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My daughter’s diagnosis with pediatric bipolar disorder at age 6 was my lemon. Her exuberant spirit and courage that inspired me to get out of my comfort zone are my lemonade.
“Come on, Mama!” Sadie demanded, dragging me toward the Giant Dipper. “You promised!”
Above us, the rollercoaster’s bright-blue cars, packed with screaming passengers, thundered up and down rickety wooden tracks. I froze at the entrance, too terrified to budge.
Sadie was eight, back then, and had already ridden the Dipper three times that day—twice with her dad, once by herself. Ever since she was two and took her first spin on a mini-purple dragon coaster—hands in the air and laughing the whole way—she’s loved fast, scary rides.
It’s a Small World is more my speed.
Still, I knew I owed it to her to swallow my fear and ride the Giant Dipper with her. She’d done something equally scary for me the day before—run in her first kids’ race. She was the last runner to cross the finish line. But as I scooped her, flushed and sweaty, into my arms for a hug, I knew how brave she was to even attempt it.
I’ve been an avid runner for years. Though I hoped Sadie might one day follow in my footsteps, running didn’t come naturally to her. She didn’t walk until she was two. By first grade, when other kids her age were sprinting up and down soccer fields on Saturday mornings, she’d barely mastered a lopsided trot.
Eventually, we learned that her physical delays, along with a history of erratic moods, odd phobias, and extreme anxiety were symptoms of pediatric bipolar disorder.
While her peers played sports after school or took ballet, Sadie went to therapy. By second grade, it was starting to pay off. She joined chorus and signed up for hip-hop. And then she announced she wanted to run in a race.Just like me. I was in awe of her courage. I never expected that it wouldalso rub off on me.
Since that rollercoaster ride, Sadie’s inspired me to venture out of my comfort zone a little more often. Watching her stick with hip-hopeven though she was always a step or two behind the other dancers, motivated me to finally try it. I was at least twice as old as most of my lithe classmates. But whenever I mangled a routine and wanted to quit—which happened about five minutes into each class—I remembered my girl’s fierce determination and held my ground in the back of the steamy studio.
In fourth grade, Sadie performed a song she wrote herself in front of a packed auditorium at her school talent show. I pictured her on that stage, petrified but forcing herself to sing, when I agreed to read an essay to a crowd of strangers at a local literary festival and worried my public speaking jitters would get the best of me.
A few months later, we visited California Adventure Park. Sadie made a beeline for the Tower of Terror, a ride I swore I’d never set foot on. After the ride ended, she raced over to me. Hopping up and down, she begged me to go on it with her. Just looking up at the tower made my stomach flip-flop. I started to shake my head. Then I gazed down at her beaming face. I smiled back and reached for her hand. If she could handle a 30-second freefell, I knew I could too.