Now whether it is as a result of my environment – having spent the day sat in hospital today with very little to distract my mind – or whether it is just that this thought has only just filtered its way through the cacophony of thoughts that have been bombarding my consciousness lately, I cannot tell.
But what I can tell is that the whole subject of the genetic implications of Bipolar Disorder and indeed how my bipolar disorder will affect my children have very much been at the forefront of my thoughts today.
As a parent who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder the question, “how likely is that my child (or my children) will also have Bipolar Disorder?” is I think a perfectly natural one and I would suggest one not only asked by parents.
Certainly it is my understanding that when it comes to genetic factors associated with Bipolar Disorder, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) state that studies focused on twins, adoption, and family history, have demonstrated a strong role that genetics plays in the development of bipolar disorder and that those with first-degree blood relatives who have or had bipolar disorder increased their own risk of developing the disorder by four to six fold. (1)
And let me tell you that as a parent who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder myself that is, at first, quite a scary thought!
Actually in my own situation it is fairly academic at this time. The fact is that I already have children. In fact although I was aware of my mental health issues even as a child – primarily because I ‘heard voices’ (which are actually associated with my schizophrenia) and exhibited numerous other symptoms – the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder was not made until much later in life and long after the birth of my son. In respect of my adopted children of course any one of them could possibly have Bipolar Disorder.
So if this is the case then why am I even considering the question, “Bipolar Disorder – What will my children’s inheritance be?”
Well the reason is simple. It is because a) even though this diagnosis, for me personally, came long after the birth of my son, the fact is that I probably had the illness long before his conception and b) because when it comes to Bipolar Disorder and our children, their inheritance is surely more than just the sum of our genetics.
Actually those who know me well will know that I have numerous children – one biological and several adopted. And let me tell you that in terms of differentiating between them ‘genetics’ is about the only area where I consider my biological child to be different to my adopted children.
In terms of my biological child, he is now 21 years of age and thankfully I see no indicative signs of his having inherited the illness (although that in itself is no guarantee) – and the poor lad didn’t get away totally free – he still has many of my characteristics and features poor thing. (Is there any hope for him I ask?)
And I think that is an important fact to remember. The above mentioned statement from AACAP does NOT in any way suggest that children of Bipolar Disorder sufferers WILL inherit the disorder just that the changes are significantly (my definition) increased.
In terms of my adopted children some of them do indeed have mental health issues which of course have no link to my genetics since we are not biologically linked.
So that leaves us with the other consideration to consider – that when it comes to our children what in respect of our Bipolar Disorder will their inheritance be outside of any genetics?
I have to be totally honest here, and certainly this is a question that Stephen Fry tackled in his documentary ‘The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive’, in amongst the pitfalls, drawbacks, often traumatic and sometime devastating effects of this illness I experience numerous blessings and rewards that whilst I cannot prove are directly linked to my having Bipolar Disorder I am convinced are greatly influenced by it.
Do I have Bipolar Disorder? Yes, I do.
Does it often place me and those around me in a position of having to deal with manic episodes that include such things as; expansive or irritable moods, a decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, rapid or pressured speech, inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, excessive involvement in pleasurable but risky activities, increased physical or mental energy or activity and even hallucinations or delusions? Yes absolutely!
Does it also place me and those around me in a position of having to deal with many opposing things such as; frequent sadness, hopelessness, decreased interest in activities and/or an inability to enjoy previously favored activities, along with bouts of persistent boredom, decreased energy, social isolation, poor communication, low self esteem and even guilt? Yes it does!
Can I often be extremely sensitivity to rejection or failure, demonstrate increased irritability, anger, or hostility, have great difficulty with relationships and even be unable to undertake regular activities or hold down a proper job as a result of all of these things plus; poor concentration, major changes in eating or sleeping patterns, coupled with compulsive urges to run away and hide and even because of the regular thoughts or bouts of suicidal thoughts or self-destructive behavior? Again absolutely.
But is this all I am? NO not in a million years! Does it make me unbearable? NO of course not! (well only sometimes lol) Would I want others and especially my children to see me as JUST a Bipolar Sufferer or to have any idea that being a Bipolar Sufferer makes the sum total of my life NOT worth living? NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!
I am a Bipolar Sufferer and I have other mental illnesses to boot and I will not deny this. But neither will I apologize for it and neither will I teach my children to be ashamed of, embarrassed by, or even mournful of it. Because the minute that shame, that embarrassment or that mourning becomes the focus then I, the person behind the illness, the parent who wants so desperately to demonstrate his love for them despite that illness, become lost and no child needs to lose the right to his or her loving parent and no loving parent needs to lose the right to his or her children.
Bipolar Disorder – What will my children’s inheritance be? Well if I have anything to do with it my children’s inheritance will be this….
A realistic knowledge of it.
A healthy understanding of it.
A real and reasonable expectation of the person who has it.
The ability to see, reach out to, relate to, and love the person who has it.
and above all else, the ability to be loved by the person who has it.
That, I pray, will be my children’s inheritance when it comes to Bipolar Disorder and here’s the deal, not only do I want that for my children in respect of their Dad who has bipolar but I also want so much for it to be for themselves if any of them do have it.