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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Laying Down the Law

I have been going around and around in my head, fighting with myself trying to determine where the fine line is between 'enabling' Josh and offering appropriate help and support.

I find myself often worried about him, but worse, I find myself doing things for him that I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be doing, like waking him up to get to class on time.

I struggle because all my 'normal' reactions to any situation with Josh, are followed up with the thought, "BUT, he's Bipolar!" I find myself excusing his behavior simply because he's Bipolar.

Other areas of my personal life have put me in front of my therapist a couple of times lately. She asked me how Josh was doing and I told her about my concerns.

He's back in school, but not functioning as well as he should be. While his general mood is good, his sleep schedule is still upside down and he often goes out with a friend late in the evening and doesn't return until 5AM. This is not conducive to getting up at 10:30 and getting to class. He's also struggled with the basic workload, missing the due date for his first written assignment.

I told my therapist that Josh and I had an agreement; he is to clean the house each Friday in lieu of paying me $50 a week in 'rent'. I established that agreement at the suggestion of Josh's therapist as a way to begin making him more responsible for himself.

Slowly over the last several weeks, the house hasn't gotten cleaned.

My therapist encouraged me to take a hard line with Josh about this issue. "If you allow him to just blow this off, THAT is enabling him, don't do that."

So that day (which was a Friday) I went home and told Josh that I would be going out of town on Saturday, returning late in the evening. "When I get home tomorrow night, one of three things better have happened. Either this house is cleaned as we agreed to, OR you leave $50 on the kitchen counter for me, OR your bags are packed. I don't care which one you chose, that's up to you, but one of those three things better happen."

He argued with me that he had to work Friday night and Saturday night and he had that past due paper to complete.

"Not MY problem Josh, figure it out."

I came home that Saturday night and the house was spotless.

That was encouraging. "Hmmm, there's something to this being assertive thing!"

The week progressed with lots of things going on in both our lives. I found myself worried about the paper Josh was working on, but instead of asking him if he was working on it, I'd ask him if he was still struggling with it so badly.

When he had starting writing it, he had complained about his inability to focus and gather his thoughts enough to write it. He had done the research, he just couldn't get the information out of his brain, onto the page.

He thought maybe he needed ADD medicine, I encouraged him to explore that and if THAT didn't help, perhaps he should explore a Bipolar medication.

But of course, he has been unwilling to actually call the doctor and make an appointment.

He was up all night working on the paper Monday night, so he could turn it in Tuesday. When I got up Tuesday morning he asked for my advice for his conclusion paragraph. I went to work and when I came home mid afternoon, he was gone to class. I was very curious about the paper he had written, wondering if the end product was disjointed and unorganized. I pulled it up on my computer and read it, and it was, without a doubt, the best paper he's ever written.

That was encouraging. That even though he struggled so badly with it, he WAS able to produce it in the end in a well thought out, cogent fashion.

When I met with my therapist this Friday, I asked her if we could discuss Josh for a few moments. I told her that her advice about the house cleaning had worked very well and having that work so well, it made me realize that I need to stop enabling Josh in other ways, but that I was always hesitant to totally 'let go and let Josh' because, after all, he's Bipolar.

"Well, doing things like waking him up for class and stuff IS enabling him. In the end HE has got to run his own life. And that includes learning to manage his Bipolar."

So last night I told Josh I had a couple things I wanted to discuss with him.

"Josh, you have been very vocal about wanting to 'live your own life' and that is exactly what I want you to do too, but I find myself doing things for you so you don't suffer negative consequences; like making sure you get up to go to class. I'm going to stop doing those things. That means that this is ALL on you, which is the way it SHOULD be. I hope you do whatever it takes to be successful in school this term. I want to see you succeed, but whether you do or not is entirely up to you. The ONLY thing I'm going to be monitoring from now on is your general mood. If I see you sliding one way or the other (depression or mania), I will sit down and discuss my concerns with you and we'll figure out what to do, but I'm not spending one more second of my time worrying about the rest of your life.

But listen to me Josh, if you fail out of this term, you will then be working full time and living in your own place, because if you're not a student, then you will become completely independent of me.

It's important for you to not just manage your work schedule and school responsibilities, but you also need to be very aware of how you're doing overall and get medication if you need it.

And one more thing, it's Friday at 5 PM and this house isn't cleaned yet. Because you have class on Thursday and Friday, I'm going to change our arrangement a little bit to make it more manageable for you. From now on, this house needs to be cleaned by Sunday evening, OR you can pay me $50. So manage your time to make sure that gets done."

