How I lost custody of my son to my mental illness
Symptoms of Bipolar according to the National Institute of Mental Health
Symptoms of mania or a manic episode include:
Symptoms of depression or a depressive episode include:
A long period of feeling "high," or an overly happy or outgoing mood
A long period of feeling worried or empty
Extremely irritable mood, agitation, feeling "jumpy" or "wired."
Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex.
Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
Feeling tired or "slowed down"
Increasing goal-directed activities, such as taking on new projects
Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
Being restless or irritable
Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
Having an unrealistic belief in one's abilities
Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide.
Raising a child is the most challenging task one can face in their life, but when a parent has a mental illness this presents even more difficult challenges. Before being diagosed with bipolar disorder, a brain disorder that causes shifts in mood, energy and activity levels, I was a single mother raising my two-year-old son and grieving my divorce. My divorce was very ugly and completely broke my heart and spirit. I had done a lot of things in our relationship to warrant a divorce during times of mania but did not know what that even was at the time.
"Bipolar divorce occurs in an alarming 90 percent of marriages in which one partner is suffering from bipolar disorder, according to lifeloveandbipolar.com." "The most obvious reason for this disintegration is the substantial social morbidity that results from the bipolar individuals maladaptive behavior. Serious social drawbacks associated with reckless behavior like abuse of alcohol or drugs, accidents from excessive risk taking, financial burden from over spending, inability to remain gainfully employed are have the potential to unravel even the most loving of relationships."
Previous to my divorce I was a stay-at-home-mom and spent all my time with my son. So, after the divorce and jumping back into the workplace working 12-hour shifts and having to place my son in daycare left me with overwhelming guilt and depression. I would drink beer after beer in the evening to unwind from my day and also mask the pain I was feeling.
According to Dual Diagnosis.org, "For many individuals, Bipolar Disorder and Addiction go hand in hand. The primary reason for this phenomenon is that a large percentage of individuals attempt to self-medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol in an effort to numb the symptoms of their bipolar disorder. Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder such as anxiety, pain, depression and sleeplessness are so alarming, that many individuals will turn to drugs and alcohol as a means for offsetting the discomfort, if only for a little while.
Starting Over & Falling Apart
About a year after my divorce I reunited with an old flame. We had dated when I was 18 for a few months and through the magic of facebook he found me about 15 years later. We reunited on New Year's Eve and the night seemed magical, although it was through beer goggles. I had picked him up from the airport and had been drinking before he arrived and by the time we arrived at the ball I was plastered. This was my typical behavior during my separation and after my divorce.
We talked, danced and drank the night away and I thought I was instantly in love. We began to have a long distance relationship, since he lived in Memphis and I in Texas, and although everything appeared ok on the outside I was falling into a deep depression. One evening as my son lay asleep in his room, I became overwhelmed with hopelessness and depression over my divorce and being a single mother and started having suicial ideations. At the time I was prescribed kolonipin for anxiety and seriously thought about taking the rest of the bottle. I did take more than I was prescribed but not enough to actually commit suicide. The next day at work I told a close friend and coworker about the night before and she in turn told our boss, another close friend, and next thing I knew I was in the emergency room. I was then transferred to a psychiatric facility.
The next day my long distance boyfriend flew to come rescue me. My parents had also driven in from out of town to support me. Everyone agreed that I was not doing well in my current situation and I really wanted to move to where my boyfriend lived in Memphis, TN. The catch was that my custody papers stated I was not allowed to move my son out of the state. I honestly don't remember much from this time in my life and was in no position to make any big decisions, so I just let everyone else make them for me. When my ex-husband learned of my plans to move he had his lawyers immediately draw up a change in custody. I do remember sobbing uncontrollably as I signed my son over to my ex-husband. I didn't know what else to do. Looking back, I wish my family and friends would have recognized that moving was not the best option and that I needed intensive mental treatment.
Memphis, marriage and baby
So, I moved almost 600 miles away from my son and partied a lot to escape from what I had done. Most of the time my partying nights ended feeling very depressed and suicidal because the reality was always there. Although the new custody papers stated I was only to see my son on weekends and certain holidays, my ex-husband and I agreed I would be able to have custody of my son for two weeks out of every month. So, every two weeks I would fly to pick up my son and fly back the same day. This also included a 3-hour drive from my house to the airport but I didn't mind at all because I got to see my son.
