Living With A Bipolar Parent

First off I should say that my mother was never diagnosed as bipolar but looking back as an adult, lots of research, some basic education in psychology and after speaking to trained professionals I believe it’s a very accurate diagnosis. Your parents and family are meant to be there for you no matter what, they should support you and encourage you and you should always feel safe and protected by them but if you’re growing up with a family member who has any psychological or mental illness this is very rarely the case. You feel like you’re constantly walking on egg shells, you know they’ll be good days but at the same time you know they’ll be bad days too.

You can’t live your life around them

It’s not fair to live your whole life like you’re walking on egg shells but this is sometimes unavoidable. You know it can only take the smallest thing to trigger a storm but at the same time your home life needs to be somewhere you can relax. One thing I found helped was to have a kettle with some powder milk, tea, coffee and sugar in my room and a small box of snacks. Hiding away in your room shouldn’t have to be the answer but if this happens more often than not you need to make sure it’s as comfortable as possible. It’s their house too but there is a very large degree of irrationality to mental illnesses in that they’ll take it out any mood swings on the first thing they’ll see. If you’re not under their nose your life will be easier.

You need a release

No matter if it’s just a half an hour walk round your neighbourhood or you join a local club or activity group find something away from home and away from school that can take your mind off things even if it’s just for an hour or two a week. If you like listening to music really study it and learn to produce it yourself or dance to it. I was never fanatically into music but there were some songs that really had prominent lyrics to me that helped. Reading is also another good way to lose yourself for a few hours.

Look forwards not backwards

This is one I’ve learned with hindsight. Nothing is forever; you’ll grow up, move out and live your own life one day. For now it sucks and there’s a good chance tomorrow is going to suck too but next year or the year after it will get better. Find one thing you’re looking forward to that’s not too far away, going out with your friends, a holiday or even a shopping trip anything that you can concentrate on to take your mind off today. If you have nothing coming up over the next few weeks arrange something.

You can’t blame them for your life

This is one you need to learn as soon as possible and it took me a long time to learn and I’m still learning it today. You can storm around as a teenager and get away with it because ‘my mother never loved me’ but as an adult it’s quite pathetic. You are your own person, with your own personality and ultimately responsible for your own decisions and your own destiny. You might look at your friends who come from loving ‘conventional’ families but the chances are the majority of them have something they dislike about the way their parents raised them. If you want to get an education you can get an education, of course that’s easier said than done but it’s not impossible. My mother’s favourite quote was that I’d never amount to anything. I worked hard at several jobs and put myself through university. It wasn’t easy and I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep for about three years but only a very weak forty year old says it’s their parent’s fault they never made anything of their life.

You can’t hold a grudge

This is another one I’m still leaning today. I don’t think I can ever forgive my mother for some of the things she told me growing up and I’ll have physical and mental scars from her for the rest of my life but as I’ve already mentioned only a very weak adult uses the past as an excuse for the present. There are some things that will be unforgivable but the majority of things need to be left in the past. Now I no longer live at home I have an OK relationship with my mother, it makes me sad that we couldn’t have this mother/daughter relationship when I needed it as a child but I’ll take what I can get now and leave the past in the past.

Jessica grew up to be a happy, well adjusted adult who lived happily ever after (so far) who works as an SEO for a home furniture company


  1. Thanks for this, my husband is currently approaching diagnosis but I have considered him bipolar for some time. Our daughter is nearly 4 and she’s starting to appreciate that something is different from her friends’ parents. I am trying to find ways of explaining his behaviour and demeanour to her in a non-judgemental and safe way, whilst at the same time protecting my mental health from the fallout of his actions. I’d welcome views from any children who grew up with mentally ill parents as to what to tell her and when.

  2. I agree that you need to leave the past in the past in order to move on to a happier future with anyone.

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