Tales From The Other Side: “Growing Up With An Untreated Bipolar Mom”

Read about one woman's experience growing up with a mom who had untreated bipolar disorder-on bettysbattleground.com

Tales from the Other Side: A guest post series on www.bettysbattleground.comToday’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.

Blogger Christy Zelaya opens up about growing up with a mom who had untreated bipolar disorder on bettysbattleground.comChristy 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

Learn what it's like to have a mom whose biplolar disorder goes chronically untreated-on bettysbattleground.com

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.  

Christy and her sisters grew up with a demanding mother whose untreated bipolar disorder ruled their lives. Learn more on bettysbattleground.com

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.  

As adults, Christy and her two sisters still struggle to manage life after their experiences growing up a mom who did not seek treatment for her bipolar disorder. Learn more on bettysbattleground.com

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.

If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to subscribe so you can get access to more Betty’s Battleground!

Til next time.

24 thoughts on “Tales From The Other Side: “Growing Up With An Untreated Bipolar Mom”

  1. I do not have words to express how I feel after reading this Christy. I cannot imagine how difficult your childhood must have been. As adults we can understand our parents better, but as kids it is all too much. I appreciate your candor in sharing your story. I am better informed because of it. Sending you and your family my best!

    ❥ tanvii.com

    • This was my Life in so many ways, but after age 11 my father died and I was alone. I’m almost 60 yrs old now. I was dx’ed with PTSD when I was 38. I have not been able to leave my home without taking medication for 2 years. I need help! I have 2 wonderful grandson’s & I’m missing out on watching them grow up. I had a stroke Nov. 2017. I need another surgery because I could have another stroke that could kill me anytime. I love my grand children so much, please tell me where to go to get help. God bless you for telling your story.

      • I am so sorry that you are struggling so much. You certainly deserve to be able to enjoy your beautiful grandchildren. It’s hard to point you to a specific place to get help since I don’t know where you live and I am also not a social worker or other kind of mental health professional, but I can tell you that writing, mindfulness practices (like meditation, yoga, or even just mindful eating/walking), and talk therapy through a local provider have been essential to my personal recovery. Bessel van der Kolk is a renowned PTSD researcher who has done a lot of studies on the effectiveness of yoga in trauma recovery; this is something that has also helped me–but given your physical health issues, I would definitely recommend seeing a physician first. He or she should be able to recommend some safe poses that will be able to help relax you and reenage you with your body in ways you can manage without putting you through too much stress.

