My youngest daughter, as I’ve reported before, suffers from a mental illness; specifically, she is bipolar. It’s been a few months now since her psychiatrist was finally successful in adjusting her medication so that she is now stable. My wife and I have been thrilled with her more even-keeled attitude, the lack of the violent rages, and the end to her regularly breaking objects, walls, and windows. While she will still get angry and frustrated on occasion, it is what one would expect to see in a normal teenager.
Despite her new mental stability, we still had some problems: she was not always making wise choices. In the months that followed her achievement of stability, on several occasions I wished that there was some sort of wisdom pill that we could give her.
Back when her mental illness was getting worse and she was far from stable, she started wearing dark clothing and dark makeup. After she turned eighteen, when our legal ability to control her behavior weakened, she began coloring her hair first black, and then an odd assortment of colors ranging from green to blue to red and then sometimes back to black. One day at a friend’s house, she got her nose and lip pierced.
Her music choices became increasing loud, angry, dark and gloomy: the lyrics were harsh and degrading. Her vocabulary became increasingly peppered with profanity.
After her first hospitalization, she went homeless for a few days. Then made a habit of spending time downtown with the mentally ill, homeless and drug using denizens of the area. She cycled through boyfriends among those people on a weekly, sometimes a daily basis. She would sometimes spend the night with them.
But gradually we have seen an odd and wonderful thing; the longer she has remained stable—going on five months now—the better her choices have become. It's as if there actually is some wisdom in her medication.
She no longer dyes her hair, so it has reverted to her natural blonde color. Her clothing is no longer mostly black and grungy; instead it is frilly and brightly colored. Instead of screamo and thrash metal, she mostly listens to K-Pop (South Korean pop music): think Hello Kitty with lots of pink and eye blindingly bright colors performed by young attractive people. It’s mostly upbeat pop music that sounds cheerful; she likes both the women’s groups and the boy bands. If you have ever heard of Psy and his Gangnam Style music video that was briefly wildly popular, then you have some idea of the genre. Most of the words are Korean, with some English words here and there. Occasionally the videos are subtitled. She likes making me watch them. I worry that I’m losing IQ points. But it makes her happy to have me watch them with her.
She no longer visits the downtown and mostly spends her time at home or with her friend Daisy, who just graduated high school, has two parents, and who lives in a house and bathes every day. She has been on her first date: the boy had a car, picked her up, took her to a movie, took her to dinner and brought her home on time.
The longer she has been mentally stable, the more the poor choices caused by her mental illness have sloughed away, becoming her past instead of her present. We are also greatly blessed by her compliance with her medication: she takes it without complaint and more than that, actively wants to take it. In fact, she will remind her mother and me if we happen to forget to give it to her (remembering her mid-day medication is the hard one; breakfast meds and bedtime meds are much easier).
Has she now become the perfect child? Of course not. She’s still very human and she still has her moments. But the improvements have been like night and day.
And I try very hard to take this one day at a time. Tomorrow is never a promise.
And the other thing that is difficult, is that even as she improves, I still have the memories—and the triggers—developed from the five years she was not stable and was deteriorating. Every time she gets angry about something, I cringe inside, remembering what anger used to do to her. I struggle, every time, not to react to her as I used to when there was reason to fear significant property damage resulting from her anger. I am retraining myself to back away, to give her space, to allow her to go off and calm herself by herself. She no longer needs my intervention. In fact any intervention on my part would be counterproductive.
I also have to remind myself, consciously, every time, that I do not have to fear that she will hit me or kick me or bite me. Or that she might cause harm to herself. We still have the kitchen knives hidden away where she cannot easily find them—and it will probably be awhile before that changes. Likewise, it will be some while before we ever leave our car keys in a place where she might gain access to them. She already knows that she will not be getting driving lessons or a license until after she finishes high school, which remains a distant goal.
Just having her stable and making good choices now is a great blessing for us. We hope the positive changes last even though we know how temporary they might be.