Friday, August 12, 2005

The Bipolar Sibling

In the latest issue of BP Magazine there is an article that addresses the issue of being the sibling of a bipolar child, adolescent , or adult. As caregivers and often consumers, we spend so much time thinking of the child who is ill that we neglect to see that this disorder has victims that stay in the shadows. Often they are hurting, but don’t want to complain or make things any worse for their parents; than they already are. I often wonder what the effect of having a sibling who has severe bipolar disorder really is. Never knowing what the outcome will be to the explosive behavior. My son who is not effected with bipolar disorder, Matthew, never knows if his brother will love him or hate him. If he will play with him or threaten him. It is a wild rollercoaster ride. As a mother I never know when it is a simple sibling squabble or a wild mood swing that could have dire consequences. There are the times when Matthew must wonder if he will be diagnosed next. If he is having a bad day and is tired or irritable does that mean he has “it?” As a parent I find myself wondering the same thing sometimes. Not sure if I am strong enough to go through this illness with another child. The child with bipolar gets so much attention. All the doctor appointments and the times when we give in as parents because it is so much easier than the fight that ensues when you say no. There is no fairness to the way you treat these children which just makes it harder for your “normal” child to accept the situation. Sometimes Matthew isn’t sure that he is the lucky one. It seems like his brother gets so much attention and gets away with more. It is true that I often expect less from his brother because I am simply thankful for what I have. It is very difficult when you listen to your sibling wishing he were dead. At nine how can you ever comprehend that someone could be in that much pain. I see this child's heartbreak when his brother is in so much pain and he can’t do anything to help him. I have a hard time understanding it myself so how can I expect a child to ever understand what his sibling with bipolar disorder is going through. It is important at times for Matthew to have a safe place that he can get to when he feels threatened by his brother. I like to believe that the threats are “all talk” and that Matthew would never really be injured by his brother, but I am not willing to bet his safety on that. His safe place is my bedroom which has a lock on the door, a phone, and a bathroom. It is difficult when you can’t leave your teenage son at home alone or with his brother. He is getting too old for a sitter, but even an hour alone could turn into a nightmare or it could be absolutely fine. Other family members can’t understand that. Even the boy’s own father says, “they will be fine for a few hours.” I know that I am not being over protective because I have seen what can happen when bipolar disorder takes over and my son is no longer in control of his actions. I have gotten a therapist for Matthew because I know he needs to tell someone what he experiences at home. I just hope everyday that he knows how much I love him and how special he is. I hope he never has to face the loss of his brother, but at nine he already knows it is possible.

19 comments:

maria said...

I really appreciate this post. My 15 year old brother is bipolar and has gotten progressively worse in the past three years. I am a year older than him and I can remember when we were younger and would play together constantly, and everything has changed so drastically. My parents are far more depressed and my mom especially has suffered. My bipolar brother gets constant attention, and my parents spend every moment calling more people (doctors) trying to figure out ways to make life easier for him, and therefore, for us. I have another younger brother, 3 years younger, who suffered probably the most in the past few years. my bipolar brother has held a knife to him, when we were home alone, and I have had to stand between the two of them with my youngest brother screaming for help. This youngest brother has been diagnosed with depression as a result of the bipolar one. It's difficult because the victim should be the one with bipolar, but if I think about it, I realize that myself and my youngest brother have also been victims of physical and emotional abuse as well as some neglect because of the attention that has to be constantly expended on the bipolar brother. My cousin has a bipolar brother too and she has already been diagnosed with depression at age 7 as a result. She has been pretty violently attacked by him, not to mention the horrible name calling and insulting that goes on continuously. It's not easy to grow up listening to your sibling threaten to kill themselves, and see your parents not know what to do.

Anonymous said...

I think that this post is a true help to bipolar siblings. My brother at 14 could hurt any of our family members at any time. So keep posting helpful articles, please.

Anonymous said...

I know how these people feel. My brother is bipolar and there was a time where he overdosed on pills and was in intensive care. Although it is hard to be around a person when all's they are saying is "I want to die" it isn't right to just walk away. I never thought in a million years that he would do something to harm himself but now we are more cautious and he is doing better.

