In Which The Truth Comes Out

I’m house cleaning. Music pours through the empty halls and off the walls as I wait for three of my five kids to make the 45-minute trip from their dad’s house back home. I’m in the kitchen, and I can hear the shuffle of the melodies from the living room.

Eminem – Tenth Avenue North – Susan Graham – Michael Roe – U2 – Willie Nelson – A.R. Rahman – Andrew Bird – Dave Matthews – Jay Z – Lecrae – Hillsong – Sting –

I’m unsure about so many things these days, including what kind of music I want. So I put it on shuffle. It works brilliantly. There’s a little bit of everything – a LOT of everything!

I think, to myself, “This music….it’s like I’m schizophrenic or something…” and I imagine me saying that to someone, because I do that, sometimes, when I’ve spent a few too many hours alone.

And I pull up short in that moment. It’s that word, schizophrenia. Because I have learned, recently, that comparing the challenges of a mental illness like schizophrenia to the razzle-dazzle of an eclectic music collection meets a wide range of criteria for wrong.

There is no comparison. Bad analogy.

I’m not schizophrenic. I just have diverse taste in music. I don’t have a mental illness.

But my daughter does.


There it is. I said it. The truth is out.

And oh, the roaring rush of wind that blows through mind as I even type those words…it is loud and it is fast and it blows where it will. And I can’t control it.

So I am giving up control. I have decided (with her permission) to let it go.

It seems, at times, that we live in two separate worlds. It’s not the biggest secret; there are many who will read these words and acknowledge what was confided months ago. Coming out is no surprise to all.

But we have lived in this other place, where we read blogs about bipolar and pass around a book called Loving Someone Who Is Bipolar and we talk about and pray for friends who are exhibiting symptoms that we recognize so well. We talk about our extended family, and those who have gone before, some undiagnosed, and what cousins are struggling still. We see the scarred branches of our particular family tree and have learned to find new names for what we once simply called moody. Or over the top. Or intense. Or hyper.

And we live in this place where we are all just a bit sensitive to the mania and the depression and the way the tendrils of either one can wrap around our legs and throw us on our collective asses.

Bipolar disease has changed our family dramatically, because we live here, now.

Sarah was diagnosed just a few weeks after her 19th birthday. Calling it what it was – naming this thing that was bouncing off the walls and scratching itself bloody on our backsides – led to a decision (hers, mostly) to walk into St. Mary’s psych ward here in Richmond. Reliving those moments as I watched my child – my baby girl! my daughter! my beautiful child! – walk through doors locked to keep me out as much as to keep her in brings hot, tense tears even now.

Of all the things that life has brought; of the many mistakes I have made, the pain I have caused, the injuries I have inflicted, the wounds I have felt, nothing – absolutely nothing – compares of the utter agony of a suffering child.

My suffering child.

And me, rendered completely incapable of helping her. In fact, quite the opposite, as therapy and hot dialogue reveal that the initial triggers all connect to me, somehow. Those tight, tense strings of maternal love and affection can also carry deadly, destructive disease.

I am her mother. I bring healing, and I bring pain.

There is a special place for this sort of motherhood. I’ve yet to determine any analogy, any comparison. I know this: that there is a depth to my soul untouched and likely unreachable by anything but the fiery coals that sear this tainted love, the kind that rages within the boundaries of mania and weeps with the despair of depression. Only this particular, unforgettable fire burns this deep. None other that I have felt.

I love my daughter. She is bipolar. And we will never be the same.


Sarah is incredibly wise and proactive and continues to embrace – even to own her life, in a full and vibrant way. The challenges of living with mental illness are greater for her, the affected individual, than any of the rest of us; but Sarah has a unique, God-given ability to consider others around her. Perhaps it’s because she is the eldest, the “big sister”. Years of looking out for everybody else created habits and patterns of bold love and heartfelt kindness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Today, she sent a note to me and to her sisters, quoting a book she is reading. It was the trigger to finally tug these words out from beyond the walls of our house and into the light.

So, now you know. And I wonder if some of you read this post and were surprised.

It’s everywhere. There are people and families all around us who live with bipolar and other mental illness. The spectrum of treatment and life engagement varies wildly. You never know.

In opening the door to our situation, we hope to offer an invitation toward healing for other families who are living with bipolar disease or other mental illness. And we want to help eliminate the stigma. Everyone around you is carrying some sort of burden. Some of them struggle with mental illness. Don’t forget that.

