About our Daughter

I am mother to four wonderful daughters, ages 17, 19, 21, and 23, and wife to the greatest husband on earth. God has given us a special child to raise one who was diagnosed with early-onset bipolar disorder at the age of seven, though she showed signs of it from the age of fifteen months. She also has ADHD, Sensory Integration Disorder (sensory seeking), Dyslexia, and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder-NOS, all typical comorbidities for a bipolar child. In spite of the trials, she enjoys lacrosse, running (finished her first marathon in October of 2014!), and reading and writing her own books. I will share with you the many joys and sorrows we have faced and will face in the future with the hope that you may find better understanding about this mental illness caused by both chemical and structural abnormalities in the brain. I desire that you will be encouraged by this blog if you are also dealing with a bipolar child. Thank you for reading and sharing in our journey.

How Did You Know She Was Bipolar So Young?

I wrote a long explanation of how we came to this bipolar diagnosis in a child so young under my post of March 19th of 2009. If your child or a child you know bears similarities, please seek out a good psychiatrist and don't wait for "things to get better." Often they will simply get worse, and the longer a child is unmedicated, the more damage their brain can accrue. Early diagnoses and treatment are key to providing these children with a chance at a successful life later as a teen and an adult.
Never change, start or stop a medication without the approval of your child's physician!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How Did You Know She Was Bipolar So Young?

There are probably a number of readers who are wondering how and when we knew Caroline was bipolar. Well, it was a process of noting her unusual thoughts, behaviors and obsessions, culminating in a full-blown manic state at the age of seven--very scary.

When Caroline was born, she came home to happy parents, and a sweet older sister, aged 2. Jane and Mae followed within the next four nears, so at one point I had a six year old, a four year old, a two year old, and a baby. We were truly a happy if busy family. We have always had a loving strong marriage, and there was absolutely no reason to think that any of our children would have a major psychiatric disorder.

We did notice that when Caroline turned about fifteen months, she began to show quite a temper. Up until then, she was just the perfect baby. She was not overly fussy, or resistant to sleep at all. She slept through the night at eight weeks and took two hours naps three times a day. She smiled all of the time and showed no signs of being overly tempermental.

One day, at fifteen months she got mad at me and tried to bite me. That was something new that my older one had never done. But it was not unusual for a toddler. However, her temper was becoming more and more obvious. We laughed about it and called her strong-willed, just thinking we would have to discipline her more later.

But at three, she became obsessed with the story of David and Goliath. We could not read that story to her enough. Then she would try to act it out. Very cute we thought. At Christmas she wanted adventurous toys, like a fireman costume, or a spaceship. Our oldest only ever wanted dolls, kitchen toys, frilly dress ups. But we just thought, well she is just different and that's great.

Then the tantrums became very out of control. She would get so angry when she was told no it was as if she was having a seizure. And they would last a long time. She would even try to throw things at me like blocks and try to bite me. We tried every form of discipline, read books, took classes, and in spite of all of our efforts, her temper would not be controlled. In preschool, she was a bright, spiritual child, but would get in trouble for stubbornness, and once she bit another child when she was four out of anger. Her teachers always liked her a lot , thought she was extremely smart, but called her very strong-willed.

By the time she was five, I felt like life was getting really out of control. She would descend into these downward spirals, expressing dissatisfaction with herself and with life. She seemed depressed at times and had dark thoughts. So we took her to a psychologist, who did a battery of tests. The results came back that she was depressed enough to start medication. This both reassured and disheartened us because we had a confirmation of what we had suspected, but why would this child, certainly not abused or neglected, in a very loving home, be depressed? It didn't make sense.

I got the prescription filled for the anti-depressant, but something made me hesitant to give it to her. The medicine was Paxil, which later was taken off the list for use in children because of inducing suicidal thoughts. I think God was telling me that this wouldn't be good for her. I am grateful I never gave it to her.

She seemed to improve in kindergarten, and so I put off pursuing more psychological testing or counseling. But then, on the first day of first grade, she began to get in trouble on the playground. She was rougher than most of the boys, and any game she viewed as war. The same was true in PE. She was David and everyone else was Goliath. She was on top of the class academically, but wasn't getting high marks in behavior outside of the classroom.

In addition, my oldest child was becoming afraid of her. Caroline would get physically violent towards her and her younger sisters, scratching them and throwing punches or kicking. When mad, she would kick her walls and door and even try to kick or hit us. We were feeling a lot of despair and worry over her. One day Elizabeth told me she couldn't take her anymore and said "I shouldn't have to be afraid of my own sister." Those words hit me hard, and I decided something had to be done so I took her back to a psychologist, a different one, for more testing. This time she was referred to a different psychiatrist, and she also began counseling on a weekly basis. She was diagnosed as both ADHD and depressed. This time I was willing to put her on a medication because the situation at home had become unbearably stressful and chaotic for everyone.

