“As I read and learn more and more about bipolar disorder, I realise that my daughter Jessie has been textbook. The volatile behaviour in children with bipolar is extreme and common. Physical violence and verbal abuse is not short lived as it is with ADHD. Whereas rages in ADHD children usually last 30-40 minutes, they can last for hours with bipolar kids.
Jessie was typical in that she experienced the rage and aggression, and rarely the euphoria or elation. Discipline was fought, and she couldn’t deal with disappointment at all. She would fly into violent rages, smashing my things. Foul language and screaming abuse at the top of her lungs became Jessie’s way of communicating. I used to wonder if she’d just become a spoilt brat. Her behaviour was so out of character, and so extreme. In fact, she was actually behaving as kids with bipolar do. And understandably so – kids don’t have the understanding or maturity to cope with emotions bigger than themselves. I was parenting the way I always had, but Jessie stood up to all discipline and raged at any disappointment. Life was incredibly tumultuous in our house, and at that time I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. Any parts of me left exposed were being squished between other rocks and hard places!
The abuse and destruction were what I found the hardest to cope with. I don’t stay in abusive relationships. But, you can’t leave your child. And she was no more than a child – she was just triggering things in me. Therefore I was hearing her as if I was listening to an adult. I had no control though and there’s nowhere to escape to to get away. Jessie would relentlessly follow me around the house, wherever I went – literally! She’s be in a rage, calling me every name under the sun, throwing things, smashing things and damaging my things. She was a baby the last time she saw her father, but I couldn’t get over their behavioural similarities and ways of thinking.
Being on a first name basis with many of our local police was just how it was for a couple of years. Jessie’s experiences were undoubtedly traumatic for a 10-11 year old. Calling 000 became a necessary safety measure for us both. It came to the point where I’d ask for an ambulance and the police would turn up. Every time. I only just realised why as I’m writing this – maybe only the police can section someone under the Mental Health Act, not paramedics? Police drove Jessie to hospital a couple of times, but due to self harm or talk of suicide, she usually travelled by ambulance. This could happen up to 3 times a week.
On two of those occasions she went against her will – carried out by police with wrists and ankles cuffed with the plastic tie-like cuffs they sometimes use. I’ll never forget it. At 11 she was carried out this way after being put down on the lounge with a knee pinning her head down until she settled enough to cuff her. Jessie was spitting at the officer, trying to bite her, fighting to free herself and swearing at and abusing the officer. The officer tried to get Jessie to settle, but she was out of control. She had got to that point where the brain flips and reason can no longer be seen. It was so distressing, I was in tears. And by the end so was Jessie.
Police applied for an AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) for me against Jessie when she was just 11. She’d chased me with a big knife, but fortunately my bedroom door came between us. It still has 8-10 stab marks in it. Police would arrive to what looked like the aftermath of a cyclone! Jessie had destroyed so many of my things, and the unit was being damaged. With the strength that comes with such rage, Jessie was a danger to herself and to me. We had the Sergeant come a few times to say something had to change. Well no shit Sherlock, but an AVO wasn’t the answer! Thankfully the court agreed. Jessie needed help. Psychiatric care was what she needed, but her aggression and volatility along with her young age made her ineligible for any of the many programs we applied to.
It was such a horrible time, and there was no respite. Our caseworker, Stella, from The Benevolent Society was truly our saving grace. There were times when I said to her that I couldn’t do this anymore. I’d had enough, Jessie needed to go into care where she could have good parents. For so long I seemed to get more wrong than I did right with Jessie. Consequently my confidence in parenting plummeted. I didn’t know this young person. How to deal with her was something that actually felt impossible at times.
Stella would remain calm and talk to me. Not once did she accept my parenting resignation, neither did she ever actually refuse my request for a better home for Jessie. She didn’t need to. She listened, she heard me and acknowledged where I was at and why. During our conversation she would teach me about Jessie’s behaviour, and remind me that I’m a good mum. By the end she would ask me if I still wanted her to make some calls. Of course not! I always felt empowered and determined after these visits where my frame of mind was so defeatist at the start.
I completed the Circle of Security parenting course with Stella. Doing one on one I was able to do that one in a lot of depth, relating it to specific situations I encountered. It’s a BRILLIANT course that every expectant parent would benefit from. It gives parents the opportunity to learn what babies need emotionally to grow into confident, resilient, well balanced people. The principles apply to children of all ages though, and I found it invaluable. It is all about positive, calm engagement and recognising, understanding and attending to children’s emotional needs and behaviours. This is the parents’ manual we all wish we had!! It should be way more widely promoted! Another brilliant course is the Triple P Positive Parenting course for parents of teens. The principles are very similar as Circle of Security, but you learn about the teenage brain and what changes it is going through. Positive communication skills are also taught along with practical example responses.
It’s now been 3 years since I’ve needed to call 000 and home life is very different now. We have other challenges we are currently faced with, but the highly volatile days are in the past. These days Jessie apologises to me if speaks to me in an angry tone, or storms off slamming her bedroom door. She’ll then talk to me about what upset her and why. Our bond is strong and has proven to be enduring which I really love.”
– By Kat.
More of Kat’s stories can be found at her blog FamilyFurore, where she shares her personal experiences with raising her teenage daughter who has been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.
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