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Making peace with the past

Having a mom with bipolar disorder can be a heavy load for a child to bear. For your own mental health, it’s best to unpack that emotional baggage.

By Robin L. Flanigan

Kathy Leichter’s mother, Nina, used to dress up a mannequin in their Manhattan apartment as Bob Dylan. She would move a bust of Marie Antoinette that she’d found in someone’s garbage from the living room to the bathroom, or vice versa, depending on her mood. She was a prolific poet, and she loved rock and roll.

“She was unconventional and interesting and funny, and I liked that about her,” says Leichter, who was 7 years old when her mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1974. “But I didn’t feel completely safe. It didn’t seem like she had things under control, and I often felt like I had to be in charge.”

Leichter's father, a politician, was often away in Albany. Even when he was home, Leichter recalls, she felt as if her mother were "a balloon that might fly away at any second." Sometimes her mother would leave the house late at night to hang out at her favorite radio station, and Leichter never knew when she would be back.

Leichter, now 45, learned not to lash out about that or any situation, because her mother would respond by withdrawing. Even with treatment, Leichter recalls, Nina never returned to the woman she thought of as her “real mother.”

In February 1995, exhausted and physically ravaged, Nina Leichter ended her life. Kathy Leichter was 28. Nearly a decade later, still trying to cope with the loss, the award-winning documentary filmmaker from New York City turned the lens on herself and those closest to her. She says Here One Day is her effort to make sense of what happened to her mother and to better understand their relationship over the years. … [end of excerpt]

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