Parenting with bipolar II: Alysia’s story

Posted June 15th, 2018 by

Meet Alysia, a member of the 2018 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors who’s living with bipolar II disorder. Here’s what she had to say about parenting with a mental health condition, learning to adapt and how she “defies the odds.”

When I was younger I wrote stories about my alter ego who had kids. I lived almost vicariously through this alter, figuring I would never be a parent myself — that I was too damaged to be loved, much less be a parent. The resounding thud ending my hopes came when I was 20 and diagnosed primarily with bipolar II disorder, rapid cycling, during my first inpatient hospitalization. The relief of knowing what was going on with me was mixed with the fear and a sense of “no one is going to want to deal with this enough to love me.” I was wrong — I have an 11 ½ year old stepdaughter and a 3 ½ year old daughter.

To some extent they know that mom is “sick” and it doesn’t ever fully go away. It causes me to feel like I am not worthy of having kids or that they would be better off with anyone else as their mom. I worry constantly about the emotional damage I may be causing them because of my bipolar symptoms. That worry and my desire to do better for them, and myself, is a huge driving force to regain and maintain my stability.

When my husband and I were planning our family, I told him that:

“If our kid was like me, she would be in a great place full of love and understanding. Her family will know the battles they are about to face and how to face them.”

We will be as ready as we can be to help her. As a parent, that is all we can do — be there to help them through all of life — from learning to roll over, to walking, to homework, to heartbreaks and celebrations. Having a mental illness does not fully stop me from being there for them. I may not be as present and involved as I want, but I’m working on it, and the best part of kids is that they love you without hesitation.

My daughter is three, and she can be handful with her “three-nager” attitude that truly makes me fear puberty with her. She is also so incredibly compassionate, smart, funny, creative and loving that I’m in awe of her constantly. My stepdaughter is entering puberty and all of those joys and frustrations, but she is also: vibrant, headstrong, dynamic and an ever-evolving young woman. No matter what we face in the future, we are going to succeed because we are a family.

You can be an amazing parent with any type of illness; it does not define or exclude you from that. Every family has its own challenges and learning how to adapt and overcome your obstacles is vital to success.

Can you relate to Alysia’s story? Join PatientsLikeMe and connect with the 14,000+ members living with bipolar disorder.

 

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Service, therapy and emotional support animals: What’s the difference?

Posted June 13th, 2018 by

When it comes to living with a chronic condition, animal companions can add another layer of comfort, safety and service. So, we’re opening up a conversation about therapy, emotional support and service animals, and the differences between them. Do you have an animal? Join the community and share a pic of your pet using the hashtag #PLMPets.

Service animals

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability”. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals.

Examples of work tasks might be things like:

  • Helping individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation
  • Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds
  • Helping individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors
  • Check out more tasks here.

If you bring your service animal somewhere, any public entity or private business is allowed to ask you two questions to make sure your animal is indeed a service animal:

  1. Is this animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?

The ADA does not require service animals to be professionally trained. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program. State and federal laws differ, so make sure to check out your state’s laws on service animals.

To learn more about service animals and the ADA, check out this resource.

Therapy animals

A therapy animal is a pet that has been trained to interact with many people other than its handler to make those people feel better. Therapy animals often visit patients and residents of facilities like hospitals and nursing homes to cheer up the people living there.Therapy animals and their handlers are not given public access rights like those of service dogs and their owners, because the handler does not always have a disability the dog is individually trained to mitigate. Therapy animal handlers also generally get prior agreement from facilities like hospitals or libraries before visiting.

Some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take therapy and emotional support animals into public places — it’s important to check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.

Emotional support animals

These animals provide companionship and can help with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, but don’t need to have any special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. While emotional support animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan to provide therapy to their owners, they’re not considered service animals under the ADA.

If you’re living in the United States and suffer from emotional or mental health conditions, in order to qualify for emotional support animals (ESA) all you need is an official letter written by a licensed mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker, or psychologist. It is required that you must be living with an “emotional or mental disability that is certified by a mental health professional” to receive such a letter.

Do you live with a pet? How has your pet impacted your life? Log in or sign up for PatientsLikeMe to join the conversation.

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