So we'll see. But I feel very good about taking this position and realize that it's a stance I should have taken long ago. The thing about having a child with Bipolar is that it's all so terribly frightening. You've seen your child at both ends of the spectrum, and that's not pretty, and you live in fear of having to live through one of the poles again.

The reality here though is that Josh is very stable right now. No, he's not functioning the way he should, but he's not depressed or manic. While it would be hard to set him out on his own if he were in a bad state, the fact of the matter is that he's NOT in a bad state right now and so I've told myself that now is the perfect time to turn it ALL over to him.

I'm not terribly hopeful about the outcome, I'm pretty sure that Josh is not going to be able to get it together. I hope he surprises me, but more than anything I hope he remains stable because in THIS state, it would be very easy to push him out of the nest if he fails out of school.

And if he becomes unstable, we'll deal with it and then pick up the pieces and move forward.

I do feel that he WILL get it eventually, but it might take failing out of college and getting out in the real world to do it, and I'm finally OK with that scenario.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Struggles Begin

Josh had a paper due yesterday that he's known about for several weeks. He got ONE paragraph of it written after working on it all night. He didn't go to classes yesterday either.

So I talked to Josh last night about missing classes yesterday and not getting his paper finished. I told him, "First of all, I'm not mad at you, so don't get all defensive, I'm concerned. You have a golden opportunity here and I hate to think you're not gonna be able to take advantage of it."

He said the paper was impossible.

"OK, but the key here is that it was impossible for YOU. I doubt any other student saw the project as anything more than another paper, just like a zillion papers they've written before, right?"


"OK, so really think about this...why did it seem impossible to YOU?"

"I don't know Mom, I just couldn't even get past the very beginning. I did all the research and everything and I just couldn't pull it together, like my thoughts were a jumbled mess."

"OK, why do you think that happened? I mean, was it a function of having put it off till the last minute and the pressure you put yourself under caused you to not be able to form a coherent thought OR are your thoughts just jumbled? I know that with my work, I KNOW how to approach a certain job, I'm good at what I do and I step through a job very methodically; I do THIS, then I check THAT, etc. But if I'm under pressure, whether I've procrastinated or something unexpected has landed in my lap that I have to get done NOW, I can get all disorganized with it and I find myself attacking the job from all angles, and I can't seem to get myself to FOCUS and step thru it logically."

"Yea, it was kinda like that. Maybe I need to get back on my adderall?"

"Then you should make an appointment and go see the doctor, and maybe while you're there you could discuss a sleep aid with her. Do you feel depressed at all?"


"Well one thing to think about, and I know you don't want to believe you really have Bipolar, but you need to really consider that it's possible that the trouble you had with this paper could be the 'disordered thinking' that is part of Bipolar."

"I don't know how Bipolar could make me not be able to write a paper, it seems more likely it's my ADD. There are tons of people with Bipolar who can write a paper mom."

"Yep, tons of Bipolar people ON BIPOLAR MEDICATION can write a paper. But with Bipolar your brain doesn't process information properly and I think you owe it to yourself to really think about the possibility that the problem you had with this paper may NOT be ADD, but just a part of Bipolar. I know you wanna think you're not Bipolar, but things like this...this disordered thinking, are a part of it. If you think back to last fall semester, you had this same problem writing one of your fiction stories, something you used to be able to just sit down and pound out. I don't know Josh, if you want to REALLY be successful in school this year, you've got to take a hard look at what's happening and be willing to explore all the possibilities and do whatever it takes to make it better. Maybe see the doctor and try adderall, cause that will work IMMEDIATELY, if the problem is ADD, but if you find yourself still struggling, I think you need to consider a bipolar medication maybe."

He didn't make a decision, but I'm going to ask him to make an appointment with his doctor tomorrow. I've learned that *I* have to stay right on top of these things, cause he'll just let it slide and not address it. That's not gonna work, so I'm gonna have to push him to ACT.

Something I've been doing for the last year, with mixed results. The problem is he'll finally act after he's gotten himself SO FAR DOWN, I have to really keep pushing him to ACT NOW.

I did remind him that HE will have to repay the grant money if he fails a class, that I'M not going to repay it, the grant is in HIS name, they will look to HIM for repayment.

"Something else to consider is dropping all your classes now, before the grant funds, and getting a full time job and see what the next year or so brings in terms of this Bipolar stuff. You can go back to school at anytime."

"So you think I should drop out of school?!!!"

"No, *I* think you should address what's happening right now and realize you need help. Josh, something has shifted for you. In High School and your first year of college, you didn't have these issues and you can stay in denial and NOT look at the reality here, but if you're gonna be in denial, you might as well be there in a full time job MAKING money instead of at an institution of higher learning WASTING money."