Reluctant Sorority Sisters

Water drop close up

By Dorothy O’Donnell for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

I sat with three other moms on ugly green wedges of modular seating in the lobby of the Stanford Psychiatric Services building. It was a Tuesday evening and we were waiting for our daughters to finish their first session of group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for kids with bipolar disorder. At first, we wrapped ourselves in cocoons of awkward silence. Our eyes bounced from our phones to the clock on the wall or—whenever it dinged, rolled back its heavy doors with a groan, and deposited someone into the shadowy room—the elevator.

I glanced at the pretty woman sitting next to me. I remembered her kind smile when we’d all dropped off our girls—who ranged in age from 11 (Sadie) to 15—in the stuffy, windowless conference room on the third floor.

“Does your daughter have bipolar disorder?” I asked, tentatively, feeling like an idiot as soon as I did. Duh. Why else would she be here?

She nodded. In a soft voice she told me that Lily, 15, had only recently been diagnosed. But she’d had problems since she was 12 and had been hospitalized four times. Thanks to lithium, Lily was doing better, although the drug made her lethargic and slow.

Her father also had bipolar disorder. “He passed away a few years ago,” Lily’s mother whispered.  Tilting her head back, she pantomimed raising a bottle to her lips. “He drank a lot,” she said, lowering her arm. “He didn’t know he was bipolar.”

The matter of fact way she delivered this news hit me like the jolt of plunging into an icy lake. I was reminded, once again, just how deadly this illness can be. And how lucky we are that, in spite of her struggles, Sadie isn’t much sicker and is getting the help she needs.

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