Q. I am 23 years old. My mother was bipolar and had obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve been scared my whole life of getting what she had since I’ve heard it’s hereditary.
In the past year, I have thought I was going to swallow my tongue. It started when I was driving and now it happens any time. This past month I have become scared of going places because I think someone is going to hurt me. I can’t even go to the doctor or dentist, I’m so scared. I just moved to a new city and feel isolated. I am getting depressed because I sit at home 24/7. How can I be normal again?
A. While it is true that certain anxiey and mood disorders (which include bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder) tend to have hereditary components, that doesn’t mean you will suffer from these disorders. There is no one particular bipolar or OCD gene that you inherit, the way you inherit a gene for cystic fibrosis.
The impact of being raised by a mother who had substantial psychiatric illnesses may be substantial. It is normal for a daughter to think she will grow up and be like her mother. In many ways, kids feel loyal to their parents and want to be like them. They feel bad if they prefer, instead, to be unlike their parent.
Still, because you are having these kinds of symptoms, you must see a psychiatrist for an evaluation. The symptoms you describe sound like agoraphobia, which involves fear of leaving the house and being in public places. This is quite treatable, as are OCD and bipolar disorder. You say you have just moved to a new city. This is hard for anybody. Feeling friendless and isolated as a young adult — after a childhood spent with a psychiatricially impaired mother — can certainly make you feel that you have few coping skills.