A Mother's Journey through Bi-polar Disorder and Addiction
I wrestled with the uncertainty of where my writing would take us. Unsure if we were ready to jointly revisit the past scars, knowing I would open fresh wounds and possibly old ones as well. Was Brady was prepared to read my thoughts? If he was...how would he feel when I was done? As difficult as the past twelve months were, through writing, I would come to realize the past year was merely the cap of a sizable iceberg—an iceberg, which had been growing for over twenty years.
People can tell you something a hundred times, and in your head, you know it to be true...though it is not until you live through the experience that you believe the truth in your heart. It is common knowledge Bipolar Disorder and addiction is not contagious diseases. Yet they are. Every individual who loves the person afflicted with these diseases is affected. Only a family who has endured a battle with addiction can testify to this truth. This is the story of our truth...
When Brady began elementary school, I became involved in the PTO, volunteering in his classroom. He had an amazing first-grade teacher. She understood him and could read his signs. She would call or email me when she noticed he was struggling. My presence in his classroom seemed to make a difference. I was grateful my presence seemed to further ease his anxiety. Calmness finally began reign. I exhaled a deep sigh of relief as life proceeded, watching as my baby boy grew into a brilliant little man.
For a few years, his teachers had noticed he was “bored, not being challenged.” At the age of nine, his school tested his IQ; shortly thereafter, he was placed in the gifted program. I would sit and watch him read a book, absorbing everything in the same way I imagine a huge sponge would soak up the ocean. A few years after his testing, he began going through many changes. Even to this first-time mother, changes that did not make sense; his mood swings went beyond your typical pre-teen and teenage angst. Though it was different, it was reminiscent of the separation anxiety phase.
Though his outbursts, over time, became spaced further apart, I continuously felt I could never catch my breath. From my son's mental illness, the roller-coaster lifestyle was beginning to take a toll on my own emotional and mental health. With each bout of irrational rage, I became less adept at handling the situation.
Brady and I frequently discussed inpatient treatment. I should say, I discussed, and he listened. Knowing his fear of confinement, the topic was a sensitive subject. His instant and straightforward response chilled me to my core, “Mom, I cannot do it. If you put me in one of those places, the only way I am leaving is in a body bag.” You never forget some incidents in life or how the incident made you feel...this was one of those incidents. I was not brave enough to call his bluff.
Recalling one of our blunt discussions the summer after graduation, Brady told me he tried alcohol at a party; he hated it and the way it made him feel. Knowing alcohol and bipolar disorder do not mix, I was grateful. During a later conversation, he explained he had been smoking for medicinal purposes. Brady and I had researched this option, but it was not legal in our state. I stopped my research while, unbeknownst to me, he continued his. He was always reading, still absorbing his material like a sponge, but this time the subject was not Harry Potter or computer coding. It was the different strains of THC and their effects on Bipolar patients. I knew my son’s mental state had improved. I was grateful for the improvement; yet, never fully comprehending why. The breakdowns were less, the mania was not as severe, and the dark deep lulls of depression were evening out. The frequent struggle we seemed to always repeat, where Brady begged me to allow him to give in to his mental illness, became infrequent. I desperately wanted to believe his medications were finally working; so desperate, in fact, that I did not stop to consider an outside source was the reason for the calm in our home. We rarely discussed the details of his psychologist and psychiatrist appointments; the little amount of information he would offer was generic. The more I pried, the more he retreated into his shell. Because of his age, I was not privy to his discussions with his mental health team; I began to feel as though my hands were bound and tied.
There was no denying what had happened; the ramifications of his drug use were smacking me in the face. My mind became cluttered and fuzzy as I flew into crisis mode, which also entailed being nauseous, not eating, or sleeping. The night of his arrest seemed like the longest night of my life; there was nothing or no one capable of consoling me. I spent the night wondering and worrying about what effect lock-up would have on his mental state. I was consumed by one question…when am I allowed to pick up my nineteen-year-old son from prison? Not a task any mother ever imagines herself aspiring to. I was not allowed inside the prison gates. I sat in my car, waiting in the parking lot for him to exit. My palms were sweaty, and my heart was racing as I waited in anticipation to see him emerge past the guards. My son was not a hardened criminal. He was self-medicating to numb the chaos afflicting his mind and body. I sat in our living room eight days later, lit by the soft glow of our Christmas tree, watching Brady and his sister open their presents. It was a surreal moment as snow gently fell from the sky. I looked at my husband with tears in my eyes and whispered, “This is all I wanted.” Nine days prior, I had no idea if this was even a possibility. Now it was as close to perfection as possible, even if it would be short-lived.
Besides marijuana, Brady’s drug of choice was always stimulants; I should not have been surprised, yet a part of me was. As the denial wore off and reality set in, my heart sunk. The numb feeling was exchanged for that all too familiar sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hung up the phone and explained everything to my husband and daughter. The only word that aptly describes the next forty-eight hours was tumultuous. I did not want to believe this was happening, yet there was no other option. My son’s addiction was knocking on my doorstep, and for his sake, I had only one choice…answer the door and accept what was behind it. I kept asking myself, how can I help him? I knew I would not find any of the answers I needed on the internet or in any self-help books…been there, done that…the truth I needed to accept was, I could not help him. This had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. Only Brady could choose to go to rehab. Only Brady could choose to help himself. No matter what help was extended to him, only he could do the work and make himself well. It would have been simple to take control of the situation and make this go away for him...but what purpose would that have served? The truth was: the help I would have extended to him would not help him at all…only enable him. I realized the only appropriate action in this situation was no action, except to be there when my son needed me and my support. I needed to sit in the backseat for this journey, trusting Brady would guide us safely to our destination. Ironically, I get car sick when I ride in the backseat; doing nothing left me with a similar feeling.
The moment I saw Brady, my insides felt identical to when he emerged from the prison gates four years prior. I could feel my body shaking. I was ecstatic and nervous all at the same time. He looked well. There was a discernible sense of peace about him. Our allotted two hours quickly flew by as the four of us carried on a candid conversation about Brady’s illness and his addiction. There were many things I did not know, many things I did not want to know, and many things I needed to come to terms with. Overall the visit went well, and the peace Brady felt transferred to me, making this ride home much more tolerable. This ride was acutely different from our last, everything was covered in white, and the sun shined high in the sky. Though any of this was far from over, our visit had lifted an enormous weight off my mind and heart. I felt as though someone had taken a needle and thread to my sanity, sleeping more soundly than I had in weeks.