Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Childhood Dilemma

After awhile, it's relatively clear the no one has a normal childhood or a normal family. Parents yell and fight, kids get spanked. Sometimes there's mentall illness or substance abuse tossed in for good measure. Some kids are generally ignored while others are built up so high that reality comes crashing down when they leave the nest.

But for kids with mental illness, life is a bit different. For the longest time, psychiatrists believed that the earliest onset of manic depression occured in adolescence, but current research suggests that kids, infants even, can exhibit the bipolar symptoms. Naturally, bipolar kids exhibit "atypical" symptoms; in other words, kids don't reflect the same symptoms as adult men. They can be anxious to the point of paranoia, aggressive, hypersexual, distracted, irritable. They have nightmares, suicidal thoughts and separation issues.

Bipolar kids are often diagnosed with ADHD and given ritalin, which often prompts a manic cycle. The violent mood swings, particularly in children, can gain momentum and have been shown to cause scarring in the brain. Researchers of bipolar children have demonstrated that there are fewer neurons in certain parts of the brain, which may explain why the brain would flood itself with certain neurochemicals to transmit messages.

When I was a little kid, I remember having night terrors. Most kids have nightmares, but night terrors are like nightmares times ten. It's almost like you can't tell the difference between your dreams and your waking life, like these horrible things are actually happening in real life. I remember waking up one night sobbing because I was certain that my entire family was dead. I still shudder when I think about I'm residually scared or something. I was a sleepwalker too. Nothing is more disorienting than going to sleep in your bedroom upstairs and waking up behind a chair in the family room.


For more information, check out this news story for a glimpse into the world of a family with a bipolar kid. The NPR interviews here are particularly poignant and informative.