The psychiatrist put her on Zoloft in November of 2003 and at first she really seemed to improve. Her dark moods disappeared. But then she began to do really odd things. She began to exhibit the "superman complex" where she showed no fear about anything. She would jump off of the very top of our jungle gym just for fun. A few times she climbed out of her second-story bedroom window and jumped down to the ground, again for fun. Then she began to make these weird concoctions in the kitchen from all sorts of different things. She called them potions. I found tools from Bill's toolbox in her closet, with evidence she had been trying to dig up the wood floor. She told me she was making an escape tunnel. By this time we were very uneasy about her state of mind. Zoloft had been implicated in the news about the same time for being a strong trigger for suicidal thoughts and behavior in children and teens, but she didn't seem depressed, just really full of herself. One day she actually broke into an empty house on our street and pretended that was her new hideaway. The policeman we called to explain this too couldn't believe that a seven year old had done that.

The climax was when she got on her little bike and rode far away, across a bridge, through a heavily traveled area, and into an entirely different neighborhood, several miles away, one we had only ever gone to by car. We were incredulous when she rode up breathlessly and told us of her great feat. But then she began to describe in detail a particular area that I know I had never taken her to, but I was familiar with, and we realized to our complete horror that she probably had executed this dangerous trip .

We took away the bike and locked it in the shed. She got very angry, punched my husband in the stomach hard, grabbed an axe from the garage and began to swing at the doors, puncturing the plastic with ugly gashes. As we watched her rage and chop from the kitchen window, we got her psychologist and psychiatrist on the phone, and my doctor sister. They all said take her immediately to the psych hospital. While we were talking, she turned toward us and held the axe up to her neck, threatening to kill herself. Fear gripped my heart as I watched my precious and beautiful little girl seemingly possessed by an inner monster trying to kill her. I ran out to her, and she dropped the axe and was crying and saying how scared she was. We bundled her into the car and drove to the hospital. There she was admitted for a week. They told us she was probably bipolar and was reacting negatively to the anti-depressant, as a bipolar child would. We didn't want to believe it, resisting the diagnosis initially. But they put her on a mood-stabilizer, Trileptal, and took her off of the Zoloft. She began to improve, and so we concluded she likely was bipolar.

Bill's dad is bipolar and depression does run in my family, but I never thought that meant I could have a child who was genetically predisposed to have a childhood mood disorder. An incurable, lifetime one. One with stigma and heartache attached to it. We grieved. It took weeks for the Trileptal to really have its full effect, and then she was better. Still bipolar, but better. At that time, we had no idea how much our daughter would suffer over the next six years. She has been hospitalized every year since then, sometimes twice a year, because of big mood swings or, even worse, hearing or seeing things. Usually one of her meds has petered out, or she needs something added. This has been much much harder than we imagined.

A bipolar child is different from a bipolar adult in many ways, and I will explain that in some other post. If a child is diagnosed young, it usually means they will have a more severe form of the disorder as an adult. That news was not what we wanted to hear. But this is what God has given us. So we have to just keep going, keep loving her and accept the fact that we will be caregivers for quite a while.


Ryansmom said...

I'm crying reading this. For you, for Caroline and your whole family... but also for me and my family and my son. THIS -- what you've described in this blog teh bush whacking, the ugly name calling, the hitting/biting, teh seizure-like rages, the obsessive behavior, -- the potion-making, the swingset jumping, the ax threats... he's done ALL of these things in the exact SAME fashion, and more. The parallel I am reading between my child and your's is eerie. Without a doubt, our precious children are classic bipolar I. It's heartbreaking.

You are right however: this IS what God's given us. He must really trust us to love then and care for them with all our hearts, no matter what and no matter how bad it gets.

Take care,

Hartley said...

Thank you for posting this. I am anticipating getting my son's "official" diagnosis of Bipolar this Thursday. I will be following your story, since mine is so parallel to yours (every symptom you mention--but mine threatens suicide regularly at 8 by saying he will tie something around his neck--even trying to hang himself from the closet on a sheet).

I too am crying, mostly because you say it means his life will be harder. Too much to take.

Thanks again,

Katherine said...

Just wanted to say that it's not all going to be bad. I have bipolar disorder myself and have been dealing with the symptoms of it since I was twelve and had a horrible time finding the right diagnosis and a horrible time getting through school BUT that was never the sum total of what was happening in my life (and I have made it all the way to grad school in the end.) Nor is it the case (in my opinion) that my life has been less worth living than any other person's. Things do get better. Life is definitely harder for me than it is for some other people but my life is and has been a life worth having.

Hartley said...

