Staying the Course Prescribed for Major Depressive and Bipolar Disorders: A Family’s Journey Thus Far

Living_Brain_Disorder2.jpgI don’t believe there is any road of human experience wrought with more winding, blind-curve, uphill challenge, where chronic illness is concerned, than in traveling the path forced by that of mental health issues relating to a close family member. Perhaps debatable, but certainly not by me — it’s the hardest road. There. I said it.

I am the mother of 24 year old son. A son, who was diagnosed at age 14 with major depressive disorder. And, to add to the ragged, mysterious 10 year tour; the looming, possible diagnosis of bipolar disorder. A diagnosis suspected by a host of mental health care professionals through his subsequent, abnormally turbulent, (understatement) teen years; from in and outpatient addiction counselors, to attending psychologists and psychiatrists. The doctors were hesitant to diagnose him with bipolar unequivocally, due to his young-adult age. But, given his behavioral symptomatology and genetic family history, I think bipolar disorder has likely been a decided, pre-mapped route we are destined to travel as a family.

What does this all mean to a patient, a mother, a family, after ten years of worry and treatment, and more worry and more treatment? Well, we only know for sure what we don’t know. Which is: We don’t know if there will EVER be a “cure”. This known “unknown” is especially prevalent within the parameters of chronic depressive illness. And, for a mother, that’s a particularly bitter pill to swallow. And, is reason in part, for my contention that dealing with this particular mental illness is, in so many ways, more difficult and heart-wrenching than dealing with other chronic illnesses presenting with predominantly physiological symptoms.

As a family that struggles with the resource drain of the “off” briefly, then unpredictably back “on” with a vengeance aftermath of major depressive disorder; we have, out of necessity, come to expect less and less in terms of the support and compassion from some of those in our sphere of influence. This is due to the misguided perspectives pertaining to the behavioral symptomatology that our son’s illness presents. But I report, to a positive effect, we have come to realize a more centered focus of strength and connection within our immediate family as a result of “huddling” together through the years.

Given the vast, varied scope of expansive anatomy concerning neural pathways relating to brain chemistry, biological inheritance factors, brain injury related exigence, synapses wiring, etc., etc., etc; I think it’s not terribly unlike searching the infinite heavens for a pinpoint cluster of stars or galaxy suspected, but undiscovered. The search for the answers as they relate to serving the goal of restored mental health is a, decidedly, daunting journey at times. Yet, the collective neuroscientific community, in many cases under funded with regard to research, AND scores of devoted, often underinsured families, forge on tirelessly. All compelled by primal instinct: That of compassion and concern for another soul. A search for answers driven by the desire that all people deserve to be “who” they were meant to be, unfettered by would be personality “disrupters” altering the very core of what we, as humans, innately recognize as: “who one is”.

Related to that subject, and because I feel especially entitled in this forum with regard to my particular experiences as a mom in support of a son; I will unceasingly continue to bellow this fact: “Depressive disorders can contain symptomatology or “episodes” of absent “life management drive” as well as, seriously “self-destructive” behavioral choices, by the patient. That combined, in some patients, with the propensity to exhibit self-medicating, addictive tendencies — even more so, with lack of the help provided by consistent professional treatment. These repercussions are symptoms of the chronic depressive illness present. Depressive illness symptoms are typically behavioral — BUT ARE NOT CHARACTER ISSUES! There. I said that too.

And so… “What” in the absence of physiological cure to date? As in any other chronic illness where family support is concerned, that’s easily stated: “Love… Love… Love”, of the “unconditional” variety. And, consistent support born of the, “get yourself educated in the facts relating to the “chronic depressive illness” variety”, should you desire to effectively help a family affected. Both varieties, crucial components needed to bridge the sometimes, seemingly black, chasm-like gap that can emotionally, and physically, separate patients with mental illness from family members and other loved ones; as well as, create social disconnect regarding affected families from extended family members, friends and others.

I can manage the misunderstood response to my son’s illness by some family members and friends in a logical frame; easier now for me than it was several years ago. That helps me cope and live in better peace. Still sometimes, but to a lesser degree, that disconnect has been especially painful. Peoples’ ambivalence, and then to the opposite intensity, their rush to character judgment is, quite literally, emotional “assault” rubbed into an already serious wound. I’m convinced the response offered by some friends and family members would be much different if the chronic illness my son suffers were to be say, cancer or multiple sclerosis.

