Hell Is For Children

I was just reading something on Psych Central about another bipolar person who was diagnosed comparatively late in life, and being in something of a contemplative mood today, it occurred to me to wonder what her childhood was like. What little I remember of my own was blissful until I was five, at which time my sister Louise—who was the only one of our family that really nurtured me—was thrown out of the house essentially for loving the wrong boy, and I became the target of our mother’s wrath.

It’s been fifty years, but I’ve never forgotten watching Louise silently pack her things into her friend’s car, nor the feeling of being physically restrained by my mother to prevent me from running to her. “She doesn’t want to see you,” my mother said to me, setting in motion a cascade of such severe emotional problems that I developed night terrors and intrusive thoughts. Louise had literally been my caretaker for my entire life; who else would love me as she had? The feeling of being rejected by her was devastating, and it wasn’t until I learned the whole truth of that day, decades later, that the hole she’d left in my heart was filled.

Now I look back at my mother and realize that her passive-aggressiveness, her sudden rages, her drinking, her over-concern with appearances, and maybe even her lies were more than likely indicative of undiagnosed bipolar disorder. But of course, we didn’t have mental illness in our family—we were too “high class” to be plagued by something that was only whispered about in our house, and only when it involved some movie star.

I do remember being taken to a child psychiatrist once because of the night terrors, but never went back because, according to my mother, he said there was something wrong with me. Of course, nobody was diagnosing little kids with PTSD or manic depression back in those days, but the fact that my parents decided to ignore my psychiatric issues rather than risk being embarrassed doesn’t speak well of their priorities. I was NEVER first where they were concerned—no, my place in line was behind their friends, their club memberships, their social and financial ambitions.

But it was my mother’s inconsistency that made me crazy. I never knew from one day to the next what the prevailing mood was going to be. Sometimes she was very loving and playful; we’d go to the beach and laugh like hyenas when I got sand in my ice-cream cone, or when we nearly got run over by a bunch of hippies on bicycles. She also loved shopping and going out to lunch, and sometimes she’d take me with her for an entire day of “retail therapy” and buy me whatever I wanted.

Unfortunately, her dark side was on display more often than not, and she could be cruel when she was in a bad way. She’d scream at me for three hours sometimes for a minor infraction of the many rules she made up as she went along, or accuse me of deliberately doing things I “knew” would hurt or embarrass her. Naturally, I didn’t have the words to tell her that I never thought about her when I was up to no good—what kid does that?—and she would proceed to verbally abuse me until I couldn’t take it any longer and begged her to stop. Later on, she would deny the “conversation” even happened and tell me “That’s not true, you just remember everything wrong”.

So, I grew up believing I was irredeemably flawed and unable to trust my own impressions of the world or the people in it. I’ve carried that burden for five decades. Only now, after two years of therapy and medications, am I beginning to realize that NONE of this was my fault, and that it’s time to forgive myself for not being the child my mother wanted. She’s been gone for 25 years this summer…..and as clichéd as this may sound, I think it’s time to emerge from her shadow and learn to live in the light.



Published by bpnurse

I'm a retired registered nurse and writer who also happens to be street-rat crazy, if the DSM-IV.....oops, 5---is to be believed. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the age of 55, and am still sorting through the ashes of the flaming garbage pile that my life had become. Here, I'll share the lumps and bumps of a late-life journey toward sanity.... along with some rants, gripes, sour grapes and good old-fashioned whining from time to time. It's not easy being bipolar in a unipolar world; let's figure it out together.

9 thoughts on “Hell Is For Children

  1. I’m sorry that you had to experience that as a child. It leaves a mark that just keeps returning.
    The intrusive thoughts return mostly on down days or maybe its part of the disorder. I like that you know some of the reasons for this as now my insight is better. My childhood back in the 50’s was abused like you. I like the creativeness we have but stability would have been the icing on the cake.


    1. The intrusive thoughts are indeed part of bipolar, but I find that my current combination of medications does a really good job of keeping them at bay. I just wish I didn’t have to deal with them at all, because they are bad and they are sad and they are full of scary, ugly things I can’t even talk about. I’ve kept them locked up inside my head ever since I can remember. Maybe someday they’ll stop coming back. 🙂


  2. *hugs* Sounds way familiar in parts. I think my mom has bipolar as well, but she’ll never get diagnosed, and I’m glad that I made peace with the fact that it doesn’t excuse her narcissistic behavior and the damage it inflicted on me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s all you can do. I’m glad you’ve done this work while your mother is still here. I think it’s a lot tougher after our parents die because we feel guilty for having these feelings, on top of the grief over their loss and the emotional distress they caused us in life. Either way though, it’s good to put narcissistic and toxic people at arm’s length.


  3. When I was hospitalized for a month, the psychiatrist requested a family meeting and basically told my parents that they helped bring about my BP because of their treatment of me. I tried for many years to excuse their behavior, but the bottom line is they are both sick and toxic to me, so I avoided them all my life. I wanted my children to know their grandparents hoping they’d change. Alas, not. I issued an ultimatum and the threat of not seeing my kids straightened them out for a time. I watched the kids like a hawk around them, but when the kids got older they didn’t want to visit and I honored their requests. Now I’m doing duty as the doting daughter, reluctantly, trying to assuage my guilt. My dilemma? I have nothing to feel guilty for. I’m trying hard for forgiveness
    and kindness to a sad old lady.


    1. You are right. You have nothing to feel guilty about. You are the better person in this and I admire you for trying to forgive while your mother is still here. I wish I’d had that opportunity with mine, because I think it would have taken less time to get her out of my system. But what’s done is done, I’m over it, and I only talk about it in relation to how I got to where I am.


  4. I learned the hard way…my dad passed away and I wasn’t brave enough to work it out while he was living.


  5. Every story slightly different. I’ve traced my BP lineage back to my maternal grandfather, but I was adopted so I didn’t face my mother’s* crotchetiness & defensiveness when I grew up.

    But I had bewildered parents unaware of the challenges of bringing up an adopted kid, let alone a BP one, plus with a soupçon from the OCD spectrum thrown into the cauldron (which I think comes from my mum*!).

    I was lucky to find & meet my mother but she was never comfortable with me. Your story, & those of your repliers, emphasises that even a lifetime together won’t necessarily make it so.

    Families, eh? Mental illness, eh?

    * “mother” = birth mother
    “mum” = adoptive mother


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