Jamie's Story: Parent's Letter Project Bipolar disorder- Jamie’s parents

LeeWhen our son Jamie was just three years old, we began to notice he had a very high frustration level and would get upset over little things, taking his anger out on other children. This led to other parents not wanting Jamie around their children. As the years went on, this behavior became more and more prominent. In kindergarten, he was expelled from a private school due to his anger and hurting other children. In first grade he was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) and put on medication. By fourth grade he was depressed and the outbursts were more frequent and more severe. It was at this point that every day we had to tackle and pin him to the floor for up to an hour until he had gotten himself fully under control. This could happen multiple times a day. There was lots of screaming, throwing things, punching things, putting holes in the walls, and having physical struggles. All the meanwhile, we had to protect Jamie's younger sister from any harm.

After having the worst summer yet with Jamie (just before sixth grade), a friend told me that Children's National was doing a bipolar study. I contacted them and Jamie was immediately accepted into the study. After running tests, Jamie was diagnosed with ODD, ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorders. He was immediately put on medication and followed every week for eight weeks. Wow, what a difference the medications made, and within two months the tackling and pinning to the floor had become a rare event.

Although the medication made a huge difference in Jamie's behavior, it was a continual battle to adjust his medications and develop coping mechanisms for Jamie, as well as the rest of the family. Life was in a continuous upheaval with screaming, arguing, punching walls, school issues, and many times, family plans canceled due to Jamie's behavior. The rapid cycling was exhausting, with him being your worst enemy one minute, and the next minute it was as if nothing had ever happened.

As Jamie entered high school, things were still rough, but much improved from where we had started. In tenth grade, Jamie was diagnosed with diabetes insipidus (kidney problem), caused by one of his medications, and had to be taken off of it. The plan was to wean him fully and then add another medication. Upon the completion of weaning Jamie from this medication, we saw no decline in his behavior. A year went by and we still did not need to add the replacement drug. At this point we wanted to try to wean him from the other mood stabilizer he had been on to see if he still needed it, fully expecting he would. Much to our surprise, the day before Jamie started his senior year of high school, he took his last dose of medication. His senior year was his best year of school.

Now more than 18 months later, Jamie is still medication-free and doing well. He has held the same job for almost a year, and just finished his first year at NOVA Community College. He is active in various sports, hangs out with his friends, and best yet, he wears a smile on his face most of the time. He and his sister have become friends, and our house is free of constant yelling and holes punched in the walls.

Although you are pulling your hair out, frustrated, scared, feeling alone and helpless, and exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster your child displays on a daily basis, please know that things can get better. Do not give up! Be vigilant with your child's daily medication and read all you can about bipolar disorder to educate yourself on how to handle various situations and to understand the complexity of the illness. Do all that you can to try to find others dealing with the same illness who will understand what you are going through and not be quick to pass judgment on your parenting skills. Remember, you have not done anything to cause your child to have this illness, and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Of all people, Jamie's grandmother would insinuate that Jamie's behavior was due to our parenting, rather than accept his diagnosis of being bipolar. Needless to say, this crushed us. We knew it was not our fault, especially because our other child who had been raised the same way, was a well-balanced child.

From the time of diagnosis on, Jamie was treated at Children's National. I found the doctor easy to talk to, easy to work with, she related well with Jamie, she seemed to really care about Jamie, and we were able to contact her by email if there was an issue to be addressed. We cannot thank Children's National enough for diagnosing and treating Jamie. Yes, it was hard to swallow that our child had a mental illness, but we finally had a diagnosis with which to work from. Now almost seven years later, our battles are over. We keep vigilant for a bipolar flare up which may occur at some point in the future, but for now, that monster remains asleep.


Jamie's parents, Jim and Patty

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