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Annie's Mailbox®, February 28


Dear Annie: I have been married for two years. The problem is my daughter. "Melanie" was diagnosed as bipolar when she was 12. She has wild mood swings, and we've had to call the police on her more than 20 times. She has been convicted of domestic violence twice and has been hospitalized to try to deal with her disease.

Melanie will be turning 18 soon, and my husband has given me an ultimatum — kick her out or we will be divorcing. I would do this if Mel had someplace to go, but she doesn't, and I can't throw my child out in the street. My husband has no children and doesn't understand why it is so hard for me.

Mel's tantrums are geared mostly toward me. She barely speaks to my husband. I can ignore her outbursts because they will pass, but my husband cannot. Mel sees a psychiatrist on a regular basis, and we have changed her medication a thousand times. I know we will eventually find a combination that works.

We have been to family and marriage counseling, but my husband refuses to budge. I don't want to have to choose between my child and my marriage. Both the counselor and I have tried to explain what it means to be bipolar, but my husband doesn't believe it's a true illness. He thinks she can just change her behavior if she wants to. What can I do? — At My Wits' End

Dear Wits' End: It's a shame your husband doesn't have a better understanding of this debilitating illness, but we know your situation has been exhausting to deal with, and he undoubtedly wants the problem to go away.

Melanie is going to be an adult and must eventually learn to be independent. Talk to her psychiatrist about the possibility of helping her find her own apartment. If you don't think she can handle a roommate, consider subsidizing her housing arrangements.

Also discuss other forms of treatment, and contact the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance ( at 1-800-826-3632 for suggestions and help.

Dear Annie: Is it necessary for a man to remove his hat at the dinner table if it's a baseball cap? — Pat

Dear Pat: Yes. The only exceptions are illness and religious reasons. In nicer establishments and at home, there is no other excuse to keep a hat on. But we are not holding our breath waiting for a man in a fast-food place to remove a baseball cap, charming as that would be.

Dear Annie: I read with interest the letter from "Just Wondering in Southern California," whose sister-in-law is obsessed with bleach. I was grateful that you included the poison help number (1-800-222-1222) in your response. However, I want to clarify a small but increasingly important point: The National Capital Poison Center is actually only one of 60 poison centers across the U.S. that can be reached through that number.

If the woman who wrote called that number, she would have been connected to one of the centers within the California Poison Control System. As state budgets get tighter and tighter, identifying the poison center as a "national" system can actually undermine each center's importance at a time when many are arguing for their very existence. Thanks. — Jessica Wehrman, Communications Manager, American Association of Poison Control Centers, Alexandria, Va.

Dear Jessica Wehrman: Thanks for making sure our readers understand that the national toll-free number connects to various state poison control centers that serve their local communities. We need each and every one of them.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Ste. 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045. To find out more about Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



