My Story: My Daughter is Bipolar

FOF Christina Daniels’ daughter, *Sophie, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was just six years old. Here, Daniels describes the experience of battling this devastating disease–and the stigma it still carries.

“Up until she was six, my daughter was a little fairy princess,” says FOF Christina Daniels, 48. “She was a happy, smart child–she never even went through the terrible twos.” That year, Sophie Daniels exhibited the first “truly obvious” signs of mental illness, and, Christina says, their lives have never been the same.

Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) causes mood swings that range from the lows of severe depression to the highs of mania. Though often controlled with medication, bipolar disorder is a traumatic disease that lasts a lifetime–with no known cure and a high rate of psychiatric hospitalization and suicide.

For FOFs like Christina, caring for a child with bipolar disorder can become a life-long labor of love.

  • When did you start noticing that something was wrong with Sophie?
    • When she was about six, her father and I started going through a divorce, and she began having bouts of extreme crying–I mean, uncontrollably, for hours. She would talk and write things about wanting to die and kill herself.
  • Did she actually hurt herself?
    • The first incident of self harm I can recall was when she was six. We’d had a snow storm, and one evening while I was cooking dinner, she walked outside to the end of driveway with no coat, just a dress, and lay down in the snow. She was there for fifteen minutes before my son saw and ran out to get her. We went to the hospital, and she was treated for hypothermia.
  • Did you think she had a mental illness at that point?
    • At first I thought, maybe she saw a friend outside, or left a sleigh outside, and went to retrieve it, or something like that. But that wasn’t the case. She ‘didn’t want to be here anymore,’ and that’s why she’d walked out in the snow and laid down. That was really the first real strong indication that something wrong.
  • How was she diagnosed?
    • When we first started seeing all the psychologists and psychiatrists, the condition du jour was ADHD. So first, she was diagnosed as ADHD and put on Ritalin. After the meds didn’t work, an I kept pushing, her doctor looked closer and realized that she had an extensive family history of bipolar disorder on her father’s side. They finally got on the right course after about 18 months. She’s 13 now.
  • Has she continued to have problems?
    • Yes–she’s been on many combinations of medication and therapy, but there hasn’t been an ‘easy’ fix for her. Her depressive stages have been the most significant and hardest to deal with. She would lock herself in her room; she would hurt herself; she would bang her head against the wall. She refused to go to school–or would go and then just sit in the bathroom and cry. As she got older, the depression would manifest itself in different ways–suicidal thoughts, overeating to compensate for a lack of self-esteem. By the time she was 12 years old she’d gone up to 200 pounds and been hospitalized six times.


