Sunday, May 18, 2008


Please read this story about a 10 year old boy with bipolar disorder.

I am sitting here with tears rolling down my face, barely able to breath, with goosebumps all over my body - I recognize soo much of what is written here in our own story (it's no secret that, if not for the fact that Salamander at time of diagnosis met all the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder and still does, he would have been diagnosed with juvenile onset Bipolar Disorder by now.. )

I am posting the first page of the article.. follow the link to read the rest..

Disclaimer - me posting this does not mean I agree or disagree with any medical or treatment options presented in this article, or that I agree or disagree with bipolar disorder being presented as a mental illness (I think it's waaaay more complicated than that). I am posting this, because as a mom of a child with intense and very unpredictable mood swings, I can so relate...

Welcome to Max’s World
Bipolar disorder is a mystery and a subject of medical debate. But for the Blakes, it's just reality.

By Mary Carmichael NEWSWEEK
May 26, 2008 Issue

Max Blake was 7 the first time he tried to kill himself. He wrote a four-page will bequeathing his toys to his friends and jumped out his ground-floor bedroom window, falling six feet into his backyard, bruised but in one piece. Children don't really know what death is, as the last page of Max's will made clear: "If I'm still alive when I have grandchildren," it began. But they know what unhappiness is and what it means to suffer.

On a recent Monday afternoon, Max, now 10, was supposed to come home on the schoolbus, but a counselor summoned his mother at 2:15. When Amy Blake arrived at school, her son gave her the note that had prompted the call. "Dear Mommy & Daddy," it read, "I am really feeling sad and depressed and lousy about myself. I love you but I still feel like I want to kill myself. I am really sad but I just want help to feel happy again. The reason I feel so bad is because I can't sleep at night. And dad yells at me to just sleep at night. But, I can't control it. It is not me that does control it. I don't know what controls it, but it is not me. I really really need some help, love Max!!!!! I Love you Mommy I Love you Daddy."

This is the story of a family: a mother, a father and a son. It is, in many ways, a horror story. Terrible things happen. People scream and cry and hurt each other; they say and do things that they later wish they hadn't. The source of their pain is bipolar disorder, a mental illness that results in recurring bouts of mania and depression. It is an elusive disease that no parent fully understands, that some doctors do not believe exists in children, that almost everyone stigmatizes. But this is also a love story. Good things happen. A couple sticks together, a child tries to do better, teachers and doctors and friends help out. Max Blake and his parents may not have much in common with other families. They are a family nonetheless. That is what has mattered most to Amy and Richie Blake since Oct. 31, 1997, the day their son took his first ragged breath.

Max came into the world with a hole in his heart. Struggling to be born, he lost oxygen, and doctors performed an emergency C-section. Recovering from the operation, Amy feared her infant son would need surgery, too, but the doctors said the hole would close with time. Four days later the Blakes wrapped their baby in a blanket and brought him home to their little house in Peabody, Mass. Richie, a former Marine, was working as a county corrections officer. Amy was a promising divorce lawyer at a firm in nearby Boston. As children, both Richie and Amy had watched their parents split up, but they had found a comfortable routine in each other: he played straight man to her comic. Marriage suited them. Amy hung a large, sunny wedding portrait in the living room. Starting a family would not be easy: there were no grandparents living nearby, and Amy could take only three months of maternity leave. Still, she thought, this was a stable home, one where Max would be safe and happy.

The mothers of bipolar kids often say their babies are born screaming. These are children who live at the extremes: so giddy they can't speak in sentences, so low they refuse to speak at all. Unlike bipolar adults, they flit rapidly between emotions; sometimes they seem to feel everything at once. At least 800,000 children in the United States have been diagnosed as bipolar, no doubt some of them wrongly. The disease is hard to pin down. The bipolar brain is miswired, but no one knows why it develops that way. There are many drugs, but it's unclear how they work. Often, they don't work at all, and they may interfere with normal brain growth. There are no studies on their long-term effects in children. Yet untreated bipolar disorder can be disastrous; 10 percent of sufferers commit suicide. Parents must choose between two wrenching options: treat their children and risk a bad outcome, or don't treat and risk a worse one. No matter what they do, they are in for uncertainty and pain.

Amy knew none of this when Max was born. She did know new motherhood was tough. Max never slept through the night, and neither did she. He cried for hours at a time. He banged his head against his crib and screamed until his face burned red. Nursing, cuddling, pacifiers—none of them helped. At 2 a.m., at 3, at 4 and 5 and 6, Amy cradled her son, trying to believe this was typical infant irritability, the kind her friends with kids had warned her about. It must be colic or gas, she thought, as Max howled another day into being. Exhausted, mystified, she made jokes—he was born on Halloween, she ate too many spicy chicken wings before delivery—trying to explain how a baby too young to hold up his head could raise such hell.

After a year, the jokes gave way to worry. Max was reaching and surpassing his milestones, walking by 10 months and talking in sentences by age 1, but he wasn't like the babies in parenting books. Richie carried his son to the backyard and tried to put him down, but Max shrank back in his father's arms; he hated the feel of the grass beneath his small bare feet. Amy gave Max a bath and turned on the exhaust fan; he put his hands over his ears and screamed. At 13 months, he lined up dozens of Hot Wheels in the same direction, and when Amy nudged one out of order, he shrieked "like you'd just cut his arm off." At day care, he terrorized his teachers and playmates. He wasn't the biggest kid in the class, but he attacked without provocation or warning, biting hard enough to leave teeth marks. Every day, he hit and kicked and spat. Worries became guilt. Amy had been overweight and dehydrated in pregnancy. Was Max so explosive because she had done something wrong?

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