The last few weeks/months, I have spent a lot of time thinking about my support system. It is difficult because I truly believe there are people in my system that I do not even know are part of the system. People that I see on the day-to-day who are part of my life but do not realize their place matters as much to me as it does. And then there are the people in life who are obviously part of my support system, people with whom I spend a lot of time. This is mostly family, as family is the place where I find my greatest support. And the person, family or otherwise, who I spend the most time with is definitely my youngest child, Ryder.

Now, Ryder is interesting, to say the least. At the time that this posts, he will have just had his fifth birthday. He has an obsession with video games and all things electronic. He loves McDonald’s. He has a big heart, most of the time. He is also ultra competitive and hates to lose, does not like to feel like he has been made less than anyone else, and is generally quite sensitive. However, he loves life, smiles much, and takes a lot in. He also hates to go to bed or take a nap, but still sleeps pretty well.

And, right now, he is my only human companion most of the time. You see, he stays home with me during the day. I work, he plays and torments our new dog. In general, we have a good relationship and it will be weird when he goes to school all day next year.

Ryder My Helper

Ryder has the distinct fact that his entire life I have been diagnosed as bipolar; or, at least, for the vast majority. There was not.a time that he can remember or that he was really around that I did not have to take meds, that I was not going to counseling, that I was not seeing a psychiatrist. You see, my diagnosis came in August, while his birth was the previous March. So, his life has been with a dad who suffers from mental illness and is in treatment, unlike my other two sons who have had a dad both in and out of recovery.

My wife and I joke that Ryder is my therapy dog, that he fills the basic needs I have that, at times, become very hard to do on my own. For example, Ryder is extremely extroverted. As a 5 year old boy, he does not always act socially acceptable (he barked at a colleague the other day), but he loves everyone and does not understand why all people would not want to only say “hi” to him, but sit down and have a conversation. We seriously go through Target or the grocery store and he says “hi” to everyone, asks people questions, and is generally there to lively up the place.

I am not like this. I can avoid places so that I do not have to talk to people. But, he makes me engage people, even just to explain to them why he would think their green sweater might be hiding the Hulk (something he actually said to a lady). Just by virtue of the fact that I am with him, I must be social because he is so social (the other day we had a conversation with a widower at a local coffee shop and it was quite beautiful).

Ryder also asks me if I am ok quite a bit. If I am in my office working or at the table on my computer, he comes and checks on me. He does not believe that I should be alone (he’s actually playing a game on the Kindle right next to me as I right this and keeps asking me what I am doing). He often snuggles up next to me on the couch when I am simply watching TV or reading a book. He also moves his chair so that it touches mine when we are sitting at the table doing art or eating or whatever we are doing. He just has to be close to me and love on me and it makes me feel incredible, even though it also can be bothersome to me (oh the joys of having bipolar).

Helping Ryder

Earlier this year, we decided to take Ryder out of preschool. He was getting some negative reinforcement at the school that we did not think was positive and he was losing some of the positivity that went with being him. We do not blame the school or the teachers, necessarily, but there was a confluence of factors and we thought it was the best decision.

One of the things that worried us was that he started saying, “Everyone hates me” and “No one loves me” and stuff like that. The school did not say this to him, but he picked these feelings up there. And I really feel a lot of guilt for this because these are feelings that I have and have had in the past. These are the feelings that I struggle with day in and day out. And I do not want him to struggle like I do, I do not want him to feel anything like I feel. There’s nothing, right now, to say that he will, but that’s a dramatic fear that I have.

To help Ryder with these feelings, we have spent a lot of time reinforcing that he is loved by his parents and his brothers and grandparents and cousins. We have also tried to steer him out of some of the places where he gets in trouble and where these feelings can rise up. Mostly, though, we encourage him and hope to be the encouragement and love to him that he is to all of us.

To be honest, being with Ryder day in and day out can be a trial. He’s a 5 year old boy and he has lot of energy and is strong willed and all of that stuff. But he’s also a nurturer and helper and wants to love people and be with people. I learn a lot from him and, with his birthday so close, I thought I’d give a little insight into him. He really is my helper and I have no idea how lost I will be without him next year. I guess the dog and I will figure it out.