Helping My Middle Child Cope with Siblings Diagnosed with BPD

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nanciBy the time our oldest daughter Lisa* was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 9, our lives were anything but normal.  With each new day it wasn’t a matter of “if," it was a matter of “when.” When would she sink into a paralyzing depression? When would she melt down, explode, or become locked in on a seemingly arbitrary obsession?

Truly, we were walking on eggshells, trying to learn about the illness and desperately searching for the right treatment. 

4 years later, our youngest daughter Noelle* was diagnosed with the same illness.  We’d barely caught our breath and here we were plunged right back into a world of crisis management and chaos.  In the midst of all of this was our middle daughter, Julia*.  Since the age of 6, her life had been in upheaval.  There were years where she couldn’t have friends over to play; her sleep was punctuated by her sisters’ crying and raging; Mom and Dad seemed stressed and exhausted.

By all outward appearances, our children with bipolar disorder needed us the most.  But in reality, Julia, quietly fitting in and making no waves, needed us just as much, if not more.  Here are a few things we’ve learned about helping her cope:

  • Validate feelings. Children have limited emotional maturity and vocabulary.  It’s hard for them to understand the feelings they experience, and harder still to express themselves.  We can help by offering empathy, providing an opening for siblings to talk about their fears, frustrations, anger and guilt.  A great book for opening the dialogue is Turbo Max, by Tracy Anglada.
  • Build in one-on-one time.  Divide and conquer is the rule in our house.  One parent stays home with the child/ren who is struggling and one whisks away the other child/ren for an afternoon at the movies, the park or out for lunch--anything that provides normal activities and a chance to be with Mom or Dad.  
  • Find a safe environment.  When things are really bad, we send the stable child/ren to friends’ houses so that they could get a good night sleep, have a quiet environment to do homework, or just watch a favorite TV show. The “it takes a village” saying holds true here more than ever.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Our girls have developed a sense of empathy and they appreciate things that others take for granted.  And the sound of normal sibling rivalry...well, that’s music to my ears.

--Nanci, Families for Depression Awareness volunteer

*Name changed.

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