Shaping Expectations for Children with Bipolar Disorder
by G.J. Gregory
Friday, October 13th, 2006

There is something about raising a child with bipolar disorder to teach a person tolerance and compassion. To be truly honest, they are qualities I was lacking prior to raising our son Kyle, who suffers from bipolar disorder.

I was raised in a home where we were told we could accomplish anything, and the value of hard work was ingrained in us. Great qualities, but it made me judgemental. If a person didn?t succeed, they didn?t want it enough, or didn?t work hard enough to accomplish it. The fact that there might be a legitimate barrier to ?success? was a concept I just couldn?t grasp.

Then my career developed. As you might imagine, with bipolar disorder there were some successes, and some dismal failures. I couldn?t understand why, when success appeared imminent, I did something to sabotage it. I truly thought it was a matter of being in the wrong career, that I subconsciously didn?t want to succeed as I didn?t like my career. This led to several career changes, with similar results. As I matured and learned my true strengths and weaknesses, what I could effectively do and what I couldn?t, I started to enjoy enough stability to enable me to hold a job. But I still wasn?t aware of my condition, and had never even heard of bipolar disorder.

When Kyle was growing up, I was exceptionally hard on him, and this is something I will regret forever. I pushed him in the same way my parents pushed me, telling him he could accomplish anything, as he was brilliant and could work hard. Unbeknownst to me, I was setting him up for a lifetime of frustration. He is embarrassed that he hasn?t lived up to my expectations, and feels like a failure because he hasn?t ?succeeded?. Since then I?ve gone too far the other way, and he?s now frustrated that I expect nothing from him. He feels like a failure accordingly. Truth be known, for Kyle day to day living is so difficult, I want nothing for him but happiness.

I remember the turning point of my life. An old friend , a college buddy I?ve stayed in touch with over the years, is a state trooper. He?s had training in mental issues, and is also a youth expert, being active in his state?s DARE program. We were talking one evening, and I was telling him about Kyle. He told me it sounded like Kyle had something called bipolar disorder. I had never heard of it, and later that night I told my wife about our discussion. She was familiar with it, and suspected this already. Kyle had been in counseling for a few years, and the counselor also suspected it. But my wife knew, and correctly so, that due to my mindset I would not be able to embrace the concept of a mental condition. And up until then she was correct. But my mind had opened up a little bit on that night.

As time went on, my knowledge of the condition increased, and I began to understand Kyle a little better. In so doing, I began to accept others, and my way of viewing life began to change. Success, in the way I defined it, was NOT possible for everyone. Success is relative to the person and their abilities. Now the challenge is to change the mindset I instilled in Kyle throughout his life, and get him to accept this also.

Oh, to be able to correct our mistakes of the past?