After spending the evening crying with my husband about whatever it is that I feel my son is losing with his new diagnosis (early onset Bipolar I) I am renewed to read your comment.

Thank you Katherine.

Anonymous said...

My 10 yr old is not yet diagnosed. I took him to the hospital last week for the first time, but they wouldn't keep him since I'm on state insurance and trying to jump off 15 feet is not high enough to be suicidal. I have many questions on child bipolar. If anyone can help please send me an email. beth_larson71@yahoo.com. Thank you!

podracers said...

Wow! As soon as I started reading this post, I called my husband to read along with me. We have had a rough year with our 7 yr old daughter and have begun seeing a therapist who believes that she merely has a sever anxiety disorder. We are sceptical of this diagnosis and feel that there is much more going on. The second day of first grade was our tip that this would not be a fun year - she opted for two extra periods of recess by hiding on the playground. It took them that long to find her!! I will read on and hold out hope, knowing others are out there surviving the changing tides with us.

Anonymous said...

Megan, thank you for sharing your experiences as a parent of a bipolar child. I grew up with a brother who has bipolar and my 9 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with bipolar/ADHD. Even though I've been exposed to so much of this disorder, I was just a bystander. Now that I'm the parent, it's overwhelming and scary, to say the least. Thank you for your courage and strength to tell it like it really is, even when it comes to how you are doing emotionally. You are an inspiration and an amazing woman.

jenblizzard said...

I also have a Bipolar son that was diagnosed ADHD at the age of 3, His father commited a horrible murder on a little girl in his neighborhood when my son was about 4 years old. At the age of about 5 I was driving 45 mins. from home to therapy and there he was diagnosed with Bipolar. You seem to have really great spirits about this and will definetly be following you. I also have a 7 year old daughter diagnosed ODD (Oppositonal Defiance Disorder) and ADHD. Check out my blog@

Kim said...

My son was diagnosed bipolar at the age of 6. I completely understand your struggle and I'm so glad that I found your blog!

Mya Perdun said...

Just found your blog. My daughter is almost 8 with a mood disorder diagnosis and currently doing more testing with the understanding that she is probably bipolar. My heart breaks for you and all the other families I see here. It is SO hard and there never seems to be the support we need. Thank you for sharing!

MommaJen said...

thank you for sharing. Our 7 year old daughter was also diagnosed with bi=polar, ADHD, and anxiety at age 5 -- we struggle every day and it is helpful to find others who understand and "get it".

Megan said...

MommaJen-I am glad you found my blog and that it can be an encouragement to you! This is a hard journey, but it can smooth out eventually with the right docs, meds, schools, etc. Hang in there!!

Patricia Perkowski said...

I willnever believe a loving God would "give us" illness or problems, that would make God cruel beyond words! I do believe God weeps when are sad, rejoices with us when we rejoices, but use us like playthings never!

I know God IS guiding you in this difficult situation, but He did not cause it!

JL Zimmerman said...

The symptoms described in your blog and contained in the comments are not symptoms of bipolar disorder. They are of ODD and and IED.

Longitudinal research has shown that juvenille-onset bipolar disorder is overwhelmingly over-diagnosed. Very very few of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder remained bipolar as adults. And as we know, bipolar disorder doesn't "go away". Which means these children didn't have bipolar disorder in the first place.

See: J Affect Disord. 2013 Feb 20;145(2):190-9.

and Bipolar Disord. 2009 Sep;11(6):637-49.

Megan said...

Sorry, but I disagree. Caroline is 17 now, and still very much bipolar. Are some kids misdiagnosed bipolar early one? Certainly. But her early symptoms are very much in line with early onset bipolar disorder. We have only had her diagnosis confirmed since then in so many ways. She has responded very well to bp meds and is doing great as far as stability goes. ADHD can be outgrown. I have two daughters who were diagnosed ADHD when they were young and took meds, but now several years later they don't need them and are doing just fine.

Hartley said...

Megan is correct here. Although being diagnosed with bipolar at an early age is rare, my experience has taught me that labeling a child who has BP as ODD is ineffective and detrimental to their health care and treatment plan. My son showed many of the same symptoms as Megan's daughter very early on, and he too has been accurately diagnosed as having Pediatric Bipolar Disorder 1 - which has been confirmed repeatedly over the last 3 years. I'm not saying every child with these symptoms does have or will develop BP, but being observant and educating yourself as a parent (including all possible health conditions) is imperative to getting your child appropriate and affective treatment as early as possible.

I want to thank Megan, again, for her bravery in sharing her family's story and giving parents like me a real look into raising a child with BP. I know first hand this is a difficult path, but with support we as parents can help our children.

Hope you and your family are well Megan!

Megan said...