Anonymous said...

All children should feel loved but I know that at times my youngest son is very confused by his bipolar brother. I only hope that as we as a family work with this life Matt will find a way to reach out to others. He is scared to trust others and has a hard time making friends. His brother's problems have left his with a fear of opening up to his peers. He also has the added problem of being very bright and yes a genus so many of the other childern do not understand him at school. They do not like it that he can do most math in his head before they have even writen the problem down. The two problems together are a mess. Matt is now seeing a counsler at school and things are looking up. Matt had joined the play club and the basketball team. Good for him!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have a bipolar sister and living with her has been traumatic. When we were younger, she would hurt me verbally and physically. I grew up thinking there was something wrong with me. In fact she always complained about something and she was never very happy. She was diagnosed when we were teens and it felt like doomsday all over again. Every manic episode she has....makes my stomach curl. I used to blame myself sometimes because I thought I wasn't a good sister and that I was the environmental cause in her disorder. In fact when she was diagnosed she did say that...but you have to overlook all of that. All of those fights we had as sisters with my mom trying helplessly to stop them... haunt me. I remember one day my sister in an angry state ran into my room and literally broke my door lock. I did instigate that fight but her anger was scary. Now that she is stable everything is fine. But I worry about her constantly. I have realized that it was a tough childhood but things could have been a lot worse :) Thanks btw....it really helps to know that other people have been affected and I am not just being a whino. :)

Anonymous said...

My bi-polar brother, who is now in his early 50s, has decided to take a "spontaneous vacation" from me, after a phone conversation where he was, as usual monologue-ing. He asked me how I was doing, and when I started talk, he cut me off, screamed and cursed at me, and hung up on me. I have been physically and mentally and sexually abused by him since I was 8 years old. I can no longer continue a relationship with him. It is very sad because both our parents died last year, and since then, my other siblings have stopped calling as much. I feel both horrible and overjoyed to think that I will no longer have to tolerate the mania, the emotional abuse, and the abuse of my time. Have any of you experienced this with your bi-polar sibling? I am now in my 40s and enough is enough.

Sara said...

I'm crying right now as I read your post. I can't believe how much I identify. I never really considered my sister to be bipolar, but after reading these stories I think she must have had it for around 5 years, at least. as a result I am jumpy, anxious and depressed. I am also the sibling who's problems have been ignored and I've always tried to help out depressed mom and dad by being as good as possible. I am crying because I don't feel so alone and confused anymore

Anonymous said...

I am a successful, professional woman with a family. I am 33 years old. I grew up with a brother and sister who are bi-polar and suffer from other mental illnesses. My brother abused me growing up and I never told my parents, because I loved him so much and felt sorry for him. The problem with that is this. You spend your childhood getting hurt and the sick person never gets the help they so desperately need. Now, as an adult, I have a healthy degree of seperation. However, I still love and care for them deeply. My brother is off his meds and using drugs and alcohol, so I am not communicating with him (he does not respond to offers to take him to treatment or AA). If he doesn't want to work at it, I can't do it for him. My sister lives on the bi-polar roller coaster. When she's well, we are best friends! When she's not, she either completely ignores me, acts like she hates me, or I'm spending all of our time together helping her. It's find and I understand that in those moments - its a one way street. I don't get anything back. Still, it hurts deeply. For my own sanity and balance, I have many healthy friendships. Those are the ones I enjoy most because its a two-way street. Anyone dealing with similar issues - especially if your young - be sure to speak up for yourself. Get the help you need to cope with the cards your family has been dealt OR to find safety from a situation that can be dangerous. My heart goes out to you.

Anonymous said...

After my brother served in Afgahnistan for 6 months he started to lash out at our Mum it was really horrible because he acually punshed her and trashed the whole house, later we took him up to see a councler and doctor and he was diagnosed with servere deppresion and bipolar it's really sad because he's only 23 but just a week ago we also found out that i am bipolar, but all i can do now is hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

I love my Big brother very much but since he came home from fighting in Afgahinstan he has been acting strange and violent he has been diagnosed with Bipolar disoder OCD and clinical deppresion. Me and him are a team and will fight this diease together! I am 14 and taking a phycology course in school which will hopefully help me understand what he is going through.

