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I grew up in a world where "crazy" was served up daily as a plateful of dysfunction. Years later, at the age of 34, I had a name for my illness. I was bipolar.
During my chaotic life, I managed to give birth to a 10-pound, 10-ounce bundle of love, Shayla Rae Dawn. To me, she was sheer perfection. Many times throughout the years of raising my daughter, the walls I had built up from a lifetime of abuse dissolved when I held her in my arms. Like a waterfall that had been
turned off, my bipolar was evaporated by the love of my child.
As a little girl, Shayla depended on me for both love and security. Although these were things I had never received, I was able to create them in the deep bond
I shared with my daughter.
Looking back, my daughter never thought something was wrong with Mommy, because my erratic behavior was simply normal to her. We would play together like two schoolmates, skipping along the sidewalk, singing and laughing. If she climbed a tree, I was right behind her, imagining the spectacular treehouse we could build in its towering limbs. Shayla would awake in the middle of the night to the wondrous aromas of freshly baked cinnamon buns, whipped shortbread and banana muffins. It never occurred to her that regular people do not start
baking at 3 a.m.
Then, there were times when my bipolar was infused with such creativity that
it seemed like pure brilliance. I would write, compose and submerge myself in the
gift that my mental illness allowed me to share with the world. Long before I was
diagnosed, my bipolar was like a mischievous child, coming out to play whenever it desired.
During her childhood, Shayla took delight in my unusual parenting methods.
One of her favorite memories was of the "Just Because" parties I would host on a
whim. While my daughter was at the neighbor's, I would contact her friends and invite them over for the next day, "just because." They would arrive to find our home adorned with colorful decorations. I would have craft projects set up for the
girls, and a homemade angel food cake with marshmallow icing, complete with sprinkles and sparklers. The girls would hide behind the couch, and when Shayla
entered, her friends would jump out an yell, "Surprise!"
Since being diagnosed with bipolar and properly medicated, my life has changed in dramatic ways. I have clarity where racing thoughts once existed. I have stability where chaos resided. I have been a spokeswoman for mental-health
issues, sharing my troubled past with those wanting to see me as a person coping
with a mental illness. Additionally, I have spoken at my daughter's former high school twice and watched with great pride how accommodating Shayla has been with my bipolar.
Stepping out from behind the shadows of my bipolar, I have positioned myself to be scrutinized. To openly announce to the world that I have a mental illness is not an easy task, yet I gain control over my life when I share my journey with strangers. The realization that my "metal imperfection" is the foundation of my dysfunction now gives me hope! My daughter, Shayla Rae Dawn, has taught me that there are no limitations in life, only recognition that there is freedom in embracing our differences!

To submit a story for future publication, send it to: P.O. Box 30880-K, Santa Barbara, CA 93130
(From "Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family")
Reprinted by permission of Tonya L. Alton. (c)2009 Tonya L. Alton.
(c)2008 Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Distributed by King Features Syndicate