Thank you Hartley. i started crying reading this. Oh how I wish she wasn't bipolar, but there is truly no way she isn't! We have gone through so much, and still are, but the meds have been a miracle for her. She is so, so much better on them than she was prior to the magic mix that so many bp kids take. Still crying. Thank you. I hope you are well too. Blessings on your precious family!!

Hartley said...

Tears are sometimes good. :-) We are all on a life long journey to keep our kids stable, one that is as emotional and draining as it is rewarding and necessary. Knowing you've made progress with your beautiful daughter gives me hope. We are not there yet with my son, and continue to search for the elusive magic mix, but we keep moving forward one day at a time...

Thank you again my friend, we should catch up sometime soon! <3


Jenny M. said...

I have a daughter that since she was about 18 months, shared very similar symptoms. Extreme anger, agression, mood swings. Although, also VERY loving, happy and smart, a good deal of the time. Over the years, the anger and agression got worse. My husband and I sadly divorced, I think in part, because we disagreed on how we dealth with her. I KNEW something was wrong and he felt this was just her choice and she was being "bad". There is a lot of mental illness in our family, including bipolar. Anyways, ultimately, she ened up hurting little boy on the playground, hurting her sister, threatening herself and me (several times). Eventually she was hospitalized. Bottom line, we are still trying to get an accurate diagnosis and meds. She's been diagnosed with ODD, ADHD, depression and even bipolar. No one can agree, no testing is conclusive. She currently is on Welbutrin and an anti agression medication. Things are better, but she is still hpyer, easily angered and agitated, but she doesn't take on high risk activities and she doesn't "seem" depressed, although I know anger can be a sign of depression. I don't know what to believe anymore. It's overwhelming. We love her and her sister so much, but it continues to be an every day struggle on how to cope. THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing your story.

Christina Hunt said...

Reading your descriptions of your Caroline's struggle at age 7 hit me hard. I have a sweet, smart girl who is also 7 and we are dealing with the possibility of a bipolar diagnosis. Technically, she was diagnosed as having DMDD (Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder), as well as Unspecified disruptive, impulsive-control, and conduct disorder. The second was basically described to me as a combination of ADHD, ODD, and OCD behaviors. The psychologist who did her testing (about 3 hours of various tests, both while on Vyvanse for a former diagnosis of ADHD, and without taking it that day) described her diagnosis as a precursor to full blown bipolar disorder ,but that she was not comfortable diagnosing a 7 year old with such a stigma-attached label.

My girl was a happy baby, always hyper and active but never really aggressive. She was the biological child of my younger sister, but we adopted shortly after age 1. My sister was undiagnosed but highly sterotypical symptoms of being bipolar, though she was diagnosed as ADHD (and my parents didn't medicate or treat at all). My daughter's biological father was diagnosed as bipolar. Both had major problems with drug and alcohol abuse. So we had mental/mood disorders on our radar as a potential thing to deal with later in life, but I didn't expect anything this young.

At age 5, my Sarai showed extreme "superman" syndrome as you described it, escaping our house and taking off down our road by herself, climbing on top of things, and darting across busy parking lots when I walked around the vehicle to get to my van door. Those extremes drove us to medicate in the first place, something I was so uneasy about. She was on Focalin for about a week with bad reactions (major anger & tantrums), so we switched to Vyvanse. It seemed mostly effective throughout kindergarten, though she still had behavior problems on a fairly regular basis. She was completing work and on the honor roll, though. 1st grade thus far has been a tornado for us. We increased dosage, thinking maybe since she'd been on the medication for a year, it might just be less effective. But she began having explosive tantrums, anger problems, and depression. She told me once in a waiting room for the doctor, "Sometimes I just wish I was dead." It broke my heart and I didn't even know how to handle hearing such things from my formerly happy, bouncy little girl. After working with her school on problem solving in the classroom, I decided we needed further testing. Upon receiving the new diagnosis, we discontinued Vyvanse and she had about 3 weeks unmedicated. Then we began Zoloft. It's been a bittersweet battle, because my sweet, happy girl is back. Her personality is everything I remember before we chose to medicate. But she has reached a manic state like never before. We just hit the 3 week mark on her Zoloft and now I can see it taking the edge off, though impulse control is still completely untouched. We are starting to add Intuiv tomorrow to hopefully help with the ADHD aspects, hopefully without exaggerating the anger we saw on the stimulant medications.

I am new to this battle and am still acclimating, but I am so glad to have found your blog! Thank you for sharing your family's journey. It helps so much to know there are others out there dealing with similar things. We may not have the official bipolar diagnosis as of yet, but based upon everything I've read thus far, it's only a matter of time (and possibly even just the opinion of a different psychologist not afraid to use that diagnosis). Thank you for helping me not feel so alone!