  2. Christie,
    I know exactly what you mean. The bad part is, my story is just like yours with a twist. I ended up that way. The ONLY difference between us, I knew something was wrong when I started doing the same thing. I did get help. My children were suffering. I NEVER hit them. That is the ONE thing that I didn’t agree with. I left 2 men over them starting to abuse them. They wanted me to go back and I would NOT go there. My children were still my world. I loved to snuggle with them and still do. Long enough to watch a movie or see them fall asleep. Playing games with them. Reading to them. These were always my downtime. It took a lot for me to go off… but it happened. I tried to get help and they wanted to treat it as depression. They did that for almost 14 years. I finally found a doctor that knew exactly what was wrong with me. That is when I found out that bipolar comes in 1 and 2. My brother is 1, I am 2. Our father is 1 and our mother is 2. Our father, we never knew because my mother took us and ran…only to be treated the same as I had done. She never got help. I did find out that the type 2 is offset from not being treated by depression when it starts. Mine was never treated as a teenager… which led to the type 2. My teenagers still remember the way that I was, but hope that my youngest will not! I cannot take generics because of some unknown reason. If I do, it returns. I have to take name brand medicine or I end up yelling again. I have NEVER held my hand up to my children, never hit them. I did chase one of my daughters up the stairs because she told me to leave her alone (and in my right state of mind) when I told her to stop doing something. When I tried to grab her shirt after telling her to come back, she didn’t. So I in turn chased her. When I went to grab her shirt, I accidentally grabbed her hair. I felt so bad about that. I was actually taking the right meds. I took her back downstairs with me and made her sit on the bed while she cried. Afterwards, I had to explain to her. I think that was the hardest thing for me to do and hurt me so bad.
    I do know that when I was growing up, she never wanted anything to do with me. When I had my own children, she turned them against me. She made me out to be the worlds worse curse on this planet.
    I stole their money and spent it all on me.
    I lied about everything. Never told the truth about even the smallest of things.
    I didn’t want anything to do with them to begin with. (When it was she that wouldn’t let me.)
    I never wanted them.
    The list keeps going with what she told them. I am still unsure to this day of what she has told them. However, they finally realized who was actually the one that done those things. It’s bad that it took my dad passing away and her becoming violent to the point that she tried to hit my 16 (at the time) year old daughter. If I hadn’t have jumped in between them, she would have. Then she started telling me to stay out of it. It wasn’t my business. I was already numb to the fact of her yelling and threatening to hit me, but my daughter wasn’t. My daughter started yelling for us to stop. I told her the best thing for her to do (my mother) was to get out and not come back. The house was ours and she was NOT going to hit anyone under any circumstances. She gave me that death glare and her eyes were like a raccoon’s. She was so mad that I finally (at the age of 36) stood up to her.
    I have in turn spent the last 2 years enjoying the life of being a mother without her causing issues. I’ve been closer to my children and a better mom, the mom I have always wanted to be!
    Stand up to her, no matter what. I did. My life has been better and I feel better. I am not weak anymore. I became numb to what she presents. l want you to know that you are not weak. You have a backbone. You grow one when you have children. You just don’t know it’s there until it comes to protecting them. NO matter what or who it is. If she wants to see them, lay down ground rules before hand. NEVER leave her alone with your children. If she starts talking about something that you don’t think is appropriate for your children, take them and leave. If she starts throwing a fit, tell her it’s her issue that caused it. To get help.
    I’ve been through a whole lot too. It’s not easy. It will tare you apart and you really should know that you are NOT the ONLY one out there. I am one too.
    I wish you well. Remember one thing for me, you have others our here that are much like you too. We are all dealing in our own ways. You can fight the food addiction too. It’s going to be hard to do. But you can do it!

  3. I am so thankful i found your post.
    i wish i could speak with you privatley about this.
    exact same experience.
    mom had no other children. dad left when i was under a year

    i resonate with the cleaning i remember the same washing floors and her just screaming do it again !!!
    In mu face I would hyperventilate.
    She wont take meds.
    I am LITERALLY the only family she has.
    I hate her disease.
    I dont have a mum <\3
    Im from Canada. hugs ♡

  4. I also grew up with a mother who had untreated bipolar. It was hell. She has 4 children (youngest is 41) and none of us include her in anything we do. She has no one. No siblings or cousins or anything. Not even us. Abuse left and right and being as selfish as she was will leave you lonely. Feels great to finally be in control of my life. Even though it’s a mental illness, for our own sakes, we can’t really be around her much at all. Oh well. Such is life.

  5. This post was incredibly similarl to my childhood. My mom loved bingo and wewould walk on eggshells on the weekend for fear of an outburst. I remember watching cartyons and anxious about what would happen when she woke up. I am still figuring it all out and making sure my child has a better life. I am also from Canada.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It really hit deep as I too experienced this similar childhood with an untreated bipolar single mother. I thought I was the only one who grew up this way. The walking on eggshells. The constant unknown if it was going to be a good or bad day. Because you are so right about the good days. When she was happy it was so good and happy. But the lows and the rage were a complete and utter nightmare. As crazy as this may sound, the physical abuse didn’t hurt as bad as the verbal abuse. The hate that came with my mother’s words when she was raging was excruciating. And she would hate me for a week or 2 and then miracoulously one day everything was perfect and “let’s go shopping!” It takes such a toll on your mental well being. You are not allowed to speak a word about your feelings or what exactly happened to mom. I stopped speaking to my mother 10 years ago. I couldn’t do it anymore. I started therapy and it has taken me many years to work on my codepency. I can honestly say my life started 10 years ago.