Stephanie said...

Thankyou for posting this. I am 15 years old, my little sister is 12 and was diagnosed at age 7 with Bipolar. As do many people with siblings have this disorder, much of my early childhood I remember being physically and emotionally abused by my little sister, and many times it was dismissed and I was told to be more "understanding of her condition." Me and my familys' life pretty much revolves around her, which I know is not right. Many times I feel as though I am not important, and my feelings and needs are many times pushed aside to make sure she is happy. My mother and father do NOT deal well with her disease, and we are trying to get help. This post really helped me not understand the disease better but realise I am not alone...Thankyou <3

Anonymous said...

Its so nice to hear that im not the only one goin throguh this. Im 17 and my brother is 20 and to go along with his bipolar disorder he has a sevre drug problem. Every day is a constant stuggle, i'm constantly angry at my parents for the way they handle him. I feel like we should just kick him out for all the problems he cuases me it really is extremeely difficult.

Anonymous said...

My brother is bipolar. Growing up around that was a horrible experience. I wish I could forget all the terrible things he did.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am 35 and my brother is 38 and is an alcoholic. He has been sober for a year and was diagnosed as bipolar about 2 years ago. reading your story about your sons was like reading about my childhood. The threats, the mood swings, the nice one minute and hell the next. My parents knew he was difficult but never knew why. I am happy he is sober and taking medication but I am having a hard time with him. My parents are still enabling him and he isn't accountable for himself yet he is getting married to a 21 year old he met in rehab and everyone is okay with it. I have been looking for more info on support for the siblings and so far, this is the only thing I found. I had relief for a minute, so thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I'm an adult whose older brother has bipolar but has not yet accepted medication or treatment. He is so bad at the moment that he has said he's not coming to my wedding and is done with me. This is all over something that would not have ever bothered him in the past. It's so bizarre and hurtful and I keep wondering where my old brother went and where this person came from.

Anonymous said...

I have a problem.Bi-polar runs in my family. I have it and have been in treatment for 10 years and I feel great. My sister has shown signs for many years. Our mom died so it's just been our dad and us kids.Our dad didn't see the signs in me and finally amitted that I had a problem when my school called him and told him I needed treatment right away.Now my sister is living with our dad because she fliped out on everyone and went missing for 2 weeks. How do I get him to see that my sister has a problem?

bipolar disorder said...

Bipolar disorder is separated into various types. There are many symptoms of bipolar disorder. The symptoms include extreme, sadness, change in appetite, anxiety, guilt, fatigue, irritation, etc. People suffering from bipolar disorder change their mood drastically. People suffering from this disorder should consult a health professional immediately.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to hear other peoples experiences and to know that I am not the only one suffering with bipolar siblings, as it is so hard to know what to do and whats best, my mother is a single parent and doesnt let him live at home because she finds it so stressful and anxiety inducing, either if he is on a high or a low. at the moment he is threatening suicide, and it is so stressful to try to talk sense into him but he just doesnt seem able to pick himself up! recently we thought he was doing better and seemed more cheerful but the other day, on my 18th birthday, he became extremely upset. I also tell him he should phone me when feeling this way but he doesnt, i dont know what will happen when i go to university as my brother and mum have difficulty communicating.

Anonymous said...

I found this really usefull, my brother is now 21, he was diagnosed a few years ago, but had been presenting symptoms for years, my parents wouldnt help him because of his behaviour. I am 5 years older than him and I have 3 children of my own. He had smacked one of my kids for nothing shortly before being sectioned. That child will not talk to my brother now (the child in question is autistic) and reading this helped me understand more how he is feeling that my relationship with my brother.
It was so hard seeing him trying different meds and now he is very difficult to be around, even for me. I try to be as understanding as I can but its so hard, I get frustrated at him, My mum in particular get angry at him all the time. I wish I could do more to help.