Bipolar Parenting- The Fear My Children Would Be Better Off Motherless

by Joni Edelman

In 2005, my oldest sons were five and seven years old. On a summer afternoon I found them in a hurricane of kicks and slaps, a disagreement over legos or hot wheels. I raised my voice, yelling, STOP. Unfazed by my clenched fists, my volume, the anger in my eyes and in my scowl, their fighting continued. My rage reached boiling. I scanned the room. My eyes landed on a wooden chair near the door and brought it down on the hardwood floor in a crash, splinters flying, the flooring scratched. The fighting stopped and their expressions told a story of terror.

I remember those faces — still. It’s been 10 years.


In the summer of 1983 my best friend ever in the entire universe came to my house for a sleepover. My house was the best house for sleepovers. We had Twinkies and microwave popcorn, fruit roll-ups and A&W Root Beer — and all the things 9 year old’s dreams are made of. The cabinets were organized alphabetically; Twinkies by the Triscuits, popcorn by the Pasta-roni.

I had a daisy comforter and three decorative pillows, my own TV, and eight Cabbage Patch dolls. My mom would sometimes be gone all night — which only added to the allure.

Me and my best friend forever ate the popcorn, and everything else, and watched whatever was on TV (which wasn’t much). And went to sleep.

When we woke up Saturday morning, the house was quiet, and I had a new stepfather. Steve worked construction and smelled like stale cigarettes and tequila and freshly milled 2X4s. He yelled a lot. I didn’t like him. He had three pesky, filthy children, who I also didn’t like.

Friday night, my mom and Steve went to Vegas. And Saturday morning I had a new family. The next week, in the middle of a school day, my mom picked me up. From school we went to Steve’s house, which was dirty, remotely located, and surrounded by flooded groves of walnut trees and fields of cotton. I didn’t like it either.

I never saw my school — or my desk full of Hello Kitty pencils — again.

This may seem like odd behavior, because it is, but it wasn’t for me. Sudden changes in locale, housing, men, stepsiblings, schools, all typical. I loathed it. I was accustomed to it.


Ten years later I was living on my own and helping my sixth stepfather raise my 4-year-old sister. My mom was living in some remote city in Northern California, with the addict who would ostensibly become my seventh stepfather. I was in college, married, pregnant, terrified.

In early adulthood the bipolar disorder that was my genetic destiny was pushed around — shuffled from doctor to doctor, city to city, misdiagnosis to misdiagnosis. Deeply distressed, consumed by sadness, it was just “postpartum depression.” If I had manic energy, it was “drive” or “passion” or “dedication.” Snap decisions, irresponsible, risky, promiscuous, it was just “life learning.” I never finished anything I started, something always got in the way. It was never Bipolar Disorder.

It was always Bipolar Disorder.

I wanted children, a family — stability to heal my wounds. And I knew the truth, I was very sick. I wanted desperately to be anyone but my mother, but, always suppressed, always explained away, I was exactly like my mother. All night sewing marathons, consuming obsession with fitness, organization, church, gardening, decor, 17 kinds of crafts. My magical thinking, my invincibility. The rage. The waves of crippling depression.

I had three children who were pushed aside, when I was sad, or busy, which was a lot of the time. I yelled. I cried. I retreated. I apologized. I did it all again — an infinite loop of dysfunction.

I wanted to be the best mother. The opposite of my mother. I wanted to do it all, and well. But  I wasn’t doing it well. I was doing what I could. But sometimes what you can do isn’t enough.

There was always fear, the fear of the unspoken truth, the elephant in the room — in my life, all around me —  as much as I didn’t want to be my mother, I was. I ignored it, ultimately medicating the long troughs of depression, celebrating the months of boundless energy, denying the dysfunctional behavior;  the out of control spending, the risk taking, the defiance, the promiscuity, the rage.

For 20 years.


When I was 40, I met my psychiatrist, a diminutive man, who drinks lattes and eats Sun Chips during my appointments. The man who mixed a complicated cocktail of psychiatric medications, and finally leveled my moods. The man that rose my depression, and stole my mania, and bridged the gap between crippling sadness and dangerous madness. The man who changed it all.

Despite the bridge, my moods still shift from time to time. Lately they’ve been low, I’ve planned my death seven different ways. And so we adjust my dosages. Three months ago they were high, high enough that I didn’t want to sleep. But I continued to swallow the usual pills, and the extra pills he prescribed to force the sleep I hate, to shut me down. We move my meds up and down, in spite of the sometimes crippling side effects. In the name of sanity. In the name of trying to be a safe place for my five children.

Bipolar Parenting, Joni Edelman

I’m still scared. I’m scared that the 10 years I lived in denial hurt my children, irreparably.  I’m scared that they will grow up and write something like this, recounting a childhood of fear and dysfunction. I’m scared that the cocktail that keeps me alive may stop working — that the depths of depression will take hold, and I won’t be able to shake it. And I will die. And leave them motherless.

I’m scared that they might be better off motherless.

I’m scared that one of them will have this cursed gift. I’m scared they will blame me, like I blamed her. I’m scared that someday I’ll be her, and not even know.