  • How did you two get along during this time?
    • The depression made her isolate herself, but it also made her extremely, extremely attached to me, to the point where I couldn’t move or breath without her right there. Then, around 11 or 12, she became violent–destructive. She had bouts of uncontrolled rage. She became physically abusive towards me. I think she knew that I loved her and I wasn’t going anywhere, so she could take her frustration out on me.
  • Were you ever seriously concerned for your physical safety?
    • Yes. I’m a small person–5’1”. When she was younger, I could restrain her, but it got to the point where she outweighed me by 70 pounds. I had to start calling 911. The police came to the house 13 times in 6 months. After the police come, it’s always the same: You go to a crisis center, sit there for 6 hours, and by the time you see the clinician, the child has calmed down and they send you home.
  • Was there anyone you could turn to for help–protection?
    • Eventually, she injured me so many times, I had to press charges. So here we are with an 11 year old kid, charged with assault. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. And the judge is chastising me: ‘How can you do this–press charges against your child?!’ But after going through all this, for so many years, I said, basically, ‘I’ve been advised that the only way she’s going to get help is to not let her get away with it.’
    • Unfortunately, there’s no set of instructions for this.
  • You said you were getting divorced when this began. How is you ex-husband—Sophie’s father–involved in all this?
    • I have been solely responsible for my daughter’s care, and she lives with me full-time. She does, however, have a relationship with her father. Although he does not get involved in treatment and medical care, he tries very hard to maintain a positive relationship and keep informed. The ‘history of mental illness’ in his family is something he has had to deal with all of his life, and he has a difficult time coping with his daughter’s condition. I came to terms with that a long time ago.
  • Have you been supporting your children this whole time as well?
    • Yes. I had a steady employment history until my daughter was diagnosed, but then things got very difficult. There aren’t many employers out there who understand that you need to leave twice a week to go to a therapist, and to a psychiatrist twice a month, and to group therapy sessions. On top of that, you also have to be ‘on call’ for incidents at school, daycare…the list goes on. I lost my job in 2008, unexpectedly. I was performing way above standard and way above my goals, but it didn’t matter–they needed me to be in the office from 8:30am to 5pm every day, and that’s it. I was rehired by another company, and they seemed to understand my situation, but then my daughter had to be hospitalized for two weeks. Daily visits to the hospital again cut into work time, and my employer began taking away my responsibilities saying I probably couldn’t handle it and should ‘concentrate on things at home.’
  • That sounds incredibly stressful? How did you cope?
    • I didn’t–I really went into a tailspin. I thought I had things under control: I’m supermom; I have it all together; I can multi-task like nobody’s business. But you never know when that one thing can come along be the proverbial last straw. I started having panic attacks and instances of anxiety when I couldn’t leave the house. Through the years, I was so focused on helping my daughter, that I did not help me. It’s so important, as a caretaker, to take care of yourself.
  • I can’t imagine being depressed while taking care of a depressed person.
    • That was eye opening for me. Taking care of my daughter over the years, I felt stress and sadness and anxiety and so many emotions. But this was the first time I was really able to relate to some of the feelings that this child was dealing with. We all get the blues sometimes, but when you actually get depressed it’s very different. You have no control. I can’t imagine being a 6, 7 ,8, 9…13, 14 year old child trying to cope with this. It gave me a whole new understanding and appreciation of what she goes through.
  • How do you feel about the possibility of being your daughter’s caretaker for the rest of your life?
    • There are many people who are bipolar and become very high-functioning adults. That’s my goal for her, but I’m aware she may not reach that level. So caring for her is something I’m planning for emotionally and hopefully financially. Is it a scary proposition? No. I’m used to caring for my daughter. I’ve been a mom for 26 years. This past year she’s actually been in a residential treatment facility–somewhere she can get round-the clock care. It’s been the first time in 26 years I haven’t had any kids to take care of. And I really miss it–I like being a caretaker. I do understand, however, that the prospect of caring for an adult child comes with a whole different set of challenges.
  • What about your personal life–your love life? Is there time for that?
    • Actually, I just got engaged.
  • Congratualtions!
    • Thank you. After I’d been divorced for a few years, I did have a 5-year relationship with a man who was aware of my daughter’s condition. But when we moved in with him, it got to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore. She was so attached to me and possessive of my time–that was hard for him.
    • Three years ago I met another man–this time through my freelance marketing business–and he has personal experience with children who have issues. He really understood my situation. We can be a support system for dealing with each other and our children.
  • How is your daughter doing now?
    • Right now, my daughter still struggles with depression. She’s been at a live-in treatment center for about a year, and I’ve seen some dramatic improvement. She’s no longer violent. She’s still cutting, and, at the moment, she’s obsessed with body piercing so she’s tried to pierce her lip and belly button herself. But she’s in a very controlled environment. She’s lost 70 pounds–and she does feel better about herself because she accomplished that. She’s also gotten involved with sports and won 5 gold medals in the Special Olympics.
    • When she got there she was on four different meds–Lexapro, Abilify, lithium, Tenex–and now she’s down to two.
    • The hardest thing is that there’s still a stigma. People just don’t understand that this is a disease. The only time you hear about mental illness is when someone does something crazy–like shoots a congresswoman. And my daughter is a 13 year old girl–being a teenager is hard enough without having to deal with that on top of it.
    • My daughter is a smart, beautiful, wonderful girl who just happens to have some problems that she can’t really help. The goal is, that with love, ongoing treatment and a strong family support network, she can develop the coping skills that will allow her to survive and, hopefully, thrive.
  • *A pseudonym

    Christina Daniels
    Marketing and communications consultantChristina Daniels is a marketing and communications consultant and the mother of three. She lives in New Jersey.

    0 Responses to “My Story: My Daughter is Bipolar”

    1. jomikey06 says:

      Time was it for us. The hardest two lessons I had to learn was I couldn’t help her until she wanted help, I was an enabler and didn’t realize it. The second thing was I had to let her hit rock bottom. She lived with me and i thought I could keep her safe and I couldn’t not from herself. I had to take custody of the two children(2 @ that time) CPS was involved. To make a long story short she’ll have to want the help, and keep her in prayer. The doctores told me that she should start to come out of it by the time she’s 30 and she was twenty-four @ the time. She went on lexpro and that’s when I started seeing a change, it doesn’t work for everyone, but when it works it works. How is your dtr. now I’d love to talk to you sometimes.

    2. Lynda Lynda says:

      The only thing harder than having a child who is Bipolar is being the one who is Bipolar.

    3. swoogietwo says:

      JoAnn I am going through all the problems you and your daughter endured. Mine daughter is 20 and an addict ontop of hte bi-polar and cutting. Was there anything particular that was most effective in getting to the light at the end.

    4. jomikey06 says:

      My beautiful 21 was diagnosed with bi-polar and boder line personality disorder so I’ve been in your shoes. In her teen yrs. she was a cutter and tried to kill herself by the time she got to college. Six months before she graduated all stuff hit the fan, drugs, alcohol etc. Then she got married and had a child who turned out to be mildly autistic which we found out was asperger’s. I have custody of 2 of her children and had to retire my nursing career, which I didn’t mind. She is now 33 yrs. old and is just now seems to be ok. Only with love and patience was I able to offer any help. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, it may not seem like it but it is.

