Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Children's Hour

How do you handle a family member who's potentially bipolar?

Not with kid gloves, that's for sure. Although I've been accused by daughter #1 of seeing bipolars under every bush, the fact remains that this is a hereditary illness, whether it's been proven scientifically or not.

That said, it runs rampant in my family. Virtually everyone has had something, whether it's been full-blown manic depression or clinical depression. So there have been sessions throughout the years where one family member has been talked to about their particular (or peculiar, if you like) brand of mental illness.

I recently had yet another family sit-down, this time with my youngest daughter, who is exhibiting some signs of bipolar and has, like her mother, been a pro at hiding them until she did something quite destructive. To me, with whom she is very close.

Approaching someone about their behavior is possibly one of the most difficult things any family can do, even if they've been there themselves. If the person is doing something destructive, it has to be stopped. And I found myself in the same position my late husband must have been in when I was at my manic worst.

My brother and I confronted my mother about her alchoholism many years ago. We didn't tiptoe around it, either. We simply told her that we loved her but that her drinking was destroying her relationship with us and we wanted it to stop. She did, and hasn't had a drink since then.

Telling someone that you love them but you hate their behavior is the way to go, always. You can never judge the person but you certainly can judge the behavior. And if you find yourself dealing with a family member, that's the way to go. You may not get through to the person the first time around. It may take more than one confrontation to get them into therapy or whatever it is they need to do. But if you don't try, you are then part of the problem.

Sometimes you will be successful. More often than not, you will be unsuccessful. Because in the final analysis, the person who is ill must recognize it themselves. But if you don't bring it to their attention, they may never know. It's that insidious.

So if you've been avoiding talking to a loved one, stop putting it off and do it. They may or may not listen. But at least you've given it a shot.

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