Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Photo Credits: fiverr.com
Bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) is classified as a severe mental illness that changes a person’s mood between two extremes: mania and depression. The illness causes extreme shifts in a person’s energy levels, moods, and can significantly affect cognition. Depression happens when there is a dip in the ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine. Mania happens when there is a surge in these chemicals.
The Mania part is awesome. Lilly was loving and had so much energy and drive. She was fun to be around. She was extremely creative. She felt she could conquer the world. She was overly optimistic and had an over-inflated sense of self-importance. You couldn’t keep up with her, she had racing thoughts and would be all over the board. A few months before her passing she waltzed in the house and had a 4 hr conversation with her dad on how she was going to develop a pet app and open up multiple pet stores. The two of them got down to work, locked in over 10 domain names, and started a business plan.
In her manic state, Lilly was charming, intelligent, and mesmerizing. She could hold a conversation with anyone about anything. People would think I’m crazy and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Lilly. She came across like she had her whole life planned, she was put together, and was on the path to success.
Then the Depression cycle would hit - not so awesome. Lilly would disconnect from her peers and the family and isolate herself for no apparent reason. She had little to say, became easily irritated, got angry, and would lose motivation. She would go without showering for days. The water from the shower felt like pins attacking her. She hardly ate. Feelings of worthlessness and crying spells would continue for weeks. Fatigue, sleepless nights, restlessness, anxiety, paranoia. Lilly would just want to stay in her dark room under the covers for eternity. Lilly had to be hospitalized on multiple occasions to help her through this dark stage. Lilly NEVER let her peers and friends see this side of her.
I became the target of her anger and frustration. It was always my fault. I was the reason for her pain. Over time, I learned to keep quiet AND just listen to her. Just be there for her. I would text her therapist with updates. They couldn’t give me an insight into Lilly’s mind due to privacy laws.
I was having a hard time coping. How do you just watch your child deteriorate and NOT do anything about it? These were wounds that I couldn’t nurse, didn’t know how to nurse. Thus my therapy journey started. Therapy made me stronger and equipped me with the tools needed to better support Lilly. I learned that by taking care of ME, I was helping everyone in the family. I learned that Lilly lashed out at me because she felt SAFE with ONLY ME. She knew that I was never going to leave her NO matter what!
You would think that there was a simple solution to all this madness. Stay on a treatment plan, actively engage in therapy, attend support meetings, surround yourself with a tight support system, and learn to live a holistic life (balance between physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional).
Unfortunately, the solution is NOT that simple. Lilly would divert from the treatment plan because of her false sense of ”I’m feeling better, Let’s go live Life”. I don’t need my meds, or I’m going to take my meds every other night. Sometimes what someone said or how someone made her feel became a trigger to fall off her treatment plan. A simple text, snap chat, or Instagram post was enough to make her feel unworthy and useless. If anything was off with her treatment plan, or if she stopped working on herself the self-harming, self-sabotaging, and self-medicating would start.
What is Self-Harming: Deliberately hurting your own body, such as cutting or burning. It is a harmful way to cope with/release emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration.
Lilly was 13 when a loved one (our Angel) was brave enough to call me (It was the National Family Day Holiday in Canada) and let me know what she had seen. I can just imagine the courage and love it took for our loved one to reach out to us and start a difficult conversation. Lilly had deep cuts on both her wrists. My husband and I were in shock. We didn’t understand the concept of self-harm and how it was a coping mechanism to release pain and suffering. We thought our daughter was wanting to commit suicide. We overreacted, and in the process made her feel shameful and intense grief for hurting us. We made this first conversation about us, NOT about her!
Over the years we have learned that self-harming is not Suicide. It’s a coping mechanism that eases pain. Every time that Lilly felt emotionally stressed, shame, grief, worthless the cutting would increase. As a parent, you just want to protect your loved one. Through family therapy, I learned that when you see the slashes and marks you keep quiet. Confronting her, worsened the situation. I would text her psychologist and rehab counselor. I would change my language: “Lil - I think you’re not doing well. Have you seen your therapist, have you talked to your sponsor?”
Can you imagine how hard it was for me to be quiet and not ask her WHY or demand her to STOP! Over the years I would see scars on her wrists, thighs, lower legs, stomach, and bikini line. Lilly was cutting up to a month before she passed. I once asked her WHY and her response was - ”It’s not for you to Know”. She was right. It was between her and her therapist. There were boundaries as a parent and crossing those boundaries only caused her more pain.
Addiction: fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.
Bipolar and addiction don’t mix. Try telling that to someone who is addicted and Bipolar. The fact is, the drugs can initially have a calming effect on the Bipolar brain, which is why so many people turn to drugs. Soon the addiction takes over and all hell breaks loose in the brain.
Lilly’s addiction manifested in many forms. When she was following her treatment plan, her addiction would manifest in the following ways:
Manic shopping sprees. Once she bought 500+ fuzzy socks because she thought she’d never find them.
She stocked up on stationery, pens, pencils. Her fear was she wouldn’t have enough.
She stocked up on food in her room. What if an apocalypse hit?
She was addicted to jumping into rivers from high bridges. Anything that would give her an intense adrenaline rush.
On her phone, she stored people’s likes and dislikes and made care packages with their favourite things. She would then deliver those packages. The goal here was to people please since she didn’t feel she was worthy of anyone’s love and friendship.
When off her treatment plan, her addiction would turn into self-harming and self-sabotaging:
LSD, Shrooms - for a spiritual experience
Roxys to numb the pain, shame, hurt
Cocaine to feel energetic and alive
Energy drinks to keep going till she crashed
Reckless and risky behaviour
Below is a chart on the course of Bipolar disorder. When not following her treatment plan, Lilly would spiral mentally, self-harm, and self-medicate. Unfortunately, she had not built a peer group or safety network outside of the family that was strong enough to cause an intervention when they saw a change in her behaviour.
How to get through it: For me, it was realizing that the Illness was talking and not my loving daughter. I realized that the ‘ugly’ behaviour was not my normally loving and compassionate child. I won’t lie - at times the hurtful words and anger bouts were quick to hurt.
What’s incredibly difficult is when as a family you are under siege for weeks on end. Lilly never harmed others but she continually harmed herself. I would start to feel worn down, I would lose perspective. I was helpless seeing my child suffer so severely. I would worry: is she taking her meds, is she using, is she safe, is anyone hurting her, is she eating healthy, am I doing all that I can. Therapy, meditation, and yoga were teaching me how to ‘let’ go. How to be patient, resilient, and control my thoughts and emotions.
As Lilly got older, I expected her to contribute and commit to her wellness plan. I learned and tried my best to not react in the heat of the moment. Lilly wasn’t going to process anything I was going to say at that moment. I was learning to draw boundaries. I would tell Lilly her words and behaviour were not acceptable and we would regroup once she calmed down. We both learned open communication, respect, compassion, trust, and forgiveness. Nothing was going to change our love for each other. NOTHING!
Lilly had a loving supportive family, a home, finances, therapists, a rehab group, and access to the best medical care. We as a family left no stone unturned. What we did not see coming was Lilly’s death from a drug overdose. Maybe it was denial, maybe it was because we were focused on the illness and not the symptom of addiction. All I do know is that despite all our efforts, we lost our Lilly to Mental Illness and Addiction.