After a few months of living in my new dwelling, I became pregnant with my second child. I had a lot of mixed emotions about the pregnancy, one being that I was not married to my boyfriend yet. Soon though we were married, when I was about 2 months pregnant, and then began a very difficult road of medical and mental issues. Soon after I was married, my ex-husband also remarried a woman I had always suspected of him having an affair with. This news only added to my growing depression. I was also put on restricted movement and eventually complete bedrest due to a short cervix, low fluid and early contractions. So, I'm basically on bedrest at home all day alone with nothing but my racing thoughts about my ex's new life, missing my son and concern for my unborn child. In what I think was a manic state I decided to drive back to Texas where my son was, since I could no longer fly. I picked up my son and we stayed at my aunt's but the visit was short-lived. The first morning I woke up bleeding and had to go to the hospital. Fortunately I was released the same day but was instructed by my doctors to go back home. I was heartbroken and the depression was insurmountable.
Three months before my due date my water broke and I was hospitalized with the hope I would at least make it to 34 weeks. But, at 27 weeks my daughter decided to make herself known to the world and we welcomed a beautful 2 pound, 3 ounce girl. Since doctors had told us the worst of what could happen the labor was very intense. The labor process was short and when our daughter arrived the nurses quickly took her away to give her the necessary medical attention she needed. For hours I had to let antibiotics run through me before being able to go to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to see my daughter. So, I laid in bed agonizing over thoughts if she was going to be ok. At last I finally did get to see her and her tiny frail body brought an overwhelming vast of emotions over me. For the next two months, my husband and I visited her everyday and watched her grow and become stronger and stronger until she was finally able to come home. We always say how fortunate we were that our little angel just had to eat, sleep and grow and didn't require any serious medical intervention.
After about a year of living away from my son, my husband was finally offered a job back in Texas. I was ecstatic to finally be close to my son again and having a 50-50 custody split with my ex-husband. However, in the back of mind I knew I would soon have to face seeing my ex-husband with the woman who tore my family apart and I had no idea how I'd deal with that. I honestly thought I may pass out when I saw her. In the Spring I signed my son up for soccer and knew the inevitable was coming because I would see "her" at his soccer games. The day came and I was flooded with anxiety. Thankfully my ex and his new wife sat in a different area than my husband and I but the anxiety still ran rampant through my body. There were quite a few times during the game I had to just step away and take deep breaths.
The Assault & Losing Control
During that Spring my husband and I were invited to dinner at a friend's house.. At dinner, in typical fashion, I consumed most of the wine and feeling tipsy and in a "party" mood I asked my friend if she wanted to go out. She agreed and I let my husband know even though I'd knew he'd be more than a little miffed at the idea. My friend and I went to a local bar and after ordering our first beer we decided to dance. Out of character, I put my beer down and went to the dancefloor. That was the last thing I remember until the next morning waking up in a strange house with cuts and scrapes on my body. I was driven home by a girl who was at this house and upon arriving home my husband was obviously fuming because I'd been out all night. I was still confused and disoriented and didn't know what to tell him. I finally told him I thought I'd been drugged and raped and I probably needed to go to the hospital. Not believing me at the time, he told me to just go so I did.
After this incident my anxiety and depression increased ten fold and my general practitioner increased my dose of an antidepressant which threw me into a vicious rapid cycling pattern of mania and depression at the same time. I called my doctor to let her know what was going on but they said the medicine wouldn't cause that kind of reaction. Yeah, never let a gp give advice on psychiatric medications! I eventually got in with a therapist who immediately recognized I was maniac and scheduled me an appointment with a psychiatrist. The pyschiatrist took me off my antidepressant because it can actually induce mania and put me on Trileptal (oxcarbazepine). Trileptal is in a class of medications called anticonvulsants to treat seizures but is also used to treat bipolar disorder. I was put on a low dose and was told we would increase it gradually. I was optimistic about this new medication, hoping it would help me sleep and decrease the nightmares but I had no such luck. I continued cycling until one night I was in a maniac depressive state and tried to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.
"The mood swings associated with bipolar disorder can alternate from major, or clinical, depression to mania or extreme elation," according to webmd.com. The mood swings can range from very mild to extreme, and they can happen gradually or suddenly within a timeframe of minutes to hours. When mood swings happen frequently, the process is called rapid cycling.