23 Comments | Post Comment
I can understand at wit's end situation. I also have a bipolar child with similiar history. Yes, Melanie will have to learn to be independent, it will be a long process and hopefully once she is able to stabilze and take her meds it can happen. Annie, with her history of mental health arrests and hospitalizations you are way off base to expect her to live in an apartment any time soon, even if she is helped with rent, to get her out of the house so the husband is happy. Melanie would be a danger to the community and to a roommate. Her psychiatrist is still trying to find the right medications for Melanie, he/she can't possibly transiton her to an apartment yet or endorse her unsupervised lving in any way, shape or from. So, I think at wit's end will have to end up chosing between daughter and husband. I do question why a parent of a bipoloar child would marry someone who doesn't understand her illness or even believe it is an illness. Did they never talk about such a serious issue before they married? Frankly at wit's end's problem is not the daughter, to me it is the husband, and also at wit's end for creating the situation. Sorry. I do agree that the DBSA can be helpful. I would also recomment NAMI. At wit's end, you need to think long and very hard about what would happen to your daughter if she is out on the street, unmedicated and unsupervised.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Sewsmom
Sat Feb 27, 2010 10:45 PM
And, apologies to my daughter, she is a person first who has an illness, not a bipolar child. Would I say a cancer child? No, a child with cancer. Same thing.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Sewsmom
Sat Feb 27, 2010 10:52 PM
Very beautifully written, Sewsmom. I couldn't agree with you more. In this case I would choose my child over an ingrate.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Rosa
Sat Feb 27, 2010 10:59 PM
Hubby will find another excuse to leave her if she dumps her daughter.
Comment: #4
Posted by: sarah
Sun Feb 28, 2010 4:32 AM
hubby will find another excuse to leave her if she dumps her daughter
Comment: #5
Posted by: sarah
Sun Feb 28, 2010 4:33 AM
So is LW1 supposed to be held hostage by her daughter's disease for the rest of her life? LW1 is supposed to simply give up her marriage and her husband because her daughter is bipolar? At some point, this daughter is going to be on her own whether she's ready or not. What happens when LW1 dies? We're talking about bipolar disease here, not mental retardation. With the proper medication, this daughter can function perfectly normally but it sounds as though she isn't trying to help herself much. Personally, it sounds to me as if the mother has allowed her daughter to walk all over her and she blames the disease for every infraction, thus allowing the daughter to avoid any personal responsibility for her actions. Has she considered that she's raised a rotten child who also happens to be bipolar? Sorry, but I'm with the husband. Everyone seems to forget that his happiness and well-being are important too, just as much as the wife's or the daughter's. If I were him, I'd stick to my guns: Once the girl is 18 she goes or the marriage is over.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Chris
Sun Feb 28, 2010 5:30 AM
I am somewhere in between Sewsmom and Chris. Her daughter had not been held accountable for her behavior in the past and has been allowed to blame the outburst on her condition. Is she abusive when she is high or low? Depression does not naturally equate to yelling and screaming. Maybe she is not taking her meds. My friend does not like to take hers because she doesn't like the way they make her feels. She hides away during her depressive periods. I am not advocating this just pointing it out to explain that she knows her condition and controls it. She loves how she feels in the highs. Everyone is different but I don't feel that the daughters fits are caused by her condition but by her conditioning.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Penny
Sun Feb 28, 2010 7:14 AM
LW1 gives it away by saying she ignores her daughter's outbursts. Part of treating bipolar illness is behaviour modification. Ignoring it is NOT helping, it is enabling. And the fact that the daughter barely speaks to her husband is also telling. He may not have been able to truly assess the depth of the situation before he became a member of the household. While she does have an illness, she is also being manipulative. It is easy to weary people with rages and violence. Some will act like the mother, others will put their foot down. It is not loving to enable a monster, so don't give me the "only a parent will understand" argument. As a nurse, I have seen more loving parents have success with consistency, firmness, and support. The husband is right. And he should not waste his life on such a codependent situation. He's been in there pitching, going to counseling. Let me tell you what will happen next in this situation. The daughter will continue to hold her mother hostage, but as she becomes an adult, the mother will no right to her medical information. Mom will still be stuck with paying for insurance and legal costs and damages and housing, but she'll have no rights unless her daughter gives her permission. Then the fun really starts . . . and it will be Mom's fault for not handling the situation appropriately.
Comment: #8
Posted by: julia
Sun Feb 28, 2010 7:36 AM
Re: Chris---I'm with you on this. This child may have a medical condition but she also needs to take responsibility for her actions. I'm sure the husband is at his wits end. She's bipolar but it also sounds like an excuse for horrible behavior that's been allowed by the mother. 20 police visits? Convicted of domestic violence twice? The constant changing of her meds is a major problem. Maybe the meds don't need to be changed but the girl and her mothers attitudes do.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Cathy
Sun Feb 28, 2010 7:46 AM
I'd like to ask LW1 exactly what she's getting from a husband that believes, essentially, that she and her daughter are lying, that it's a matter of daughter choosing to act this way.

