“No One Wanted to Believe A Child as Young as Two Could Have A Mental Illness”

By August 11, 2015May 15th, 2020No Comments

Submitted by a Bipolar Lemonade follower who lives in California.

From the time Jennie was born, I knew she was different. She didn’t sleep, she hated to be swaddled or held which made breast feeding almost impossible. She had a hard time eating period, and she cried constantly.

For the first couple of years, I chalked it up to my inexperience as a mother. She was my first child. I did check with her pediatrician who told me she would outgrow these things. As Jennie grew, it was obvious that she was incredibly bright. She walked early (eight months), started putting sentences together by the time she was a year old, and could read by the time she was three. However, she had difficulty socializing with other children, exhibited violent behavior, and threw fits which lasted for sometimes four to six hours without a break.

I took her to her pediatrician again and was told there was nothing wrong with my little girl. She was spoiled and I needed to give her tougher consequences. No one wanted to believe a child as young as two was exhibiting the signs of mental illness. Her obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) tendencies started showing up at about this age as well. Any upsets to her schedule caused huge emotional outbursts. Jennie would take all the shoes out of everyone’s closets EVERY day, arranged them in a particular pattern, and put them back. She did the same with the kitchen cupboards that she could reach.

Jennie’s father and I separated when she was three. I was six months pregnant with her little brother. Raising the two of them on my own was a real challenge. In school, Jennie excelled academically but constantly got suspended for hurting other children. Child Protective Services was called because her little brother and I had obvious bruises. Luckily, the authorities realized I was doing the best I could.

It was when she was 10 years old that we finally reached a breaking point. It was night time. We were driving home from my son’s football practice. It was dark in the car. Jennie was in the front seat, and her little brother was in the back seat. We were talking, laughing, and listening to the radio. Jennie turned to me as part of the normal conversation and asked, “Mom, do you hear voices in your head like I do?” I knew in that moment that I had to remain calm and not make Jennie feel bad about the conversation we needed to have.

I asked her what the voices sounded like and what they said. She said that there were three different voices. The strongest was named Sarah. She told her that she was a bad person and that she needed to hurt her little brother and me. The other two were male. A grown man and a little boy who had no names but screamed at her and said bad words. I explained to her that there was medicine that could make the voices stop, and for the first time ever, I saw her relax. She went on to tell me that sometimes she saw Sarah and the other two “voices.” Sarah wore a long white gown and was covered in blood, while the man and little boy stood in the background and screamed.

I remember going home and getting the kids ready for bed. Once I knew they were bedded down for the night, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for about an hour. I don’t know if it was sorrow for my little girl’s constant feeling of fear and inferiority or if I was relieved that we were going to finally get some help.

That’s when the testing started. We started seeing a neurologist who did EEGs, CT scans, MRIs, blood tests and met with Jennie often. There were some abnormalities that showed up on the EEG tests. Our first diagnosis of bipolar disorder came from the neurologist. Finally! Someone believed us. Finally, Jennie would get what she needed! The neurologist then referred us to a psychiatrist in the area. Our second diagnosis was bipolar 1 (because she is mostly manic), borderline schizophrenic, with OCD tendencies.

Unfortunately, this psychiatrist was doing a study on a new drug. It wasn’t working well. Jennie was starting to have issues in school. She was becoming increasingly violent especially toward me. I later learned this was because I am her “safe” person. The new doctor ended up prescribing too many meds for her. Her body started to build up toxicities. That’s when the hallucinations became tactile. She ended up in a mental institution for 10 days.

The third diagnosis confirmed what we already knew. Janie’s bipolar 1 disorder created long periods of mania and short periods of deep depressions. While she was not diagnosed as schizophrenic, the prolonged periods of mania were exhibited in schizophrenic tendencies. Therefore, borderline schizophrenia was part of what needed to be treated. Her OCD tendencies were still of concern, mostly because once she started to obsess about something, she was unable to move on. With a third diagnosis, we were pretty confident we knew what we were dealing with. I say we, because it took a team of us to keep our family healthy.

When she got out of the hospital, she was off of all meds, but we couldn’t go back to the same psychiatrist. It took us several months to find a new child psychiatrist and another year to find a psychologist that could help us learn how to cope with what was happening. She went through a phase where she cut off her hair and chopped up all of her clothes. Once I had hidden all of the scissors in the house. She started using knives to carve designs in her skin. So all sharp objects got locked up.

There were police calls, hospital visits, holes in our walls, long nights where Jennie didn’t sleep for days on end. I could tell you all of the stories . . . stories about Jennie trying to fly off the second story roof of her grandparents home; stories about Jennie stealing the car at 15 and getting lost 30 miles from home; stories about her escaping from the hospital guards at the local hospital when we were trying to get her stabilized; stories about picking glass out of my face because she had thrown her dishes at me. I could tell you about the nights I cried because I knew that my baby was never going to have the life I had planned for her.

However, the one that you need to know is the one where she went for a bike ride the year she turned 18 and she didn’t come home for 10 months. She decided to self medicate. She lived in abandoned houses, used illicit drugs, and refused to return home. The police knew she had a mental disorder, because there had been so many other incidents. They refused to lock her up until one day she attacked someone in a public place.

Her second 5150 was our life saver. She became stable for the first time in years. I got a whole new Jennie home when she got out of the hospital this time. We found an awesome doctor, we got her the right combination of medications, we all learned how to help her and how to help ourselves through her ups and downs. I say we, because it took teamwork to get Jennie to the place she is now. My children and I are an incredibly strong family unit. My parents helped support us along the way and never gave up hope that we would be able to find peace and stability for Jennie.

I learned to let go of the dreams and plans I had for Jennie and realized that those were MY plans, not Jennie’s. It’s been a difficult but beautiful journey. I think because we struggled so much with finding medical help, professionals to take us seriously, getting insurance to pay for treatment, getting the community to understand that my child is not a damaged human being, and learning how to live with bipolar that our story can help others.

When I was diagnosed with cancer last year, Jennie was my rock. She is the one that held us together and gave us all strength. Today, Jennie has been stable for 3 1/2 years. She takes her medications faithfully and takes care of herself. She has a beautiful family including a two year old son. She is the best mommy I know. I am so incredibly proud of her!

Andrea Berryman Childreth

Author Andrea Berryman Childreth

Andrea Berryman Childreth is an award-winning author of the book, ON THE EDGE: Help and hope for parenting children with mental illness, founder of The Lemonade Project, advocate and parent coach. She has first-hand experience with parenting a mentally ill daughter and has struggled with mental illness, herself. Her goal is to help empower people to openly share their stories and improve access to equitable mental health services.

More posts by Andrea Berryman Childreth

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