The sleeping pills I took I had obtained that night from the pharmacy and in my dark fog texted a picture of the bottle to my ex-husband saying basically that I was going to commit suicide. A few days after my unsuccessful attempt I basically ran away from home for a day and when I got back I was served with a restraining order from seeing my son due to the suicide attempt. I immediately went into a state of panic and left my house again. I returned the next day, knowing I had to eventually face reality. Thankfully my husband and dad, who had come into town to do what he could, were very supportive and understanding.
The Long Road to Healing
After the incident of leaving home and being served, I saw my psychiatrist and we agreed on me starting intensive outpatient therapy. For six weeks, five days a week I attended therapy groups, was stablized on new medication and graduated a totally different person. The program essentially saved my life. I learned in these groups about bipolar disorder, anxiety attacks and how to cope with these things in a healthy way. I discuss some of the therapuetic techniques I learned in my hub at http://krdennis1977.hubpages.com/hub/Bipolar-and-Benefits-of-Therapy. It was all good preparation for the next event that was about to transpire in my life. As part of the process of regaining visitation with my son, the court ordered a psychiatric evaluation bya court-appointed doctor.
My first meeting with the court-appointed doctor was nerve racking as I didn't know what to expect. The doctor was very blunt and told me this was not therapy but rather him gathering information about my life and presenting the court with recommendation on how to proceed with the case. I also learned of the expenses of this process which can only be described as extortion. Although it was going to be a costly endeavor I knew I had to proceed in order to have a chance of regaining custody. So, over the next few months the doctor dove into my whole life - from childhood to present. At times the process was excruciating, having to go over past traumas and talk about past actions I'd rather forget.
I recently completed my session with the doctor and his recommendations were sent to me and my ex-husband's lawyers. The report summarized everything we had talked about and stated the doctor's recommendations. I was atounded that my ex-husband was able to receive a copy of this but I guess the law isn't perfect. Who'd of thought. The doctor recommended I be able to have unsupervised visitation upon the following conditions: continue my therapy and adhere to my medication regimen, regularly attend AA meetings and not drink alcohol in the presence of my son, have a breathalyzer installed in my vehicle and submit to drug testing. Having been sober of my own accord since attending treatment I felt a lot of these conditions are unfair but I also realize the doctor has to put safeguards into place. Now, I am just waiting on opposing counsel to review the report and make their final determinations.
In the meantime, I have supervised visitation with my son every other weekend, regularly attend Alcholics Anonymous (AA) and participate in a bipolar support group. Although its been a long, hard road back to somewhat "normalcy" I know this disorder is manageable with therapy and medication. I am determined to do whatever it takes to stay healthy as possible for mself and my children.
Health Magazine provides 9 ways to control bipolar disorder that include:
1. Take your meds - Take your medication every day as prescribed by your doctor. In all, 1 in 3 people will remain completely free of symptoms of bipolar disorder by taking mood-stabilizing medicine, such as carbamazepine or lithium, for life.
2. Exercise daily - Moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day can help control mood swings.
3. Eat a balanced diet - Make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need. Eating meals at regular times will help establish a stress-reducing daily routine.
4. Avoid traveling into other time zones - If you are planning to travel extensively, you may want to call your doctor before you leave. Traveling into other time zones can disrupt your medication schedule and trigger a manic episode.
5. Get the same number of hours of sleep every night - Changes in your sleep patterns can sometimes trigger a manic or depressive episode. Try your best to keep the same bedtime and rise time, varying them by no more than an hour.
6. Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs - Even one drink can disrupt your sleep, change your mood, or interfere with your medicines, which can make symptoms worse or even trigger an episode.
7. Reduce stress at work and at home - Try to keep regular hours at work so stress won’t trigger a manic or depressive episode. If stress at work or at home is a problem, counseling may help. It is important to schedule some recreation in your day, even if it is just for a short period. This should generally include social time.
8. Limit caffeine and nicotine during manic episodes - Caffeine and nicotine can both act as stimulants, which can make symptoms worse. Plus, too much caffeine can change your sleeping habits.
9. Seek treatment immediately - Getting treatment immediately will help you to proactively manage symptoms of a depressive or manic episode and avoid disruptions to your life. Often you don't notice early signs or symptoms, so take the time to educate whoever is closest to you what signs and symptoms to look for. They can alert you when they see a change that suggests the beginning of a mood episode. Show them you welcome such feedback, and be sure to take it seriously if you get it.