Yes, when you have a child who is bipolar, like when you have a child who has developmental disabilities, it is basically a "rest of your life" situation (even if you don't live with the kid (group home or other supervised living arrangement). And that's where I fault LW. It's understandable that she desperately wanted a spouse, someone to help her when she's worn out from dealing with Mel. But she doesn't have that spouse, and it's exactly why single parents in those situations (and there is a higher incidence of divorce among parents with special needs kids, because the kids ARE such a source of stress) really HAVE to be extremely cautious about re marriage or live-in situations.

Uncontrolled bipolar is a nightmare for not just the person who has it, but also for the people who love someone who has it, and it resists simplistic solutions like "kick her out" or "talk to her therapist about whether she can live on her own". Mom could probably use some counseling as well.

It doesn't sound to me like Husband is the support they both need. If she follows his wishes and kicks Mel out at 18, before the proper treatment is found, the marriage won't survive the guilt and anger Mom will feel if Mel attacks a roommate, an employer or some other unsuspecting person. I think Mel and LW would be better off without someone who thinks that all their problems will go away if Mel just moves out, since he's now an added source of stress in an already stressful situation. Realize that he's not the person you'd hoped, you won't be the kind of person you respect if you follow his ultimatum.

For the future, don't look for a Prince Charming to sweep you off your feet and rescue you. Keep grounded, keep your eyes wide open and don't rush into anything. Most potential new boyfriends will think, "hmmm...a kid who's 18? Should be off to college or work soon" -- even if you mention bipolar in passing.
Comment: #10
Posted by: hedgehog
Sun Feb 28, 2010 8:22 AM
I agree it is not loving to enable a "monster". And yes, I will give you the only a parent can understand. A nurse is not a parent in this situation. How I wish some of you could walk in my shoes for a week. It is very easy to judge the mother and criticize Melanie for "not helping herself" or "taking responsibility". Would you have the same expectations of a child with cancer or diabetes? Gee, it would solve itself if only she would help herself and take responsibilty for her cancer/diabetes etc. Oh wait, we don't have the right kind of medications figured out for you yet, so take responsibility and help yourself, and Mom be sure to set limits and put your foot down so everything will be ok, especially with behavior modification. And she would get better if we just changed our attitudes. Melanie has wild mood swings and is not on the right medication. A person in a manic state doesn't care about limits and firmness and consquences - she'll sneak out and may break a window to do it. So you call the police. A person who is seriously depressed will hide, curl into a ball and plan how to kill herself. So you call the police. Some of you call her a spoiled , rotten child. Consistent firmness and limits that you stick to may not help when she's manic or depressed. Please tell me what firmness will? Do this and you'll have XYZ rewards and privileges. Don't do that or you lose the priviledge of computer, tv, cell phone, going to activities, friends, go to your room, and you're grounded too. Oh wait, what cell phone or friends, find one that will accept her. She doesn't even know how to text, who does she text? What activities? You sign her up over and over for anything that she's interested in to engage her in the community, she won't be able to go conistently, despite her sincere commitment to the activity (ok, here are the consquences, go even if I have to force you into the car or - see above) and too many times the other kids and leader/teacher will reject her, often cruelly You get her involved with teenage support groups through NAMI and DBSA , she hates going because every other kid there is "not like her" because she can't and won't accept her illness. You set limits with firm, consistent consequences and when she has those stable periods she will manage herself and give you hope. You fight the school district ($10,000 and a lawyer) to get her into a small structured education program where she can have success when she's stable and give you hope. She desperately wants to be successful, tries hard and gets good grades. She has a very high IQ by the way. That's when she can go to school, when's she's not in the hospital or pyschiatric center as they try again to stabilize her meds. But, she's a spoiled, rotten child and a monster. But, it's not as though she has down's syndrome. Julia is right about what will happen in the future when Mom can no longer access her medical records and insist she be admitted to the hospital (again) to try to find the right medication cocktail. Every parent I know from the hospital or psych center is terrified of the future as we do our best to support each other and share ideas not only for our children but on how we can still manage our own health and sanity. FYI, there is no one medication, each one (2, 3, etc.) is a hopeful experiment from the doctors who sincerely try to help her. But she would get better if we just changed our attitudes. Please, please fnd the right medication(s) for Melanie and then she may have success. At wit's end, my prayers are with you. PS, my daughter burned my house down last August, I'm sure if I'd put my foot down she wouldn't have done that. She now lives in a residential treatment facility to get intensive therapy, attend the campus school and be immersed in social sitiuations. Hooray! Hmmm, the social worker there is already talking about her coming home in 3-4 months, I have another big fight coming up because I'm putting my foot down and won't let her come home. Say your prayers for me please. And try not to judge me too harshly