    5. BeckyIA says:

      My brother is an undiagnosed victim of bi-polar disorder. He “self-medicated” for years with marijuana, but got busted and quit cold turkey. He did go through a program, but once that counselor cleared him, he started drinking. He’s a mean drunk. I’ve tried to help as much as I can, but his wife refuses to even acknowledge there’s a problem. He’s abusive to her and their kids, but she won’t press charges. I live two hours away and I can’t be there all the time. He does have a job that he’s managed to keep for over a year, which is an improvement, but I’m afraid without treatment/CORRECT medication, he won’t make it much longer. But I can’t live his life for him and if his wife won’t acknowledge it, I feel like there’s not a whole lot I can do.

    6. norma.byrd.45437 says:

      My heart goes out to the people who have to deal with this issue in loved ones. To maintain a loving relationship in the face of physical and emotional hurt from those you love must be terribly difficult. I’ve known a few people who are bi-polar and in some cases I could walk away rather than continue exposure, but I understood what they were going through. Most recently I lived a short time with a young woman whom I could help a little by just being there—taking her places when her medication prevented her from driving, being a sounding board for her complaints that she was convinced her illness would never be cured, trying to reassure her that she was loved by her husband and parents. In a period of a couple of months it was unending and I felt so sad that none of us could really help her. I very much fear that eventually she’ll succeed in taking her own life. If that happens, we can only pray that she’ll then be in peace.

    7. RonniWhitman says:

      My 26 year old son is both Bi-polar and has ADHD. Since the symptoms are so similar it has been years of conflicting opinions from doctors. Essentially the answer is “if the meds work he’s bi-polar” The meds work —WHEN he takes them.
      We’ve been through it all crying, refusing to go to school, cutting and burning himself, suicide threats, hospital stays up to 5 months, heroin, arrests and rehab. He stayed totally clean for 7 years and got through an Associates Degree and freelance jobs. Now he “drinks socially” which seems to have triggered the bi-polar symptoms and the last year has been a roller coaster of mania and depression. He does great when taking both his ADHD meds and Mood stabilizers then “I feel fine” stops taking the meds and crashes. “Typical bi-polar”.
      I pray he gets it that the meds are a necessity ALL the TIME not just when he feels bad. He says he gets now and is taking his meds but it’s only been two weeks so we shall see. He’s back in school working on his BS but crashed in the middle of the last term and failed all of his classes. He’s only taking one right now.
      It is a tough road ladies, and there is hope. My son has accomplished a lot, has a girl friend and when the meds are in his system he is brilliant and loving. Hang in there and may G-D help us all!

    8. tinamariede says:

      The decision to medicate a child, particularly a very young one, is heart-wrenching. There are so many potential side-effects…weight gain, non-reversable facial tics, liver damage…the list goes on. It is not a decision one makes lightly, but often as a last resort. Unfortunately there is no “magic pill” that will make it all better forever. Medication requires constant monitoring and, as a child grows, frequent adjustments. There are not many “bi polar” meds approved for use in young children and, unfortunately, not a lot of statistical information to back up the ones that are. Building a bond of trust with the child’s psychiatrist, therapist and medical doctor is crucial. And diligence.

    9. Patjaseck says:

      I have raised two children who were/are bi-polar. My oldest daughter took her life when she was 24. Years later, my oldest son (not bi-polar) died of a fibrosis type pneumonia when he was 44. My second son, also 44 at the time of his death, took his life leaving a note about his brother saying “I keep waiting for him to walk through the door and I know he never will again.” My only surviving child, now 43, while not bi-polar has suffered from severe depression most of her life. Life is certainly a challenge, but hang in there. The good memories I have outweigh the bad. I miss my children so much.

    10. swoogietwo says:

      My heart goes out to you. I lived with my mother who was bipolar but not diagnosed correctly. I have a sn who is 16 who has been medicated now for two years who is bipolar and realized it when he was 2 but ran the course of drs saying it’s a phase and all the things I am doing wrong. I now have a daughter 20 who is also a cutter bipolar and an addict. It is such a time consuming and exhausting disease that effects the whole family. We are now trying new medication with her but she is very lost.

    11. says:

      Like any mental diagnosis there is a wide range of severity. Unfortunately, our country has not taken mental illness seriously and bi-polar people tend to self-medicate and then you look at the population of the prison system…the majority of inmates have a mental illness of some kind….it is a huge problem in our country. I have a son that is bi-polar, diagnosed at the age of 19. After many bouts with jail time and therapy, today at 32 he finally realizes that his medication is what keeps him sane. He is married to a good and caring woman and still has the support of his family, but it has been a long hard road to this point. I think my situation with my son has been minimal compared to others I know. So pray a lot, get informed about meds and the right doctors/therapy, learn how to do “tough love” and be stronge because it is a battle!

    12. beviej says:

      Why is bi-polar happening so much in this day and age? How do you distinguish it from being depressed over circumstances that happen in one’s life?
      Why is mental disease still in the dark ages?
      I think so called legal drugs are also part of the problem. They are dispensed too frequently without enough evaluation first


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