Raising children while living with Bip, the bipolar dragon, (see Can I Schedule a Nervous Breakdown?) has been the biggest challenge of my life and theirs. With severe, inexplicable and confusing mood swings, each day was unknown territory. Neither I nor my children ever knew when Bip would raise her head and breathe fire. My oldest daughter became the watch-child. It was her job to gage how I was doing and take the appropriate action to deal with the younger children.
You might think that it couldn’t be that difficult to gage my moods, but you would be wrong. Here are some examples of what my children dealt with on a regular basis. Most of these are about my oldest daughter because she, I’m sorry to say, took the brunt of it.
Making Bread: My daughter was about 11 and she was learning to make bread. While transporting the eggs from the refrigerator to the table she dropped one. Bip’s head came up immediately and breathed fire all over this sweet child. She was in tears as she cleaned up the egg with the help of the dog. She started mixing the ingredients and was using the hand mixer for the initial mixing. After she started adding flower I told her that she needed to do the rest by hand because the mixer was not made for bread dough. A few minutes later I smelled smoke and my daughter started to cry. There was smoke coming from the motor of my brand new mixer. It was dead. Mom gently put her arms around this crying child and told her that next time she should listen. Mom told her that she loved her, dried the tears and encouraged her to finish the bread. It was absolutely delicious!
Saturdays: This was the day that we did the thorough cleaning. Beds were striped and made. Rooms were picked up. Bathrooms were cleaned. The whole house was vacuumed. Some days were better than others. This particular day had gone extremely well. The kids had gone in and completed all their chores before lunch. I was feeling happy and relaxed. We were enjoying an afternoon together. Then it happened. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember Bip spreading her wings and chastising my children. The fire shot out of her mouth in one huge stream. There were wide frightened eyes and tears. Then, Bip turned on me. With claws of guilt she punctured my heart. Gathering my children to me I apologized through tears. I promptly sent myself to my room until I could be better behaved.
Depression Days: Many days I was so depressed that I just went through the motions automatically. This was the reason that I had developed ridged routines. I remember looking at my children through a dark tunnel and thinking what I wouldn’t give to just be happy for them. These were the days when the babies would just snuggle with me. We would put on their favorite movies while the big kids were in school and snuggle on the couch. I would close my eyes and hang on to those two little boys for dear life. Their little arms around my neck and the smell of their hair kept me in this world.
This was, unfortunately, what life was like in our home. My oldest daughter became adept at taking the baby from me and recommending I take a nap. She also became very good at find things for her younger siblings to do that were away from me. I was helpless to stop what was happening and she did not understand, but she tried her best to be helpful.
I did seek help. Often. I would go see my OB/GYN because I was having female problems. I would go see my doctor because I was always tired. I thought I was losing my mind, but everyone told me the same thing: There is nothing medically wrong with you. You just need to get more rest. You are pregnant. You just had a baby. You are over-scheduled. You are just feeling stressed. (DUH!) Then, of course, there was my favorite. It’s all in your head.
I decided to take matters into my own hands. I began researching depression and stress management. I knew the basics, but I thought that I could do more if I had a better understanding. I read articles in magazines. I watched specials on TV. I talked to my doctors. I spent years studying. As I learned new things I would put my knowledge into action.
I began exercising regularly because it helps with stress and fatigue. I would go for a walk every morning. I would walk 1.5-2 miles while my children got ready for school. I started doing some strengthening exercises and worked on improving my eating habits. I started sleeping better and feeling a little more energetic.
I took time everyday for journal writing. I would write down what was happening everyday as well as how I felt about it. I wrote about Bip and her behaviors. I studied my experiences with Bip, but could find no rhyme or reason for how she behaved. Putting things down on paper helped to get them out of my head. It also allowed me to find some perspective about what I was doing and what I could eliminate to lessen my stress.
I started every day with personal prayer and meditation. This gave me some time the find my center and at least start the day in a semi-stable frame of mind. I would make a list of what needed to be done that day and check all my appointments so that I could carefully measure out my energy through the day.
I continued the deep breathing exercises, the self-hypnosis, the concentrated relaxation and the left brain to right brain processing. These are things that I had been doing for years and were now almost second nature. These were my emergency backup procedures when the others weren’t quite doing the job.
These are very valuable tools in handling everyday stresses. Just little changes in our daily routine can improve how we feel about life. Doing these things was very helpful for me, but they don’t do much about dragons. (More about dragons to come.)