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How I lost custody of my son to my mental illness

Updated on November 02, 2012

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:
Mood Changes
Mood Changes
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.
Behavioral Changes
Behavioral Changes
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
Being restless or irritable
Sleeping little
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.

Shortlived Happiness

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.






Coping Skills

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    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 4 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Bipolar is a very difficult illness. I have known two people with this. One was a friend of my husband and another was a work colleague's wife. As far as I understand, the manic phase makes people feel really, really good and they find it very hard to resist the temptation to stay in the manic phase but there is always the inevitable crash into depression. There are some good books available on bipolar. One I read was by two doctors and a sufferer and basically said that a bipolar sufferer can learn what signs to look for and they must develop a plan for what to do when they recognise the signs happening. It sounds as if you are working hard to overcome this problem. Good luck with regaining access to your son.

    • krdennis1977 profile image
      Author

      Kelly Adams Dennis 4 years ago from Dickinson TX

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my article DreamerMeg. Bipolar is a difficult illness, especially before being diagnosed and just thinking your crazy, lol. Actually the belief that mania only results in good feelings is not true. My mania coincided with depression, otherwise known as "cycling", and I was very irritable and restless. Hypomania tends to result more in elevated mood. Thank you again for your response!

    • profile image

      Jenny aka stateofmind 4 years ago

      It takes a lot of guts to share these kinds of experiences but I think it helps to let people know they are not alone. As a fellow person with bipolar disorder I have made some poor choices when in episodes and it is hard to deal with the consequences but everything is a learning experience. Your writing is very well put together and I like how you incorporate solid information about the illness. I'm glad I met you and I enjoyed reading this.

    • Escobana profile image

      Escobana 3 years ago from Valencia

      Your story is a very helpful one for those who suffer from Bipolar Disorder because you've exposed the horrible side of it to the world, meanwhile letting them know there's hope.

      If you adjust your paragraphs by leaving more blank spaces in between, your story will be easier to read. Your story needs to be read!

      You'll be featured in my Hub: Bipolar Disorder, An overview of great Hubs. The more people read your story the better! It's well written and holds a strong message.

      Voted up, shared and very interesting!

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 3 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Some very interesting changes to your hub. As Jenny aka stateofmind said, "It takes guts to share these kinds of experiences". Good luck with keeping on the right road.

    • krdennis1977 profile image
      Author

      Kelly Adams Dennis 3 years ago from Dickinson TX

      I appreciate all the positive feedback and to update on my custody situation, in which I need to write a hub about, I now have unsupervised custodoy of my son and see him every other week from Thursday to Sunday. I'm hoping the visitation time will be increased either by my ex-husband or when I eventually go back to court to prove I have improved.

      Thanks again for all your support!

    • profile image

      Gail Dixon 3 years ago

      I admire your bravery to write about such a difficult and confusing time of your life. We've walked down similar roads. Giving up custody of my kids was the hardest decision I ever made and one that I'll always look back on with regret. But our past can be a wonderful teacher. I always tell my kids to do their best and do the right thing, but if you slip up sometimes, at least learn from it. Seems like you're back on a good and healthy path. Keep up the great work and you will be rewarded. So proud of you!

    • krdennis1977 profile image
      Author

      Kelly Adams Dennis 3 years ago from Dickinson TX

      I'm almost in tears Gail but in a happy way. I really am truly honored that you have such positive things to say in regards to my writing because it honestly means the world to me.

      I actually think a lot about how similar our lives have been but it's a little comforting knowing I'm not the only one who's gone something like this. However, of course i think we were both wronged, which isn't even a powerful enough word to describe it, but you know what I mean.

      I'm just glad you seem happy now and that you have found a connection with you're writing. Seems it runs in the family because I don't know if you know this but my mom is actually a pretty damn good writer. Just wish she'd be more motivated and take it seriously. I think she'd get a lot out of it.

      Anyway, can't wait to read your Thanksgiving blog next week. If you don't mind text me or something when it comes out so I can check it out please.

      Love ya,

      Kelly

    • profile image

      Tiffany 2 years ago

      I have bipolar I lost custody of my son on the count of my mental illnes me and the father are not marry. I agree that my son maybe better off with his father then myself avery since we agree to this my sons father have not let me see are visit my son. It's been month's, he's been making promises that he don't keep his even been manipulating me when it come to my son. I don't want him. I just want to be able to visit with my child I just don't understand. the Family court took my child from me and my family. my son is four years old his been in care of my mother all his life with the help of my sister's I even have proof of the manipulating. I known my son got to be wonder were we all are I cry night after night an even my mother cry with me. we miss him so much. is there a low income lawyer that can help me. not just for my sake my sons to. PLEASE

    • krdennis1977 profile image
      Author

      Kelly Adams Dennis 2 years ago from Dickinson TX

      Hi Tiffany -

      First I'd like to apologize for not seeing your comment sooner. I must have missed the email alert that you commented. I have a few questions but if you prefer to answer them privately just email me at denniskelly06@gmail.com. So, you said that I guess you gave up your custody rights or did the court just take your son? If the courts did take away your custody rights with your son, on what grounds? I COMPLETELY understand your heartache of not being able to visit with your son. I haven't updated my "story" yet with what happened legally with my custody situation so here's a brief synopsis.

