MY BRAIN IS ON FIRE by Lynne Warberg

Since my son's birth, I lovingly photographed him every day to create family memories.  Looking back, these images have become an extensive archive representing a mother and son's unique view of over 15 years of heartbreak, hope, sadness and terror and reveal how a family deals with their child's rapid cycling mood episodes. By sharing my story I hope parents who may be experiencing similar incidents, can detect the symptoms and get help, so that an early diagnosis can be achieved. 

"My Brain is on Fire" is a fifteen year personal project about my son, who was diagnosed with Pediatric Bipolar Disorder or Juvenile Onset Bipolar Disorder, a form of bipolar disorder that occurs in children. Although, he exhibited symptoms at a very young age, he was not properly diagnosed until the age of eleven. My son showed symptoms of extreme behavior and mood changes for many years prior to being diagnosed. As a parent I sought every possible cause; parenting, nutrition, seizures, vision problems? Consistently I was told by almost every mental health practitioner, "We know very little about the brain," and no one was willing or able to diagnose him sooner because childhood mental illness is a very controversial issue.

The controversy lies in the "official" diagnosis and how a child psychiatrist interprets the child's symptoms and behaviors. Even though, my son developed rages lasting over an hour within any given day, and at the young age of 5 told us that he wanted to die, he was diagnosed with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and agitated depression. These are the disorders listed for children in the DSM and doctors prescribe adult psychiatric medication according to the diagnosis. My son's first psychiatric medication was an antidepressant. His mania worsened. Next amphetamines were prescribed. I refused. His brain was on fire. Six years was spent in this vicious circle of try another drug with severe side effects never tested on children to see if it works. When he was finally diagnosed with Pediatric Bipolar Disorder by a psychiatrist we trusted he followed a treatment plan; medication and therapy, and was mainstreamed back into classes with "normal" kids. His life opened up for him, school was easier, he made friends, we had hope.

My son lost his childhood to mental illness. Now Sam is 25 and two years ago was also diagnosed with schizophrenia. He lives at home with me. My heart aches for all of us dealing with severe brain disease and especially for those who have lost their child. 

To read more of Lynne's and Sam's story and to see her photos.
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Photo Credit: Lynne Warberg

Photo Credit: Lynne Warberg