I will continue to do my homework in staying informed on scientific and cognitive therapeutic advances regarding treating chronic depressive illness on behalf of my son’s life, and my family’s health. As a result, I’ve come to understand so much more about the nature of this chronic illness. As far as others are concerned, it’s pretty simple. When people are uneducated with regard to the behavioral symptoms presented by major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, they tend to “shrink back” in awkward attempt to protect themselves from the discomfort of not knowing what to do in support of the effected patient and family. The behavioral symptomatology result can be, after all, quite unsettling. I get that. But unfortunately, as a family, we continue to experience the disconnect to a larger degree than, I believe, should exist.

So where are we on the map now? Well… constantly moving in the direction of encouraging others in the understanding of the realities of this chronic illness. In this case that happens to be my son’s constant, courageous battle with major depressive disorder.

Until the final destination of “cure” is arrived at, restoring the “hay wiring” effects of the illness, I will look to the advances available that assist with healthy, peaceful travel along the way: Effective medical treatments, in combination with constructive, compassionate, non-judgmental support. This “vehicle” provides, from time to time, a reflective stop along the way that reaffirms the journey’s purpose. We’ve come such a long, long way in support of our son and our family. Are we there yet? We’re as close as we can be…

  • PsyDCounselor

    I entirely agree with you when you said,

    Peoples’ ambivalence, and then to the opposite intensity, their rush to character judgment is, quite literally, emotional “assault” rubbed into an already serious wound.

    I am in the profession of mental health counseling, and I see the rampant disownment and separation of once-close family members with patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

    Stigmas hurt us all!

  • Patti Wilson

    Thank you for your response. Thank you too, for the wonderful work you do.
    My hope for affected patients and their families is that we continue to find effective ways to educate based on facts prevalent in these disorders. The overall response from some connected can often be tilted to the side of emotion. Where those emotions include a negative or harmful impact on a patient and family; I think a strictly cognitive approach is the best equalizer in handling those associated with the patient or family whose unsupportive energies disrupt the process of treatment. Patients can better cope with the challenges presented by the illness in utilizing this approach. Setting clear boundaries with those associated that ensure that the patients will have the ability to maintain a positive, hope-filled approach with regard to their illness will help ensure the best quality of life. Patients, and their families, have enough challenge to deal with in managing the illness without the added stress created from the sometimes critical, misinformed judgment of others.

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    this type of mental problem is a common problem of brain. our expert Mr. Ravi Shankar Singh is sggesting some line of tretment by which hundreds of such type of patient has been cured within a month.
    if you are visiting to india you may consult him, or any time if he is visiting to your country you may consult him there.
    thanking you

  • You go, mom!

    And so… “What” in the absence of physiological cure to date? As in any other chronic illness where family support is concerned, that’s easily stated: “Love… Love… Love,” of the “unconditional”? variety.

    I’m 43 and was just recently diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, after 30 years of being treated for various wrong things. Until there is more effective physiological treatment and cure, it’s the unconditional love that gets people like myself and your son through. Keep it up, and hopefully we’ll live long enough to see the dawn of a cure.

  • Patti


    Thanks for your response…You’re going to do well, no doubt. There are a great deal of avenues for support where your illness is concerned. Talk to other people with bipolar disorder, get involved in these crucial programs that educate, and read everything you can get your hands on regarding the illness and therapies treating bipolar disorder. Seek out those people that will dig in with you. Be consistent with meds and cognitive behavioral therapies. This will make the difference in how you perceive your challenge. You’re likely highly creative, so take the time to invest those energies in rewarding pursuits that will help give a sense of “why” you’re invaluable to this world. Sometimes folks challenged with this disorder “pain” over such ponderings. I’ve found it almost always the case that people with bipolar disorder are “extra-gifted” in the area of creativity. Find your “area”, if you have not already, and pour some of your heightened energies there…It will serve you and others in many profound ways. Focus on current, but also look forward to future advances in neuroscience that will result in a cure. Invest in encouraging those around you to educate themselves on the realities of bipolar disorder. Immi, above all, have faith and believe in the sustaining and healing power of dedicated love.
    I wish you health and every happiness you can hold.

  • Ravi Shankar Singh

    dear petti,
    the mental major depressive disorder of ur son can be cured by me since i have already cured hundreds of such type of patients with chronic history u r required to
    visit India along with ur son with all reports and data available to u. or contact us on our

  • buga.daniel

    I just hope for the best.. I am sure you are going through hard time .. it is your son after all.. I wish you all the happiness in the world ..

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Patti Herndon

Patti Herndon’s son was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at age 14. She is an addictions and mental health advocate. She is a counseling student trained in a therapeutic approach known as Motivational Interviewing (Miller, Ph.d and Rollnick, Ph.d). Her studies focus is; the processes of positive behavioral change as it relates to evidence based addiction recovery.

She has served as a parents advisory board member for a large non-profit organization with the goal of helping parents intervene, successfully, in their teen’s substance use.


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