Every night I brush my teeth and I swallow five pills and I hope that I can be better, that I am better.


IMG_0670 I’m Joni. I’m lucky enough to have 5 amazing kids (19, 16, 15, 4 and 2), one fantastic husband, an awesome sister and a yarn addiction. When I’m not raising up people I’m a freelance writer, RN, and the momma behind mommabare. Love is my religion. I like cake and crafty crap. And yoga. In that order. 
You can follow Joni on Instagram here and on Twitter here.


  1. I cried reading this. This is me. I am still seeking a diagnosis, and I am terrified of not knowing but I am also terrified of knowing.
    My children are 5 and 3. They are everything, but I wish that I had never had them.
    I want to be well. I want to die.

  2. I just read this in silence with my two youngest children asleep while my oldest son and my husband play on the Xbox. I couldn’t help but feel like I was looking in a mirror. Sometimes I feel like my family will be better off without me. I know I need help, and I know I need to get a diagnosis, but like the person above me I am terrified of both knowing and not knowing. I have been previously diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and insomnia (over three years ago) and I would like to feel like I have surpassed that, but I know I haven’t. There are days where I wish I was never here, when I wish my mother never had me. Then I wouldn’t be here. In this place. In my body. Putting up a show for everyone while inside I’m screaming.

    • Maria, we can do hard things together. (Have you read Momastery? If not, please look it up.) My psychiatrist appointment is on September 12th. Thinking of you.

  3. If you are commenting on this post, and you need solidarity, love, or just an ear, please reach out to me or any healthcare professional.

    Sending love and light and the possibility of a “normal” life.

  4. Wow, this is very moving. How brave to be able to come forth and discuss such taboo and scary realities. I too have struggled my entire life. From what? I don’t know. By 21 “they” said it was anxiety which led to horrible stomach issues. I took the pills yet didn’t feel free from this horrible diagnosis. New jobs, divorce, marrying the man of my dreams, more babies, and now staying home; the diagnosis is postpartum. Not too bad this go around after the 5th baby; not like after the 4th, but still lingering. Still nagging. Still there! I search online constantly. Could it be something else? Is there a magic pill to fix it all?! I don’t know. I just hate that I live a life so inconsistent in everything. One day eveything is aligned. I’m motivated, I have passion, energy to do what I need and want too. My “fog” is lifting and everything seems attainable and clear. But the very next day, I can’t hart move. Not much will get me going, not tea or coffee. I can’t think of the tons of the things that need to be done. My creativity is lacking and so is the motivation or even desire to do anything. I feel bad for my family and friends. Who wants to be around someone like me? Is what I think to myself. They would better off…especially if I am irritable and angry, Over simple things! The bickering, the fighting between the siblings, the constant nagging or whining, the lack of desire to do the homework, clean up after themselves,etc. Some days it just seems too much! So I sometimes lash out. I do exactly what I teach my children what NOT to do. Then the guilt sets in! It’s a vicious cycle. One that I can’t seem to stop. And what’s worse, I see my kids and sweet husband doing some of the things I hate that I do. As of today, I have not gotten back on my medication since the diagnosis of postpartum after the 4th baby. I just take it every day slowly and I hope that I’ll wake up and everything will be better.

  5. Thanks. I was diagnosed at 19 officially. I am the mother of two and wife of one. Thankfully, my diagnosis has been “outed” from near the beginning and he works around my mood swings. My medicines, though keeping me even are just not enough sometimes. I do not have those dreadful “great ideas” of how to go out anymore. Though, I am a temper tantrum throwing master. I can go weeks without doing laundry, then spend a whole all-night ER getting it all done. Seriously. This was very similar to my story. Thank you (btw on a manic up swing right now hence the lack of coherent writing)

  6. I love you, mom. Stay strong.


    I was diagnosed 23 yrs ago. I cried reading this and reading the comments. I want to say that it will get better. I want to say that you shouldn’t be afraid. I want to say that one day, you’ll figure it out. I won’t say any of that though. I want, with all my heart and being, to be able to say these things and believe them myself. I can’t…and that is heartbreaking. What I can say is that, at this moment, I’m hanging in there. I know that that little light at the end of the tunnel is there even though I don’t always see it. I know that, probably for the first time in my life, I feel almost “normal”. You could call me lucky, I guess. The truth is that I’ve struggled my entire life. The truth is that I’m still struggling. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the little demon in my head. Sure, I’m not excessively anxious, I’m not wanting to harm others or myself, I’m “hanging in there. I can’t tell you that what’s working for me will work for you. I will say that what’s working for me won’t hurt you. No more caffeine (this includes chocolate…to my utter horror), no cough meds, decongestants (yeah, having a cold without these has forced me to become quite creative), no alcohol, tobacco, no “other drugs”…basically, no mood-altering substances. Learn to ask for help (still working on that). Above all else, remember that NO ONE CAN DO THIS ALONE. KEEP FIGHTING! When you can’t, let someone fight for you. JUST DON’T LET BIPOLAR WIN! I send you all light and love.

  8. Oh man this hits home mama. I was just planning my death two nights ago until my husband pulled me out of it. I worry too for my kids, I have 7. Love to you and everyone else struggling with this.

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