Today’s guest blogger, Christy, grew up in a household with a mother who had untreated Bipolar Disorder. I can’t claim to have the same experience, or anything remotely like it, but I do have an aunt who has untreated Bipolar disorder. We stopped speaking a couple years ago when she started calling me a bitch, excusing herself because of her own disorder, and then gaslighting my PTSD. Ever since then, I have occasionally seen rude comments about me that she’s left on other family’ member’s accounts. Anyway, she lives in New York so I don’t have to really bother with her, but I learned today that she’s coming to Seattle, AND she’s asked to see my kids. So I guess I’m gonna get to have another epic Tia A—- adventure!
Anyway, as annoying and borderline abusive as my aunt has been, it does not compare to Christy’s experiences. Please don’t misunderstand the intention of publishing this story. I in no way wish to demonize people with Bipolar Disoder. I previously hosted an interview and guest post by a Sheila O’Donnell, a lovely blogger living with BPAD. I published an author interview with Rebecca Lombardo, who wrote a book about her experiences being Bipolar. The late, and beloved, Carrie Fisher was a famous mental health advocate living with the disorder. However, all of these people also pursued treatment. Whether that means medication and talk therapy, exercise and self-care, writing and reaching out, or whatever-they manage their symptoms and actively seek treatment. Mental illness does not have to be harmful. Usually, it isn’t. But if a person has a serious mental disorder and a family, that disorder will affect her family. If she doesn’t get her disorder treated, it may harm her family.
We cannot silence true stories because they don’t fit the narrative we want to tell. I am a mental health advocate. I want people to understand that mental illness or injury doesn’t make people evil or abusive. But I also cannot lie and say that when people don’t pursue treatment of any kind, everything is OK. It’s not. Those of us with mental health conditions need outside support, but we also need inner drive. Christy’s story is an example of a family that was deeply harmed because their Bipolar mother did not pursue treatment.
Christy Zelaya is 38 years old and lives in beautiful Bradenton, Florida. She lives with her husband Jose Zelaya, and their four children; two each from previous marriages. They also have two dogs who are their babies too! They have been living as a blended family for almost seven years. Jose was diagnosed with kidney failure in February of 2014 and is now on dialysis. They are hoping for a kidney transplant soon. Christy also lives with Rhematoid Arthritis, which is exacerbated by her weight issues. You can follow her journey at christyzspeaks.com.
Growing Up With An Untreated Bipolar Mom
I am 38 years old and I have two younger sisters aged 36 and 34. We all grew up in a home with an untreated Bipolar mother. I have a college degree, maintain a full time job as a staff accountant, I am married with 4 kids, and I am a blogger. I have struggled with my weight all my life. As a result of my troubled youth I have battled food addiction for as long as I can remember. When I eat, the dopamine released by my brain is soothing, but I overeat to get more and more of that dopamine. It has been explained to me that a food addiction is much like a drug addiction. We are always trying to get that soothing feeling that food provides. My middle sister is on disability and life is a struggle for her emotionally and physically. She has also been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. She has been extremely overweight since she was very small and my personal belief is that she also has a food addiction. My youngest sister was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder as well but it was later discovered that what looked like Bipolar disorder is actually PTSD, which she most likely developed as a result of living with an untreated Bipolar Mom. She has struggled financially and emotionally as a result of the trauma she faced as a child. None of us graduated high school and only two of us have our GEDs.
As you might imagine, our childhood home could be quite hostile. To put this in perspective for you, something my sisters and I all have in common is that we never understood what was wrong with the Mommy in the movie “Mommy Dearest,” starring Joan Crawford. It was a surprise to the three of us that everyone didn’t have Moms like that. I have had my head shoved violently towards the bathroom baseboards because they were not clean enough. My Mom made me clean the toilet by putting my hands in it to scrub it. She has screamed so close to my face because I didn’t wash the dishes to her satisfaction that her spittle would fly into my eyes and when I cringed, she would hit me. More than once, I had to huddle in a ball to deflect my mother’s blows when she was in a fit of rage.
I remember telling my Dad that I hated my mother when I was only 9 years old. That I wanted to run away. He would promise me that when my baby sister was 16, we would leave. These words made my dad my hero. I felt like he was on my side, he took care of us, and made our house into a home. What I didn’t realize at that young age was that my father should have been protecting us and getting my Mom help. Instead he was just as big of a victim as the rest of us. He was afraid of my mother, afraid of our family breaking up, and he talked to his 9 year old daughter about the problems in his marriage. A habit he would continue until my Mom finally left him. My hero literally kicked me when I was 15 because I wouldn’t give him information about what my Mom had said about leaving him. While we all thought our Dad was our savior, now we know he was just a coward.
As a household, we were responsible for my Mother’s moods. It was our job to make her happy; I am a people pleaser to this day. My Mom liked to go out and play Bingo at night, and we also liked her to go. I started working at the age of 12 and would often give her money for Bingo just so we could have a peaceful night. If my Mom stayed home she would be angry the whole night. We would all pay for her missing her game. Weekend mornings were scary times too. When we heard our mother get up one of us would rush to make her a cup of coffee. Saturday morning cartoons were over once she was awake. She would start yelling at us to clean the house, our rooms, the bathrooms and the kitchen. She was just so unhappy with everything, she would make sure that everyone around her was unhappy too. As far as any of us were concerned, my mother hated day to day life with us. Being home with us enraged her and she would find something to yell and scream at us about. She hated all of our friends. There were many times that she would ground us all from one or another of our friends because she would decide she didn’t like them. I can’t think of one friend that I have ever had growing up that she did not find fault with.
The strangest thing about a person with Bipolar disorder is that while they can be a nightmare, they can also be the most loving and giving person in the world. Bipolar, by definition, is a mental disorder marked by alternating periods of elation and depression. Every birthday, Easter, and Christmas she went all out. She was so happy to give us gifts and make our holidays special. She loved dressing us up for Halloween, making cookies at Christmas, and making a bunny cake at Easter. She was amazing when it came to parties, cakes and gifts. However when it came to getting her gifts, celebrating Mother’s Day, or her birthday, none of us, not even my Dad could get it right. She was usually unhappy with whatever we did for her. It was quite a triumph if we got her something that pleased her.
As an adult I somewhat understand this better now. My Mom’s love language is gifts. Therefore she was amazing at giving gifts but if she didn’t get gifted the way she would give, then her bipolar disorder did not allow her to accept the gift graciously. Therefore my sisters and I have always been a bit terrified when it comes to holidays and my Mom. You never know what her reaction will be. Did we do good enough? If we don’t get it right then we have single handedly ruined her holiday or birthday. That is a lot of pressure for a little kid, let alone a grown adult.
My sisters and I still struggle with our Mom. We have no idea what it is like to have a Mom that takes care of us instead of the other way around. We all see therapists or doctors to help us manage life as adults. We are still held responsible for her happiness and that makes it hard to be around her but we are all she has. We were brought up to make her happy and it is hard to break the habit. As far as I know, my Mom is still not taking any medications for her Bipolar Disorder.
Thank you for sharing your story here Christy. I appreciate your candor in discussing your traumatic childhood with a mother who did not seek treatment for her Bipolar Disorder.
If you’d like to leave a respectful comment for Christy and her family, please do so below.
It would also mean the world to me if you could take a couple seconds out of your day to share this on a social platform or two.
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Til next time.