Dear Mom, Dear Dad, “I Cannot Only Survive, But Flourish”

A woman’s heartfelt letter to her parents about their struggles with her bipolar disorder.

Well I’m 16/or 19/or 24 years old now and as we all plainly know, I’m bipolar (because of everything that’s happened this year/or two years ago/or back when I was in high school). And there’s a few things I’d like you to know, things I can’t imagine actually TELLING you because I’m too sensitive/or you’re too sensitive/or the things are too sensitive, but here goes:

First of all, I know you’re worried about me. I know because you have that look on your face when you see me, that look, those probing, searching eyes, scrunched lips, tight look. I know because you still ask me if I’m still taking my meds, even if we’re not talking about the bipolar stuff (on the off chance that we’re not talking about the bipolar stuff, because we seem to always talk about the bipolar stuff when we talk). So just so you know. I know that you’re worried about me. That I’ll get sick again. That I look like I’ve put on a few. That my friends are not the kind of friends you’d pick. That this period of good health and relative calm is just that. A period. To be followed by another disaster. That your faces have already begun preparing for this. And since this is an imaginary letter that I never have to send to you, I would like to ask you to express confidence in me, or at least in the parts of me that you still have confidence in. Regularly. More often that you express concern. Way more often. I’m a person—not just this diagnosis, not just your little time bomb.

Second, I’m worried about me, too. I won’t tell you that. But I am. So know it. And as much as you may think that you feel everything that I feel and that my pain is your pain, well it’s not. I need to create an existence that is safe and fun and inspiring, one that has a back up plan in case I get sick, sure, but one that has fifty times the amount of hopes for all the things I’ll do when I’m well. I need help with all of that but I need to do a lot of it on my own or else it won’t count, won’t feel real, won’t last. It won’t be mine.

How much help should you give me? I don’t honestly know. But there’s a place between smothering and abandonment that we need to find together.

..even if we’re not talking about the bipolar stuff (on the off chance that we’re not talking about the bipolar stuff, because we seem to always talk about the bipolar stuff when we talk.

Third, don’t make ME worry about YOU. Got it? Don’t make me worried about how you’re reacting to me. You be steady, warm, reassuring, and I’ll be me. To you. With more honesty. Don’t become someone I have to lie to if things are hard. Be someone I can tell the truth to.

Fourth, get some help. Yes, you. Get some help. I know I’m the “sick kid” but with the amount of stress we’ve all been through and everything else you are experiencing, I think you should get help too. Read some books on the subject. And get therapy. Please. My goodness, no offense, but you need therapy. Start becoming more steady and balanced and relaxed. You can’t IMAGINE how much this will help me.

Fifth, you wonder how much space to give me and I honestly don’t know what to tell you. The bad news is I have been traumatized by what I have been through and I continue to live day to day in a culture filled with stigma. Sometimes I feel great, and sometimes I fall apart all over again. If I’m a drug addict or an alcoholic I need to be treated as such and put in a rehabilitation program. But otherwise, if I’m a good bipolar kid trying my best to have a real life, the good news is I really have a shot.

I’ve done my share of research which all says I cannot only survive, but flourish. Treatmentreally can work for bipolar people. So you guys have to position yourselves and reposition yourselves and be both flexible and firm for me. And then, I can freely look to you for support and guidance and build an independent life that makes sense to me.

And oh yeah, one more thing I would tell you if we were really communicating closely is that I love you. I really do. I  don’t say it or show it often enough but I do love you.

If I could make one wish come true, more than anything else in the world, especially after everything we’ve been through together, I wish I could make a life for myself that would make you proud to be my parents. In my own way, I am working on it everyday. If you didn’t know that, I hope you know it now.

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