Comment: #11
Posted by: Sewsmom
Sun Feb 28, 2010 10:29 AM
Maybe Mel would pay attention to a shock collar.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Sun Feb 28, 2010 10:51 AM
A shock collar, darn, wish Mel's mother and I had thought of that. Thanks for the joking advice.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Sewsmom
Sun Feb 28, 2010 10:57 AM
People keep making the "child with cancer" analogy. It's a poor one. This is a child with a chronic illness. And again, I have seen children with terrible chronic illnesses who play their families like violins, creating a whirlwind of drama, and those whose families integrate the fact of the illness into their lives, but provide love and expectations, and are far healthier. If only a parent can understand because only they have that love, then why don't they want the best for their children and act on it? My best friend's son regularly goes after the house with an axe in his bipolar moments. But he wants his mother to leave her husband, who has been nothing but supportive, but who does try to impose structure. Sound familiar? And yes, I know that they may not like how the medication makes them feel. The treatments for cystic fibrosis and heart failure also have side effects. But they save lives. Sorry, these kids will never feel normal because they aren't. Mom needs to stop feeling guilty and work for her daughter, even doing the hard stuff. Sewsmom, I don't blame you for not wanting your daughter to come home. Only you know whether you could have done better, but the next time your child may kill you. I've seen that, too. Think about it. And all of you need to stop damning a man who doesn't have that parental guilt to keep him in an unsupported situation. Even her letter indicates his efforts and points out her inadequacy as the loving Mom. I'd love to hear his side.
Comment: #14
Posted by: julia
Sun Feb 28, 2010 11:14 AM
Marriages fail all the time because of a child with some sort of disability. This man may not have realized that he would be living with a 24/7/365 situation. He sees his wife being screamed at and can do nothing about it. We don't know exactly what is going on in this house, what has been done by the mother to understand her daughter's problems and what groups she has joined to information and support. Calling the cops, 20 times or 1, is a very dangerous thing to do. People have been killed because they won't stop what they are doing that prompted the call or go toward the officer. One of the things this mother can do is check with her local support group and find a way to have a program that will teach the officers what to do in this sort of situation. Friends have done it here and it helped tremendously.
She may want to change psychiatrists. There has been new research done and she needs to find someone who keeps up with the literature, in fact, read it herself. And, a pill isn't the entire answer. The pill makes it possible for the person to have more control or to come out of depression, but they need the skills on how to behave when they do. People who are bipolar can leave wonderful lives. I know a school principal who is on medication for this condition and she has learned to watch her moods and control her behavior. She also takes her medication every single day.
I don't blame this man for wanting to leave. Plenty of biological fathers do. Even if he understood this disease and believed it was medical, he still might not be able to take any more of it. It is horrible to live under the circumstances of this house. The daughter has been convicted of domestic violence twice and hospitalized. That means there is a tremendous amount of information on how she behaved when this happened and during treatment or under the court's control. Her psychiatrist should evaluate that to better figure out treatment. No medication is all this young lady needs.
Comment: #15
Posted by: BB
Sun Feb 28, 2010 11:20 AM
Sorry for my rant, it's tough for any parent like at wit's end. This is about Melanie's mom and her situation. Julia is right, hubby should not be condemmed. From the letter it seems he has tried to do his best. Julia is again right, It is a chronic illness so Melanie's illness will not go away. Hopefully it can be managed. At wit's end will have to help and support her, in one way or another, or tear herself to pieces with guilt if she cuts her loose; Mom is trapped for life. New husband, leave to save your own life, Melanie will not go away.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Sewsmom
Sun Feb 28, 2010 11:44 AM
LW1, in my opinion, is married to a bigot. As a person that lives with two mental illness, I can tell you that the prejudice and misconceptions about mental illness are staggering. I take medication daily, and it works nicely for the most part, but it isn't a cure.

