Pediatric bipolar disorder has been a much different experience for us.
I am not sure when I will be able to really share it all.
I am not even sure that I want to.
But I think it would be wrong to not publicly acknowledge that we are dealing with a bipolar diagnosis for my sweet ten-year old son, my baby.
How could I possibly choose to withhold this information, when I have tried so hard to be transparent about all the rest?
What message would it send to my son, when he is old enough to read my words?
That somehow a bipolar diagnosis is more shameful than all the rest?
That having a bipolar diagnosis is somehow different, and more unspeakable than his brother’s autism diagnosis?
That a bipolar diagnosis is beyond the scope of my unwavering belief that my children are fearfully and wonderfully made, exactly as they are, no matter what the brain function?
The reason why pediatric mental illness feels so different for us, is because no one talks about it.
The reason why our psychiatrist is so focused on the disorder and not the child, is because so little is known about how to really help the child.
And this is exactly why I will write, as much as I can, about our experiences with pediatric bipolar disorder.
I pray I will do it in a way that encourages other moms. I hope I can do it in a way that protects my son’s privacy. I know I will do everything I can to write in a way that protects his heart.
It feels like this diagnosis has changed everything.
But the truth is, at a most basic level, it has changed nothing.
My child is still a child.
I am still his mom.
And together, we will do what we have always done.
We will work to figure out what works.
We will pray.
We will fail.
We will love until it hurts.
We will cry.
We will celebrate success.
We will take the next step.