The Path to a Bipolar Diagnosis for a Preteen

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January 5, 2020

The Path to a Bipolar Diagnosis for a Preteen

Note: my son has given his permission for this information to be shared here

The year my son turned 12 years old he had to attend a residential treatment program two hours from our home. He heard voices, had racing thoughts and was getting very little sleep. He was out of control and we feared for his safety. All the sharp objects in the house had to be locked up and someone had to be with him at all times. We were exhausted, confused and worried for the future. We did not understand what had happened to our sweet boy who, while he had exceptional needs, had never been out of control like that before.

Professionals working with us, who hadn’t known our son previous to that crisis, had attempted to counsel us to accept that we were seeing our son’s new normal. I tried to take their advice, I tried to be okay with it but I wasn’t. I wanted our son back. Our quirky son who could play board games, go on family vacations and who laughed every day. Instead we were faced with a very sad and mad preteen who was a danger to himself and others. As I wrote to the main contact at the treatment center For me to accept anything less (than my old son back) is selling out my son. It would be failing him. When he was 7 years old we were told he might not ever read and that kids like him “never make it out of the {foster} system” and that we should “consider giving him back” and that at the very least we would need to run our home like a “boot camp”. We could have listened to that advice. We could have let it devastate us and him. But we didn’t. Instead we fought the system (and it was quite the fight) and we got to your centre and look how far he came. If I hadn’t believed in him and brought him to your centre and if you hadn’t worked with us and believed in him  – we never would have known he could get to that point.” 

A get well soon from a good friend

We pushed for a bipolar assessment because that was the only thing that seemed to make sense of his behaviour. We knew he did not have all the classic symptoms but we wanted the assessment anyway. Several people involved with our son did think Bipolar was a possibility and I felt great fear with regard to the diagnosis. They looked at me with such pitying stares that it terrified me to the core. Was it possibly better to not get the diagnosis – was a diagnosis of Bipolar going to help us in the long run? When he received the diagnosis I cried – out of relief and out of fear. At the time I did not realize that I had also been diagnosed as Bipolar (I later found it in my medical records) and a close family member would be diagnosed as well. I didn’t realize how much the right medication combination would give us a stability that we had never experienced with him before. Medications that would allow him to return to school full time, graduate high school with a diploma and later head to College. A diagnosis is not everything. It does not define who a person is, or at least it shouldn’t. But a diagnosis can lead the way to proper medications, treatment and accommodations not to mention a full and productive life.

Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak is a 40-something mom and wife with two spirited boys. She has worked in early intervention and as an advocate resource for families with a loved one with a disability. Now she also writes a blog about raising children with complex needs, trying not to lose your sense of self as you parent, and her struggles with mental health.

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