When I tell people about Borderline Personality Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, they assume if I try hard enough to control myself, and take a brisk walk, that I shouldn't have to take meds. My analogy is this : would you try to tell a person with diabetes to control their blood sugar by willpower and exercise alone?

Mental illnesses, for the most part, are caused by genetics, chemical inbalances, and hormones.

When triggered, we can no more "control ourselves" than you can change the colour of your eyes, or mentally adjust your blood sugar.
Comment: #17
Posted by: Barbara B.
Sun Feb 28, 2010 3:21 PM
LW1 is living with a bigoted, ignorant man. As a person who deals with two mental illnesses everyday, I can tell you that prejudice and misinformation regarding the mentally ill runs rampant even in today's society.

When I tell people about Borderline Personality Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I'm told that I should take a brisk walk or just control my rages with mind control, and not take my meds. My analogy is this : would you tell a person with diabetes to not take their insulin, and control their blood sugar with their mind? Or how about someone with a broken leg? Oh, just limp around on it, it'll heal eventually.

Even taking my medication every day without fail, and counselling for years upon years, there are still triggers out there for me that WILL make me flip out.

Once the LW1's daughter get a little older, there will be different anti-psychotic medications she can take. Due to her young age, the doctors don't dare to try them on her yet. Maybe she could give them to her loser husband, instead.
Comment: #18
Posted by: Barbara B.
Sun Feb 28, 2010 3:35 PM
Sorry if I'm missing the drama about the bipolar daughter, but having lived with a bipolar Mom, my best advice is to save yourself, because you can't save your daughter.

My question is: Why do men have to remove their hats? If it's custom, it's dying. I've never been given ANY other reason. In a world of sexual equality, why don't women remove their hats?
Comment: #19
Posted by: Carole
Sun Feb 28, 2010 6:02 PM
I've known several bi-polar people (adults and children) and this condition has never been a legitimate excuse for violent behavior. I get the distinct impression here that Melanie has never had boundaries and perhaps mom is using her daughter's diagnoses as an excuse for ineffective parenting (There's a lot of that going around; just ask any school teacher). I really think the step-dad does need to step away and get on with his life. He may not be articulating it well but it's not unreasonable for him to expect behavioral changes in this kid and the mom as well. I think his wife and step-daughter both have issues - big ones.
Comment: #20
Posted by: Rick
Sun Feb 28, 2010 7:23 PM
Sounds like this couple missed out on some much needed pre-marital counseling. I wonder, had they gone through a values analysis would they have gotten married? If she'd known then that he thought her daughter was basically "faking it" would she have left then? If he'd known that her #1 priority was the health of her child and not him, would he?
Comment: #21
Posted by: Mich
Mon Mar 1, 2010 10:11 AM
Did LW1's husband somehow not notice the bipolar teenaged daughter before the wedding?
Comment: #22
Posted by: R.A.
Tue Mar 2, 2010 4:58 PM
As a woman with bipolar depression I just want to say that if, after 6 years they STILL haven't found a combination of meds to stabilize her, she needs to drop her present psychiatrist and find another one. She's obviously not getting the best treatment from her current one (I know how difficult it can be) and needs a different one. Today. Now. ASAP.
Comment: #23
Posted by: cjs mom
Mon Jan 19, 2015 5:51 AM
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