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Things I Learned Growing Up with a Bipolar Mother

Mental illness is real for many families. But just because you witnessed it doesn’t mean your story is already written.

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When I was a kid, I didn’t spend too much time with my mother. The only pictures I have with her are the ones from my birthdays. As a single mother, she had to work a lot to cover her basic expenses. Often, she didn’t have enough time for my brother and me, but that wasn’t a problem since her parents had our backs.

My grandparents always made sure that we had enough, even if enough was sometimes just above the minimum. No fancy toys or new clothes. Holidays? No gifts. Coke? Only at birthdays.

This isn’t to say I had a deprived childhood. The way I was raised made me the young woman I am today, and I cherish many of my childhood moments. However, it was by no means a conventional childhood in a conventional family.

My mother was and is suffering from bipolar disorder.

For people who don’t know what bipolar disorder is, approaching my mother would be a very interesting experience based on her mood.

By no means is there only one way to “be bipolar.” Generally speaking, though, this mental illness involves cyclical mood swings (they can be very extreme, but also lighter) that have manic and depressive phases. It’s also known as manic depression.

One of the biggest challenges I faced while growing up was definitely interacting with my mother without feeling hurt, sad, or fearful.

It was my little brother that reminded me of letting go when it wasn’t her talking, but her illness. On the other hand, my mother always preferred to communicate with my brother than with me, but this doesn’t mean that he never suffered from her condition.

It wasn’t until the end of high school that I learned about my mother’s disease. I knew she was taking medicine, but I didn’t know why. Maybe nobody told me the truth to protect me, but I can’t say if that was the wisest thing to do.

Our relationship suffered during my teenage years. From 15 to 18, we had our worst fights. She could be very mean to me and knew exactly what to say to hurt me. At 15, instead of asking for pocket money to party or to buy clothes like most of my friends, I was trying to save for a driver’s license. At school, I was one of the best-performing students, yet she didn’t seem to care. There was never pocket money, never a simple, “How are you?”.