Hi! I’m Aidan. He’s Ethan. And we tell it like it is.
This is a story about our mom.
Secretly, she is the zaniest person we know.
Not-so-secretly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
You see, our mom has Bipolar Disorder. That means her brain is like a yo-yo. Sometimes it goes up. Sometimes it goes down. Sometimes it goes round and round.
When it’s up, she looks like this. Her eyes are wide. She speaks super-fast. And she thinks the world is aglow with the light of fairies.
When it’s down, she looks like this. Her eyes are angry. Her words are fiery. And she thinks the world is bewitched by toothless ogres.
But the trickiest of all is when her brain goes round and round. Because then she could look like any or all of these at once!
[Shopaholic Mom] [Normal-Every-Day-Mom] [Bedhead Mom] [Dancing-All-Night-Mom] [Start-a-Million-Projects-At-Once-Mom] [Super Mom] [Cry-at-The-Drop-of-a-Hat-Mom] [Hugs-A-Lot-Mom] [Spiritual-Guru-Mom] [Drinks-a-lot-of-Tea-Mom]
Bipolar Disorder is what adults like to call a ‘mental illness’. Basically it means the brain is sick.
When your brain is healthy it acts like a thermostat. (That’s the doohickey that controls the heat in your house.)
When a healthy person gets sad or angry, the brain brings your mood back up to normal. Just like when it gets cold out, the thermostat turns the heat up. If you have Bipolar Disorder sometimes your brain gets stuck in that low mood because the thermostat in your brain isn’t working.
When this happens for a long time adults call this ‘depression’.
When a healthy person gets super excited and has lots of energy, the brain brings your mood back down to normal. Just like when it gets hot out, the thermostat turns the heat down. If you have Bipolar Disorder sometimes your brain gets stuck in that high mood because the thermostat in your brain isn’t working.
When this happens adults call this ‘mania’.
Our mom tells us this stuff so we know it’s not our fault when her brain goes up and down. No matter what we do we can’t control her thermostat.
And she’s not the only one with Bipolar Disorder. There are lots of parents that have it. And there are lots of parents with other mental illnesses as well.
We hear the words said about people with mental illness – ‘crazy’, ‘nuts’, ‘wild’, ‘insane’, ‘mad’. And we feel sad because words like those hurt. They hurt our mom, but they hurt us too.
And they don’t tell the truth. Our mom is like every other mom. She loves us. She takes care of us. She tucks us in at night.
And like other parents out there living with a mental illness she has mostly good days.
So even though sometimes mom’s brain acts like a yo-yo, most days you wouldn’t even know it.
A Note to Parents
Talking to children about mental illness is hard. We worry they won’t understand or we won’t have the right words to explain it. And we are held back by the stigma and judgment society harbours for people who live with mental illness.
But regardless of whether or not we tell our children about our illness, they are unquestionably affected by it. In fact, many children who live with parents who have a mental illness feel a level of personal responsibility for their parent’s behaviour. They wonder if their own behaviour can mitigate the reactions of their mom or dad.
As a parent who lives with Bipolar Disorder, my children have been impacted by my fluctuating moods. And so I wrote this story to start a conversation.
Mommy’s Brain is Like a Yo-Yo was written from the perspective of my two boys, Aidan and Ethan. We have used the story to open a dialogue about something that gets rarely talked about with children and we hope you will use it to do the same.