Mental Health Awareness month has prompted me to start a new blog category. To be honest, it’s been on my mind, because it is my mind. I’ve realized, though, over the past few months, that attempting to separate mental illness from being a Mom is like attempting to separate my left cheek from my right. It’s kind of a package deal.
I hear a lot about “talking about mental illness” and I’ve ranted about it here and here. Acceptance, for me, is being completely authentic. I am a Mom of 3 kids, and I have Bipolar, PTSD, MDD, GAD, PMDD, and OCPD. I am on a cocktail of medications that I kind of hate, and I manage my symptoms with medication, Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness. My alphabet soup, however, is irrelevant. The why is irrelevant. The how, however, is critical. Like any illness or addiction, this is a family disease, and that is hard for me to type out. My kids are 10, 7, and 5, and they have seen their mother go to the mental hospital 5 times. They’ve witnessed more panic attacks then I could count, and they’ve watched me drown in depression and psychosis. My mind does not let me forget these facts.
I struggle with shame and guilt constantly. My idol, Carl Jung, has helped me understand my mind better than any mental health professional. Jung taught me that in order to grow, we must embrace our shadows, not fight them. My biggest shadow is my feelings of “being crazy”. When Jack and I separated, my first thought was, “He’s going to take my kids, because I’m crazy. I can’t handle the kids, because I’m crazy.” Oh, and of course, “If I hadn’t been crazy, my marriage would have survived…”
Yes, on one hand, I understand that this is not my fault, nor is it something I signed up for. It’s not as if I was first in line for “raging mood swings” or “debilitating depression”, but one of the stigmas that Moms face is their own self image. I know for a fact that I am my own worst enemy. I don’t suppose most moms think to themselves, man, I really want to feel like a failure every day. Yet, with or without a mental illness, that seems to be the baseline. The alphabet soup just adds fuel to a fire that exists for moms in general. My other shadow/fear is failure. Mania may allow me to take the world by storm, but depression reminds me of every raindrop along the way. Anxiety, of course, will point out the dust on the shelves.
I could go on an endless tirade about how life seems stacked against everyone. It seems as though you are judged coming, going, and sitting anymore. People who have the audacity to paint a picture of their life as anything less than perfect – with homecooked meals three times a day, bustling career, and ceaselessly stimulated children, is falling short of something. I fall short every day, and for the first time in my life, I have accepted it. Bipolar does not make setting realistic expectations easy – between black and white logic and mood swings – one day I could rearrange my house and the next day I can’t bathe. Sometimes, the best I can do is say, “that’s what I got today”. I used to fight it. I embrace it. Jung would smile.
I realize mental illness affects men and women, but I’m a chick and a mom, so I kind of have to stick with this perspective. As I’ve been more open about my life, I’ve found that almost every person I know is on anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication right now. It makes me feel less alone, but I’d rather be brutally honest, because I am tired of being a one-legged woman in an (itchy) ass kicking contest.
Being a mom with depression is akin to being asked to run a marathon with cement shoes on. Somehow we do it, and at the finish line, we curse ourselves for our shitty time. If we’re lucky, anxiety can spike, which will allow us to run in circles in our cement shoes screaming at the dishes for still not being done. Even then, it seems like we all lose sight of how freaking strong we are. It is amazing what moms can do in general, and it is mind-blowing what moms with mental illness can do.
As this endless barrage of emotion, moods, and coping skills tornado in our lives, there are eyes watching us and learning. Every mom knows and feels it. I personally think, even if you are not an empathetic person, you feel your kids emotions like a tidal wave. I am acutely aware of my daughter’s new anxiety as I watch her gnaw on her nails like me (great job Mom! my brain likes to chant) I used to say that I hope my kids were not like me.
I don’t get time outs for depression or anxiety. My kids still need to be woken up, dressed, fed, and taken to school. They lack empathy, because they are children. All the words in the world can’t make them understand that their vocal (LOUDLY vocal) opposition to pants is not alleviating my feeling of worthlessness. Nor, really, is it their responsibility, I am the parent (as my brain likes to remind me), and they aren’t responsible for caring for me. As my respiration becomes panting, hands become clammy, and chest becomes a vice, their need for Frosted Flakes supplants my need to bury my head in my knees and scream “What the actual fuck” at my feet (while I judge myself for allowing my children to eat non-organic sugar laden shit, WHY DID I NOT MAKE EGGS?!)
Let’s be honest, too, if you do take that timeout, maybe you do run and hide in your room, light a candle or close your eyes, you generally feel guilty, because you’ve abandoned your children, and what type of mother doesn’t want to be around her kids? Does any mom actually want to admit that there are days where you cannot actually handle her children? Does any mom actually want to say to themselves, “I swear, they just make my anxiety so much worse”?! Sometimes you might, and generally, the argument will start, with the should have, could have, if only’s. Depression worsens, anxiety spikes, and I’ll just cry into my pot of ravioli tonight. “The dishes still aren’t done, and how many baskets do I have left to store that folded laundry? I just need to stop feeling sorry for myself. ” I might not have a stigma against others, but man, the way I can talk to myself….
It’s comforting to know that there is no force greater than my love for my babies. I know, deeply, no depression will ever be able to completely snuff that candle. However, in those car rides in the morning, eyes puffy from crying myself to sleep, reaking of BO because I haven’t showered in a couple days, with my tongue cemented to the roof of my mouth, I struggle to weed a single productive thought from my mind. My kids sing happily to music, and I force myself to listen to them. I force myself to crack a joke to make them smile, because their laughter and giggles are the sunshine in my days. Their age makes it easy, I can say poop and get them to laugh.
But what happens when poop doesn’t make them laugh anymore? There aren’t any pills that stop my kids from maturing and becoming increasingly aware of my struggles. There is no medication that completely eradicates what I go through. The only thing I can truly do is continue to learn how to love myself, because even my love for them isn’t enough. The only salve I’ve been able to apply on my burning heart and mind is very simply:
If I am honest and open with them, they learn. If I set that example for them, they learn. As they watch me love myself, they learn to love themselves. My children know the words anxiety and depression, because I teach them. Maybe my mental illness is a blessing, because it seems like this is a lesson a lot of people need.
“Mommy, what is wrong?”
“My anxiety is really bad today, so I’m listening to some music to calm me down”
Their obsession with music is my first successful step in coping. Music is my first therapy, my first line of defense, and the blanket on my tired shoulders. I’ve given it to them, too. I’ve given them the songs that I’ve loved to help me with my emotions. If there is any benefit to having mental illness as a Mom, it is that my kids will be well equipped with knowledge and compassion.
Nothing is going to break me. I cannot change my mental illness or how the world works. But, in finally accepting myself, I will say this, I genuinely hope my kids turn out to be like me – total badasses (with amazing taste in music an an affinity for ass culture) If I’m honest, the poop thing is just my silly anxiety. Poop is funny at every age – you don’t need a pill to know that.
In upcoming posts, I will talk about other ways I have been coping, and openly discuss the effects my mental illness has had on my life, being a mom, and my career. I’d love to hear any feedback, and I challenge anyone who reads this to open up as well. I’m open to suggestions for further posts, too! Guest blogs, etc. welcome, I really want to focus on this in my writing. Facing my shadow and admitting my feelings of being a mom with mental illness is the hardest thing I can do.
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