  7. Thank you for sharing. I had a very similar childhood. The cleaning. The sporadiac trips of shopping and impulse buying that lead us to think it was really for us.

    My mother just blew all my grandmothers money that was suppose to be used to take care of her mother. I am here to pick up the pieces.

    I hate mental illness and I hope rveryone finds peace and treatment in time. One love.

  8. Christy,
    your article brought tears to my eyes. I am one of three sisters who also grew up with an untreated bipolar mother. Thank you for making me and my sisters not feel so alone. We are coming to a head recently with my mother and her condition. In the last two years my mothers parents and the glue of our family passed away and my mom has been going in a downward spiral since. It has become so bad that now other family members are noticing what me and my sisters have lived with all this time. Thank you for sharing your story and I wish you and your sisters well.

  9. I am sorry that this was your childhood and unfortunately I can relate. We had very similar experiences with our Mothers and really we (& our siblings) were robbed of having ordinary childhoods. As much as I loathe the illness and tried to justify her actions over the years, I resent her not keeping her illness in check. We deserved better. Our children will have better. Best of luck to you and your siblings.

  10. Jesus Christ everything u said is my mother so much so I got goosebumps reading this. My mom during the holidays was exactly how u described ur mom she did it up loved celeberating it but anything we did not to her liking ruined her day and in return she would degrade me and my siblings for that day and many days to come. How said her going to bingo was peaceful for everyone is exactly how my mom is when she goes out me and my siblings are great all of us hanging out spending time with each other watching TV together in the living room but as soon as we heard her pull up we’d all run to our rooms her ever was the unlucky one and didn’t get up fast enough was the one who got degraded and yelled at for simply being in the living room. I was hoping ur story had a happy ending or something showing how u conquered the torment of your mother. If so I’d love to know.

  11. Thank You for sharing your story, it made me realize that I am not alone …my mother is also a very aggressive bipolar and it is hell to live with her. Reading your story made me realize that I need to distance myself from her in order to have a chance to live peacefully. Thank You again and again !!!

  12. My mother is a complete hellion. She was a nightmare to grow up with and is STILL causing pain to me and our family any chance she gets. She finds fault in absolutely everything. She was either a saint and buying us extravagant gifts or screaming at us and telling us were were a mistake and the reason she hates her life. To this day I’m still trying to trust women because of the shit she put us through. During this quarantine, my best friend drove me down to drop of groceries and a care package for her and my dad and she wouldn’t leave her room, then she sent a nasty email saying “John (my dad) doesn’t like your friend and neither do I.” She just a terrible person and I struggle with the fact that she birthed me.

    • I’m so sorry, Amy. I can’t imagine what that’s like. My mother has said some terrible things to me, and it’s deeply hurtful, but this sounds extreme. I hope you are able to get through the quarantine safely.

      I’m sorry to bug you with this also, but I have two little girls who I love very much. I think it’s just as traumatic to be ripped from a loving home as it is to be forced to stay in a chaotic one; child services is supposed to protect against these situations, but too often it misses the abuse, and targets families who should be together. Mine is the latter, and my daughters know it. I have a petition honoring their requests to come home–will you sign and share it? https://www.change.org/ReuniteBricoFamily

  13. Hello great article it is a good thing for me to read about someone growing up. In a household with a mentally ill mother. But i can say for sure its something really mentally ill with her she has a gambling addiction, she hoards and might be the most negative person i have ever encountered. She singlehandedly destroyed. Our family she puts us against each other shows favoritism to one. And nothing we do for her is enough to this day my life has been hell because i am a people pleaser i learned it at a young age to do whatever to make mommy happy but it never worked all the lying and manipulation was the rule of everyday. My mother almost let my father die because of her hoarding and didn’t want the paramedics in the house because all the junk and she thought she would get into some kind of trouble. And now that she is late 80s she is even worst so if i never see her again im totally fine with that.

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