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Ashley Knowlton: Generational Ritual

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When you have a hereditary disorder, it can feel like an inevitable outcome for your children. Ashley Knowlton wonders if there’s anything she can do about it.

In her early thirties, my mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder – first diagnosed with bipolar II and later with bipolar I. Growing up, it was common to see her in elated states of hypomania, pouring herself over multiple tasks at a time, conquering everything and nothing all at once.

Mania, on the other hand, brought extreme paranoia. One day, I came home from school, and she was pacing from the kitchen to the living room, expressing her immense frustration with my father who, according to her, had placed listening devices throughout the apartment so that he could hear our conversations.

I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in my late twenties. Like my mother, hypomania brings obsessive productivity. Mania brings paranoia and intense fear. Yet, I sometimes question how much of it is genetically inherited and how much is learned or adopted behavior.

At its peak, my disorder convinces me that someone has placed video surveillance equipment all over the house. One year, in a fit, I expressed to my husband that the poor Chimney Kraft worker who serviced our wood stove had placed cameras all over our house while I was out and that we needed to check every nook and cranny to get rid of them.


Left unchecked, though, my delusions increase exponentially and lead me to believe that men are watching me through windows.

Our little boy is six now and, though I try to keep my paranoia or fear to myself, I wonder how much of this he sees or hears. After we moved into our current house, a couple of years ago, I caught him staring at the windows. Here, the windows are large and showcase the front lawn. Pacing the living room, he once asked if he was safe. This led to a conversation about mommy’s “big feelings.”

At times, I still see him pacing at the windows, and I can’t help but question how much of this will become a generational ritual. At his age, it’s hard to tell what typical childhood fear is and what might need behavioral intervention. Only time will tell, as well as some future therapist he’ll inevitably need. For now, all I can do is be comforting and understanding.

With a Perspective, I’m Ashley Knowlton.

Ashley Knowlton teaches English at her neighboring state prison, serving college students who are incarcerated. When she’s not in class, she’s spending time with her family and tending to their many animals.

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