I have two sons. The younger one is bipolar. This is a family disorder that leaves its boot print on every member. Wounds heal, yet scars remain.

Being bipolar wasn’t any fun for my son, and it certainly left a crater-sized impact on our family. Bipolar disorder isn’t for sissies. My son, who is now 32, was diagnosed as a young adult after years of drug and alcohol-related misadventures. His behavior as a small child was unpredictable and often outrageous. I became borderline physically and verbally abusive with him. My then-husband (we divorced in 1994) refused to believe that we had a problem, and my older son simply grew himself up and became a hard working, responsible adult–no thanks to two somewhat neglectful parents.

Bipolar disorder can be managed if the person with the disorder stays on medication. My son periodically went off the meds, which resulted in self-destructive and abusive behavior, and the loss of friendships and parental trust. As recently as last summer, he stopped taking his medication and began using cocaine. His pregnant girlfriend became frightened of him, and my husband and I flew to Texas to bring her back home to Washington. Their baby is now five months old, and my son has yet to meet him.

My son is a brilliant musician. I say that not only as his mother, but as someone who has a great appreciation for, and a some knowledge of, music. His father, too, is a gifted musician, and clearly our son has inherited that gift. He is also highly intelligent, a master manipulator, and a very talented storyteller. Some of those stories caught up with him last summer–he was neither a Marine, nor was he a lawyer–which is part of the reason the baby’s mother refuses to allow him access to his child.

Even on medication, the disorder remains, lurking just below the surface in anticipation of missed doses of lithium. It’s appetite is massive and nondiscriminatory. Marriages are destroyed, families are rent apart, relationships that should be basic foundational support collapse. The tentacles of bipolar disorder are far-reaching and no one escapes their grasp.

Again, with proper medication and determination to stay on it, bipolar disorder is manageable. The vital, operative phrase being, ‘…determination to stay on it…’ It is a huge temptation for my son to go off the medication when he starts feeling ‘normal’. Once off the meds, however, it is almost impossible to convince him to go back on. I’ve stopped trying. I’ve hung up on him twice in as many weeks–I don’t know if he’s taking his lithium or not, but I do know that he is unreasonable when we talk. I don’t have the energy for it anymore, and have chosen to maintain a fragile thread of communication–no more, no less.

Bipolar disorder has left a General Sherman-sized swath of destruction through our family that will require years of healing. I love my son, and I hate the disorder. For right now, that’s where things stand.