My beautiful daughter, oh, where do I begin? She is magic and kindness and grace all rolled up into a cute smile and a button nose. She lights my life with the power of a thousand suns. My amazing 14-year-old girl has been through so much for such a tender age. She also has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Victoria couldn’t wait to make her mark upon this world. She was born at 28-1/2 weeks when my water broke unexpectedly for reasons the doctors never figured out. She was originally given a slim chance of survival, but every day she got a little bit stronger. She spent three months in the NICU all alone except when I visited her every day. When they put my tiny baby in my arms for the first time, I knew two things. First, I was madly in love with her. The second thing I realized was that she was a survivor, which would prove to be true every day of her young life.
Victoria comes by her diagnosis honestly. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, type 2, back in 2003. The “type 2” means that my mania is not as bad, but my depression is more severe than with bipolar 1. Victoria’s doctors haven’t given her a type either way so far, but unfortunately, her father was bipolar type 1. He died a few years ago, and Victoria cried a little but honestly, he wasn’t much of a father to her. Still, it was another trauma added to my young girl’s life that had already seen such hardship.
The part I don’t like to remember is when I was too sick to care for my daughter. My bipolar illness was out of control, and I couldn’t stay stable enough to work full time or provide for Victoria. When my mother offered to take her for a while, I reluctantly said yes. Victoria left me on her fifth birthday, and I remember holding in a typhoon of tears until my mom drove away to take her home 1000 miles away. It was supposed to be for a few weeks. It ended up being more than a year.
I wasn’t there for Victoria’s first day of kindergarten. It may seem like a small thing, but I was heartbroken over that. I talked to her on the phone, but it wasn’t the same as holding her and playing with her in person. About six months after she left, my mother was reporting that Victoria seemed very unhappy and was taking it out on her. She’d be hyper in the mornings and angry and depressed at night. That set off alarm bells for me, and I worried I’d passed my mental illness down to my daughter.
I knew I had to work harder and faster to get her home with me. Victoria was throwing things at my mom and screaming obscenities for hours that she learned from the kids next door. When I got on the phone with her, she yelled at me, too.
“I think she needs her mommy,” my mother told me.
When plans were arranged for Victoria to finally come home, I have to admit I was terrified. What kind of mother was I going to be? How would I raise Victoria with my own mental health struggles? At my mom’s house, seeing my daughter’s face light up with happiness at my sight made me feel better. I felt so guilty for letting her go in the first place, but I knew I’d have to change my thinking to be a good parent. Victoria played with her dolls in the back seat, and we chatted and sang songs all the way home. She had perfect pitch as always, and her little girl’s voice resonated throughout the whole car. I felt blessed beyond belief.
Vanessa was seven years old when she came back to live with me. I took her to a psychiatrist because she still had anger and depression issues. The doctor told me she had ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder, something I’d never really heard of before. They put her on medication which seemed to work well, and she spent the next several years growing up just like any other little girl.
Thankfully, I’ve been mostly stable from a bipolar standpoint, but I still deal with some mood swings and anxiety. I’ve been really open with Victoria about my illness because, in my day, mental health wasn’t talked about. She knows that sometimes I need to sit or lay down for a bit to work through my symptoms. She grew up not thinking of it as weird or different. It was just a part of mom.
A few months after Victoria became a teenager, she started having major trouble sleeping. I’d find her wide awake and overly chatty at 2:00 a.m. and then staying in her room all evening talking to her friends, who she hasn’t seen in a year because of the pandemic. Only recently did she admit to me that sometimes she goes in her room and cries in bed. My heart broke for her. I knew what this was. I’d seen it before in myself.
Another trip to the psychiatrist gave us the results I feared. Vanessa, indeed, did have bipolar disorder. The doctor said it often begins with puberty. He put my daughter on a mood stabilizer and something for sleep. She doesn’t mind taking the pills because she knows they make her feel better. I always wished it wasn’t this way and that she didn’t have to suffer the way I did at her age. It made me feel sorry and ashamed for a long time.
The time came when I realized how fortunate it was that I had the same illness as my daughter. When I was growing up, not many understood what I was going through or what was “wrong” with me. Nobody ever talked about mental illness then, but now my daughter feels comfortable talking about her feelings whether depressed or anxious, and I completely understand because I’ve been there. She’s not embarrassed about her bipolar disorder. She asks me thoughtful questions about her illness, and most of them I’m able to answer. I thank God I’m able to be there for her.
I do what I can to keep things consistent in Victoria’s life and keep her stress low. It’s good for me, too. She also has a therapist that she likes and who helps her come up with solutions to her problems. My hope is that, although I know she won’t always tell me everything, she’s never afraid to talk to me about any subject. I’m more proud of her than anything in this world. She’s the most resilient young lady I know, and that’s a wonderful trait she’ll have her whole life. I want her to know that you can live a good life with this illness by experience and example.
My little girl with an old soul and beautiful heart deserves everything life has to offer. I’ll do what I can to make that come true.