Here’s the quote Sarah sent us, how she is helping her siblings walk this road:

The effects of mental illness on brothers and sisters
Mental illness can lead to a variety of emotional effects for brothers and sisters of the affected person. For example, they may feel:
Confusion about their sibling’s changed behaviour.
Embarrassment about being in the affected person’s company.
Jealous of their parent’s attention.
Resentment about not being like their peers.
Fear of developing the mental illness.

What brothers and sisters can and can’t do
What you can do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can:
Talk honestly about your feelings and encourage others in the family to do the same.
Be active in improving mental health services – for example, through local mental health support groups.
Avoid making the ill person the axis around which the family revolves.
Maintain your focus on living and enjoying your own life.
What you can’t do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can’t:
Be totally responsible for their welfare.
Make your sibling behave in a certain way – for example, force them to take their medication.
Solve all their problems or feel you ought to.
Lessen the impact of the illness by pretending that it is not there.

And this is the back story, then, to the tremendous emotion behind that post I wrote. You see, leaving home and taking this step towards her future was something that she wasn’t sure she’d ever really be able to do. That’s why we cried; that’s why we rejoice.

You never know.



Add yours →

  1. Oh, Beth, hugs to you and to your family. There is something healing and empowering about letting these kind of family secrets out in the open, as hard as it is to do.

    Blessings on each of y'all as you all walk this road.

    You are right, there is no worse pain than the suffering of your beloved child. Of this I am certain: God will not abandon you nor you child in whatever pain and suffering you pass through.

    Love you, Beth and I will pray for you and your family.


  2. barbara finstad April 16, 2012 — 3:52 am

    After reading this, my heart instantly recalled a few words from a song…..
    There is a Savior
    What joys expressed
    His eyes are mercy
    His word is rest
    For each tomorrow
    For yesterday
    There is a Savior
    Who lights our way

    Praying that you are feeling God's peace right now.
    Bless you…and especially Sarah.

    Barbara Finstad


  3. <3

    I am so unbelievably, incredibly, immensely, glad that I know you.

    Love, and love, and love to you.


  4. YOu made me think of this poem with your post:

    “Welcome to Holland”
    by Emily Perl Kingsley.

    I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

    When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

    After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome To Holland”.

    “Holland?!?” you say, “What do you mean “Holland”??? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy”

    But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

    The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

    So you must go and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

    It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills…Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

    But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned”.

    And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

    But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.


  5. Beth,
    This is just beginning for you and your family! What a blessing she was diagnosed and is now wise enought to educate herself about this mental illness. I am a therapist and have had many bipolar patients. To me, it can be a gift. You have the capicity to experience life in a way others don't. You get the extremes. You see the world differently. You feel like differently. You connect to others differently. I am sure with your help your daughter will live with bipolar disorder and live WELL. With medication if she is going down that road, life can be very similar to everyone elses. However, I feel it is so important to educate yourself first in order to understand yourself and why it has been so tough to be “you”. We are who we are by God. Make no mistakes about that. She can use this too to reach others even if its just embracing that extra little empathy she may have for someone else she sees sad or overexcited! I know most of my patients really struggled with trusting THEMSELVES. This makes life so hard for them. When you can regain this trust to self and know that You are You in God alone and that who you are is not connected to your mental disorder than it becomes just another challenge to face. I love seeing the people behind these mental illnesses. They are still there, strong and true, wonderful human beings. They just get lost alot of times in their own emotions. Self care is so important with Bipolar as well. It will force you to treat yourself and your physical body with the upmost respect. You have to! So just treat yourself the way God would. Once understanding comes and healing happens, your family will heal and all of you will be thankful for this experience. I am sure perhaps your daughter is somewhat relieved to know what the heck was going on with her! I could talk this all day from a lover of Christ to a therapist in the field.
    Just wanted to say that I have seen many folks live productive HAPPY and PURPOSEFUL lives regardless of a diagnosis of bipolar:) There is something to be learned in those spots of utter dispair of depression that comes with bipolar and also the utter JOY that comes with it too! I hope she can reflect and find those things and cherish the lessons learned. This is her walk:) Great she has such a loving MAMA:)
    Many thoughts and prayers to you and yours!!


  6. Thank you ALL for your comments and encouragement! To “Anonymous” – I have a friend who was touched by your words and wonders if she could possibly connect with you? If you'd be willing to identify yourself, you can let me know. bethbrawley {at} gmail {dot} com. Thanks!


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