Your fifteen minutes of fame
Dateline: Pittsburgh, PA, 2003
Eight years ago, I had my brush with fame, dubious though it may be. It was a time of great stress and turmoil in the life of The Boy and myself. We were a little over two years into our "adventure" with pediatric bipolar disorder in the Spring of 2003.
I was pretty hush-hush on his diagnosis - only immediate family, school personnel and very close friends knew about his suicide attempt and eventual hospitalizations (two, I think, by that time - the total number of hospitalizations is now seven). I had flirted with denial up to that point...maybe the doctors were wrong? Maybe there was a physical ailment that explained his many difficulties with mood and behavior?
Anxious for answers, and wanting to provide hope and comfort to other parents whose child had recently been diagnosed, I responded to an ad that I found on the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation web site.
I was ready to bring our experience with mental illness out of the darkness - and remove the stigma and fear that I felt from having a child with bipolar disorder.
The Boy and I appeared in a local public television program about depression.
If you don't have cable, or you drive a Volvo, you are familiar with public television. For the rest of you, think PBS.
I actually found the TV listing for the program online (in WQED's dark, dusty digital archives):
TUESDAY | MAY 6
Cover Story: We continue our four part series Depression: The Help Connection.
You'll meet the mother of a seven year old boy who has bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. Find out how she knew it was time to get help and how she and her son are dealing with his disease.
We'll also hear from top local researchers on what to look for and what to do if you think your child is depressed.
I am the mother mentioned above. A producer and videographer interviewed me in our home, and rode in my car with me when I went to school to pick up The Boy (I discovered that I drum my fingers on the steering wheel when I'm nervous). I talked about what it is like to live with The Boy (pre- and post-diagnosis), and how important it is to never give up on finding medical help.
In hindsight, I guess I wasn't 100% ready to show the world the face of pediatric bipolar disorder then - I would only let The Boy be filmed from behind. Viewers got to see the back of his head, and watch him play on the computer and run down our hallway (I was concerned that classmates and parents would stop being as friendly to him if they knew).
Not that we hung out with PBS viewers, mind you.
This program was my first baby step toward being more open about our struggles with mental illness.
The producer called (after the program had aired) to tell me that folks had called in, leaving positive feedback on our segment. Some said that it was evident how much I loved The Boy; some were even brought to tears.
I wasn't trolling for compliments - I only wished to offer hope and compassion to other parents in the same situation, and to let viewers know that by judging a child's erratic behavior without knowing the circumstances is selling everyone short.
Maybe being on that program gave me the confidence and courage to write freely about the ups and downs of life with The Boy's bipolar disorder and autism on my blog.
I wouldn't want to watch it now, anyway - I was younger...and skinnier...and wrinkle-free. Who'd want to see that?