Janet: Triggers for Mental Illness

Janet believes David’s childhood experiences could be a trigger for his bipolar disorder. Janet’s mother told her that as a young boy, David went to their Catholic church to learn about being an altar boy. Her mother reported, “He came back home, was very upset, and said I will never go there ever again.” The priest who came to their house during David’s first episode was later found to be a sexual predator. Janet wondered what had happened to her brother.

I’m thinking what kind of trauma did my brother maybe have when he was a little boy that never got talked about that he internalized? Could this have been a factor behind all this? He hasn’t had a girlfriend relationship. I’m sure he’s not gay. My mother [a school nurse] felt that when he was young in elementary school that he needed mental health but my father didn’t think that was necessary, so they didn’t go forward.

Janet recalled another traumatic experience David had in early childhood. At age three, his mother would put David in a harness attached to a clothesline, presumably for safety.

The family story was David got so mad. My mother said this was “so funny.” I’m thinking, maybe he’s totally blitzed out with his nervous system when he was three out of being so angry that he couldn’t run or go anywhere. . .I thought what if he just blitzed out in his little three-year old anger and he didn’t know what to do. She didn’t console him, apparently. I just wonder if that impacted him moving forward. He wasn’t lovey-dovey with anybody but he certainly wasn’t lovey-dovey with my mom. He tolerated her, so I look back at that. We know a lot about trauma and kids. I thought about the trigger of that and maybe the abuse of the priest. I don’t think my mother directly asked him. I’ve thought about asking him now but I he’s never brought it up. Is that something I even should ask him?

Although David currently does not use alcohol, Janet wondered if drinking or illicit drug use in his late teenage years could also have been trigger for his mental illness. She considered that because David is a “sensitive, low frustration tolerance person,” he may have had difficulty adjusting to life when living on his own. She explained relatives on both sides of the family have bipolar disorder. Although not diagnosed, a grandfather on her mother’s side and a grandmother on her father’s side had symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder.

More of the Story: Views about Mental Illness