As many of you know, I not only feel compelled to promote literacy to children and families, but also to bring awareness to childhood and adult mental health issues. Today I welcome my guest blogger, Karen, who has a very personal story to share with you about her husband's Bipolar diagnosis.
As teachers we all know we have an impact on the lives of children, but I’m not sure we realize just how much we can change the futures of our students. I was a new teacher when a personal experience changed the way I will view my profession forever. It as through my husband’s diagnosis when he was 34-years-old that I came to see just what an important role we play.
In March 2012, my husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. The psychiatrist also suspected ADD, which was later removed and replaced with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. This diagnosis came after the two of us being married for more than 10 years, never knowing that the ups and downs we experienced in our marriage directly correlated to the troubles he was experiencing. At first, it was terrifying to realize my husband had a mental illness, but once we started learning and he started stabilizing, it just became part of our lives. THIS is what the marriage vows mean when they say “through sickness and in health.”
How did this open my eyes as a teacher? Well, we started putting two and two together, and the doctor agreed that my husband has probably been experiencing symptoms from the time he was about nine-years-old. He has for sure been exhibiting bipolar behavior since he was an adolescent. Teachers, parents, and other adults in his life didn’t listen- not because they didn’t care, I’m sure, but because they weren’t aware.
My husband’s grandmother saw the signs when he was a child, but she didn’t realize the pain he was experiencing. The women on my husband’s side of the family used to meet for Bible study once each week, and I got to learn a lot about my husband’s childhood during these sessions. I remember one time Grandma told me that Daniel was “the sweetest and most loving boy ever, right up until he was nine or ten.” She said he changed suddenly, like a light switch had been flipped. He became withdrawn and uninterested. Grandma never did find out that her stories led to the psychiatrist putting together the puzzle that led to Daniel’s diagnosis.
When we were first going to the doctor, though, my husband was terrified. He wasn’t afraid that he was going to find out something was wrong with him. He was afraid he was going to be told yet again to “suck it up” and to take responsibility. Daniel told me stories of attempting to explain to teachers what was in his mind. He told them he thought he was different from other kids. He thought maybe he felt more or got angry for longer. They told him to learn to handle his emotions.
Daniel’s parents were the worst. They egged him on, told him he was making excuses, and were less than supportive. They are the same today, two years later. They don’t believe in mental illness, and I think this has been the biggest blow to my husband’s esteem and self-image.
When we came out of the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of mental illness and a prescription for medication, my husband had tears in his eyes. “Someone finally believed me.” I could see the 10-year-old inside of him who had been calling out for help all those years. It took almost a quarter of a century for my husband to be heard. It was a stroke of luck that led to an extremely frank discussion and a call to a doctor, but Daniel had finally gotten the treatment he deserved.
As teachers, we are not trained mental health professionals, but we ARE trained to listen to our students. We need to be sure our eyes and ears are open and to be sure to have open dialogue with the parents of our students. We need to be their voices at a time when they can’t speak for themselves.
If you would like to read more about the experience of Daniel’s diagnosis, please see the blog post What Bipolar Looked Like in Our Family, written in April 2012. Although this is written from the adult perspective, I hope it will give you some insight on how bipolar touches families. Thank you for taking the time to learn about bipolar disorder. Together we can make a difference!
Karen is a 6th grade teacher in the Phoenix, Arizona area. She has been married to Daniel for almost fourteen years and has two children, ages thirteen and eleven. She returned to school to get her teaching degree when her youngest daughter started Kindergarten. She is now in her third year of teaching and says that her favorite part of the job is learning something new every day.