Ask Amy: Advice for the Real World

DEAR AMY: When I was 31, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I started having symptoms when I was 11. It took me years to seek help, even after my dad was diagnosed when I was in my mid-20s.

I told my mom a few times that I thought that I had the illness. I was hoping she would help me seek treatment, since I was so afraid of the stigma, but also after having an acute episode, I would feel better and convince myself that nothing was wrong.

Every time, my mother told me that she didn’t think anything was wrong with me, even when I confessed that I was contemplating suicide.

Finally, I sought help on my own. Medication and therapy have helped me tremendously, and my mom has been supportive now that she has witnessed one of my manic episodes and realized that I really do need help.

I still harbor resentment toward her for not encouraging me to seek treatment earlier. I realize that I am an adult and ultimately responsible for myself.

I want to forgive her, but I want her to apologize.

Am I wrong for wanting that? I bring up my illness with her more often than I should in the hopes that it will spur some remorse. I want recognition that I had to struggle with this, while she denied anything was wrong.

I would hate to damage our otherwise good relationship.

— Waiting for Sorry

Dear Waiting: Your narrative brings to mind the famous quote from Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Parenting sometimes seems like a long string of opportunities to fail, and your mother failed you. I can think of several reasons why she didn’t seek help for you earlier, including ignorance, denial, stigma, or flat-out fear. All of these reasons will seem like excuses at this point, however, and now you are owed an acknowledgment and apology.

Rather than bringing up your illness and being continually disappointed when she doesn’t take the bait, I hope you will ask your mother for what you want: “Mom, it would help me a lot if you would explain to me why you didn’t help me seek treatment earlier. I need an acknowledgment.”

If you don’t get what you seek, you will have to do the hard work of accepting your mother, despite her own failings. Forgiveness should follow.

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