Sadie’s Story: Life with Pediatric Bipolar Disorder

Sadie’s mother knew her chatty, capricious, and disruptive daughter was different. But when a doctor diagnosed Sadie with pediatric bipolar disorder at the age of 5, it was a long road to acceptance — and treatment.
ADHD Videos | posted by Devon Frye

Dorothy O’Donnell describes her daughter, Sadie — at her best — as a delightful and precocious child, charming adults and other children alike with her brash confidence, boundless imagination, and carefree spirit. But when things got bad, O’Donnell says, they were very bad: Sadie would fly into murderous rages at friends who disagreed with her, stripped off her clothes in front of her bemused classmates, and became preoccupied with death — growing hysterical at the thought that a mistake she made years ago might come back to kill her.

When she was five, Sadie’s doctor diagnosed her with pediatric bipolar disorder — a condition that wasn’t even believed to exist in children until 1990. Adult-onset bipolar disorder runs in O’Donnell’s family, but she struggled to accept that it could be happening to her five-year-old daughter. She grasped for another explanation — Childhood impulsivity? ADHD? Run-of-the-mill anxiety? — before finally accepting that yes, her daughter might be bipolar. But she still wasn’t ready to try medication — pursuing instead an aggressive regimen of therapy and school supports — until Sadie told her that she no longer wanted to be alive, and thought she’d be happier in heaven.

Now, Sadie is a few years older and on medication for her bipolar disorder; in the video below, she candidly discusses her treatment and her hopes for the future. She remains precocious as ever — singing a song of her own composition and using a clever metaphor to describe how bipolar disorder feels to her — but her progress hasn’t been perfect. She wonders aloud how she’s changed after starting medication — particularly whether or not she still believes in magic. Watch the video to hear Sadie’s story, in her own words, and get a sense of how pediatric bipolar disorder feels for a child who lives with it everyday.

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