Is it bipolar disorder, ADHD, or typical teenage behavior?

I was inspired to write this entry. It is, however, one of the most difficult entries that I’ve written. Allowing myself to relive scary, dark, unpredictable times that involve my children is both painful and cathartic. My youngest daughter Holly is sixteen. She has given me permission to share her challenges and triumphs.

Recently, my husband Fred and I learned Holly had lost hope and wanted to escape from the pain so much that she was having thoughts of ending her life. Her feelings of hopelessness came to a head while she was at school. I admire Holly for having the courage to tell her school counselor that she was being swallowed up by darkness and despair. Holly’s extraordinary friend went to the school office with her with empathy and support on the breast plate of armor that she wore. Her friend “got it”—judgment and stigma did not exist.

After talking to Holly and calling me, her counselor discretely notified Holly’s teachers so they were aware that she was going through a difficult time. We’re thankful that she has compassion, understanding, and support at school.

Knowing that there is a genetic link to bipolar disorder, at that point I couldn’t ignore the fact that Holly may also have developed it. I began researching symptoms and writing out examples of how I could see Holly’s behaviors as she mirrored many of them. I was on a mission to advocate for my daughter.

In 2007 she had neurological testing and was put on medication for ADHD and depression. Distinguishing between ADHD and bipolar disorder is difficult because so many of the symptoms overlap. Throw in teenage hormones and you’re really in for a wild ride. You would think I would be able to recognize bipolar symptoms objectively. I was diagnosed and treated over 30 years ago and another family member was diagnosed 7 years ago. When it’s your own child, it may not be as easy to pick up on these behaviors and characteristics.

Fred, Holly, and I updated Holly’s therapist. So much has gone on since Holly had talked with her two weeks prior. It has been clear to us that Holly has difficulty concentrating and struggles with depression. On the way to her appointment, Holly brought up the fact that she feels like she is “PMSing” 3 weeks out of the month. We can attest to that! Looking back I should have noticed the mood swings. My sweet Holly can get very irritable and angry.

We knew the next step was to meet with Holly’s psychiatrist ASAP. Holly’s therapist brought up an excellent point. She suggested that we keep a mood chart and treat Holly’s symptoms instead of labeling her with a condition. We had a very productive meeting with Holly’s psychiatrist. She took her off her ADHD medication and added a mood stabilizer. Time will tell how she responds to it. She will continue taking her anti-depressant.

As a parent, you can feel so helpless when your child is going through tough times. Follow your instincts and be proactive.

I’ll close with an inspiring testimonial from Holly. May 15 was Youth Sunday at our church. The youth were responsible for preparing and delivering the service. Holly gave the sermon in all three services, played guitar and sang.

The theme for the service was Jesus, the good Shepherd. She shared her experience of hopelessness and how she relies on Jesus for strength and guidance. Fred and I were emotionally touched by her openness and passion. Holly, Fred, and I talked to many people after the services who told us how much they appreciated Holly’s openness and courage.

We’re confident that our hope, trust, and faith will help us get through this challenging time.