Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Being Elastic

What to write about in my first real, non-introductory post? I've been thinking about the ways Bipolar affects our family, and what coping strategies I've had to put in place to keep things working for everyone. The more I think about individual situations, the more I see a pattern developing. The strategy that most often saves us from throwing in the towel is being flexible.

I've been thing about elastic, actually! You know the thick white elastic that is used in the waist band of a pair of pants or a skirt? It's called braided elastic. It has a few rows of rubber elastic stuff bound together, and it is really strong and really stretchy.

Bipolar Disorder has interrupted our lives many times over the years. It has affected relationships, ability to stay in paid work, ability to manage parenting tasks, ability to complete study.... the list goes on. Each time an interruption has occurred, we just change the game plan a bit.

One thing that remains unchanged for us is our commitment as parents to be there for our children. In practical terms this has meant that we make sure there is always a parent available for our kids when they need one. Simply put, we only have one full time paid worker in the house, or we both work part time. There is ALWAYS a parent available to drop everything and go if a child needs us.

Over the years this has taken a few different forms for us. Sometimes Hubby has worked full time and I have been the kids Primary Caregiver. Sometimes I have worked full time and he has been Primary Caregiver. Sometimes we have both worked part time and been part time Caregiver. This sharing of roles has given us the capacity to be very flexible with how we manage running our household and providing the support the kids need. The fact that Hubby is a shift worker adds another element of flexibility that has more often than not allowed the kids to have 2 parents available a lot of the time as well.

For the past 5 years- the longest time since we began parenting that we have stuck with one arrangement!- Hubby has been the Bread Winner and I have been the Caregiver. But we have recently had another Bipolar interruption, and it is becoming time we need to stretch again and do things differently for a while. I think the reason we have been so long in this arrangement is how well Hubby has been. His symptoms have been very well controlled and he has been coping with a full time work load. But, as is often the case in our experience with Bipolar, things can shift, and a bit too much stress here or a bit too little sleep there can cause a shift in mood. The upward lift, which will inevitably be followed by the downward spiral, starts and something needs to change.

For us right now, the main stress for Hubby is his current work environment. Our daughters recent diagnosis of Bipolar has also brought another dynamic to our family. I am in awe at Hubby's strength and resilience in the face of what must be a confronting turn of events for him. But even the best of us need to acknowledge when we need to give ourselves a break. He did that recently when he told me he needs to cut down to a part time work load before his mental health really suffers. The impending birth of our next baby prevents me from going to get work immediately, but I am looking into getting back into paid work next year once we've had a chance to settle the new arrival into our family. In the mean time Hubby is working a few days less each fortnight and we are trimming the budget a bit. It is all about priorities and what we can make work best to look after ourselves holistically.

So we become elastic again, stretching around the bulk and lumps in our lives, still bound together, but navigating a new way of getting around things. Maybe a bit frayed around the edges sometimes, but stretching and coping anyway.

It feels daunting right now, looking at the changes our family will be experiencing next year. We have one starting HSC studies (for those of you reading outside Australia the HSC is our high school leaving certificate which students complete work for over the last 2 years of High School), one moving from a mainstream class into an extension class, one starting High School directly into an extension class, and one starting Kindergarten, a new baby arriving, and Hubby and I adjusting our work arrangements to look after his needs and ensure our financial needs are also met.

Yet I know we will pull it off. Maybe not without hiccups. But if I've learned one thing over the years of supporting Bipolar and Autistic family members it is that we can pull anything off if we remain flexible. Stretching, twisting, pulling back a bit. It seems to work for us. We look a the situation, assess the areas of biggest need then adjust the best way we can to meet the new needs.

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