      For a year after I tried to commit suicide, and telling his father my intentions, I could only see my son during that year under my current husband's supervision (not big deal) but only saw him every other weekend. That year was one of the hardest times of my life. I felt like I was missing so many important moments of him growing up. My son was only 5 at the time. How old is your son? Anyway, the real custody battle began. After that year, my son's dad and I battled for another year in the legal system. I had to pay a lot of money to talk to a psychologist basically about my whole life and he determined if any safeguards needed to be put in place so I could see my son unsupervised. The doctor recommended I have a breathalyzer installed in my vehicle, attend regular AA meetings and my ex could drive by to make sure I was there. I had to text him every time before I went to AA. My therapist has to fill out a checklist to send to my ex every quarter to make sure I'm attending therapy. My ex can order random drug tests (which includes very expensive hair follicle test) 4 times per year and lastly I have to pay that ass child support.

      I later found out by my therapist that the doctor that evaluated me made his recommendations illegally because he was supposed to interview my ex and son to make any determinations. I still plan to contact the medical board about that situation. I actually agreed to all the above conditions in a mediation settlement because basically the mediator scared me into it. She said I didn't have a chance in court. Now I know she was just a bully and the judge most likely wouldn't have put ALL those conditions upon me. I've never drank alcohol or done drugs in the presence of my children. In fact, I haven't had any alcohol in the past 2 years or so, and not illegal substances.

      Since I agreed to those conditions, my ex has primary custody and I see my son every Thursday and every other weekend which is complete bullshit! There is ABSOLUTELY NO reason that this should've happened. I never put my son in any danger nor my daughter. Now, getting around to your legal question. First I don't know where you live and what types of inexpensive or free legal services are offered in your area, but I'm sure if you did some searching online you would most likely find something to help you with your situation. I don't know if you have access to a computer/Internet so if not I'm more than happy to do some searching for you if you can tell me what state you're in.

      Where I live there are some organizations that offer inexpensive or free legal aid but unfortunately my ex has a "fancy" lawyer and so I can't just have some random lawyer that isn't going to put 100% into my case. Every time I tell someone about my situation and the conditions I agreed to, their jaws drop. They know I'm quite honestly an awesome mom and have been stable on my meds for more than 2 years. Are you taking any bipolar type medication? I take Lamictal and Abilify and that combo seems to work great for me.

      I also know what its like to be manipulated by an ex. My ex is extremely controlling to the point I sometimes fear for my son and his physical and mental health. His dad has told him so pretty crazy things to threaten my son into walking a straight line all the time. He's only 7 for goodness sake. He's a very sweet and intelligent boy. He got straight A's this past year at school and a special medallion for grades and his work ethic. I don't know what else his dad wants from him. How does your ex manipulate you?

      I'm sorry to go on and on. Your post reads like a cry for help and really makes me sad this is happening to you. No mother should EVER be cut out of her child's life unless she puts the child in danger or is just a shitty parent. I can certainly empathize with you and the feelings your having but you have to be strong. Find the strength from somewhere and you'll figure it all out.

      I'm not sure if you're in therapy, but I know most states have free bipolar meetup groups that may help you since you can talk to others that may be facing a similar situation or just to talk to people that understand. Here's a link of meetings DBSA offers. You just put in your area and it'll provide you with any meetings in your area - http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagenam...

      Also, here's an article on how to find inexpensive legal help - http://www.wikihow.com/Hire-a-Lawyer-When-You-Have...

      I'll be sending positive thoughts your way and please feel free to email me anytime.

      Sincerely,

      Kelly

    • profile image

      vicky 2 years ago

      HELLO to my friends out there i am testifying about the good work of a man who helped me. It has been hell from the day my husband left me, i am a woman with two kids, my problem started when the father of my kids travelled and after then i did not set my eyes on him again i tried calling his phone but he was not picking up my call after some weeks he called me telling me that he has found love somewhere else, at first i never knew he took it to be serious but the day after he came to the house to pick up his things that was the time i noticed that things are not the same as it used to be and i kept having hope that he will come back but things were going bad day by day and i needed to talk to someone about it so i went to his friend but there was no hope so i gave up on him, a month later i met a man on the the internet a spell caster i never believed in this but i needed my man back so i told the spell caster my problem at first and he assured me that i will get him back but i had to do what he told me to do and after three days my husband called me telling me that he his coming home i still do not believe but as at the sixth day the father to my kids came to the house asking me to forgive him, from that day i was happy with my family thanks to the esango priest of (abamieghe)esango priest he his a great man you need to try him you can as well tell him your problem so that he can be of help to you his contact email is this esangopriest@gmail.com indeed you are a priest thank you for making my home a happy home again. remember his email is esangopriest@gmail.com

    • profile image

      liz 2 years ago

      Your story is so similar to mine. It's so unfair. I have always made sure my children are safe. My ex has used my bipolar disorder to his advantage. He has more money than me. I am unable to keep fighting.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 6 months ago from Philippines

      This is a very brave article to write. It is highly informative and helpful, more so because you shared your life when you wrote this. I applaud the positive changes you made in your life, and the fact that your are now in control of your illness. I hope, too that you can soon have unsupervised and co-parenting rights with your son.

    • clisver profile image

      Clisver 2 months ago from New Jersey

      This is very true I myself deal with bipolar disorder on a everyday basis, and not too long ago I took up blogging, to calm down my anxiety. Since my anxiety is my biggest trigger when it comes to, my manic episodes. Just yesterday my doctor told me i might have to take medication for anxiety too on top of my bipolar medication. This really sucks I have a four year old that I too, had some trouble with child protective services. Thankfully they did not take him away but now I have to go to a program at least three times a week, to "better" my mental health. However My anxiety keeps getting worse. I just made a Hub page you should go check out my first hub.

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