Being bipolar means, by definition, being very moody. Even on my meds and with my counseling and the rest of my recovery work, my mood fluctuates. There is no cure all. And that means I move between a few different moods that last for days or weeks or sometimes months on end. And this can have some side effects for the boys, at least I think it does. For example, this week I’ve been hypomanic. Now, my hypomania looks a little different than other people’s. I am more apt to spend money, but I don’t go overboard; I want to get out and go, but I don’t disappear; I become quite sexual, but don’t act outside my marriage bed; I don’t sleep much, but don’t have 2 and 3 sleepless nights others have. What really distinguishes me, though, is that my irritation and agitation level go through the roof. Everything annoys me because my mind is spinning so fast and I have so much going through my brain that to focus that energy on anything else is quite very difficult and quite frustrating. I have a hard time holding conversations because people just can’t keep up or the conversation loses interest to me after a minute or two (or before for some). And, well, my boys are the people around me the most and bear the brunt of my agitation and irritation.
If you did not know, I am a work-from-home-dad. When my oldest was born, I was a doctoral student in the Theology program at Loyola University Chicago. We moved 7 weeks after he was born to the hometown my wife and I share because she got a better job (and, most importantly, one with insurance for our new son; although, like most jobs it took a bit for it to kick in). So, I stayed with him while my wife worked. My mom watched him on the days that I had to be in Chicago for class or get books. After my classes ended, he was there for the entire writing of my dissertation. During my final year of dissertation work, my second son was born. He stayed with me too. And, while the plan was that after I finished I would find a job being a professor, after 2008 a lot of jobs were gone and my family was settled well. I took a job at a church, found out I was going to be a dad again, and, well, here we are. I stay home with 3 boys and try to get a little work done. I teach online and run Here/Hear.
What I try to get my kids to understand sometimes is how much they have impacted my life. I wouldn’t be here without them. I stopped looking for academic jobs for them. I embraced a life I never would have for them. And if this sounds bitter, it isn’t. It’s the depth of feeling, of my love, for my kids (and my wife). I got help and am in recovery for my mental illness because of them. My life is completely different than what I ever dreamed because of my kids. And that’s beautiful and frustrating to me.
So, back to the formation of my kids. All of these emotions swirl for me at times, especially when I am especially irritable and agitated. When my mind is racing, it’s hard for me to do what I need to for my kids because they are simply an annoyance. And it kills me. It hurts me that I hurt them or treat them with indifference or annoyance or anger; that these reactions come as a result of my illness more than how I truly feel. I want them to know that I love them deeply and would give up everything else for them and expect them to do the same for others. I don’t want them formed in a way that echoes my illness.
But, to end, I’m a little disappointed in this post. It’s not what I wanted to write. That’ll be another post, I assume (this is the hypomanic problem – I’ve can’t keep thoughts long enough to be productive). What I wanted to say is that my greatest fear is that my kids will be like me, suffering from bipolar disorder or some other mental illness. I don’t handle it well always, despite my attempts. But, I also don’t want them to think that it is ok to treat people poorly because you are annoyed, agitated, irritated. No, I want them to learn to do the other things their mom and I have done, which is give up certain hopes and dreams we had in order to give them a better life. I want them to love deeply and to feel deeply, like both their parents do, I worry to death about the people they are becoming and am hopeful that in the end they will be the people that God created them to be.