One of the most difficult aspects of managing Bipolar is relationships. Looking back on my life, I’ve always had friendships where it’s almost immediate enmeshment, toxic, goes nuclear, and ends. For most of my life, people would cut me out. I would find myself begging people to forgive me or constantly seeking approval from anything with a pulse. I’ve been told more than once that I am “difficult to deal with” or “overwhelming”. As a mom, my fear is that I am not giving my children what they need, because I have struggled with so many people in my life.
I used to be terrified of being alone. I used other people (especially my children) to distract me from myself. It’s so much easier to focus on anyone else’s issues than your own anxiety, depression, or even day-to-day emotions. Being a Mom was my only identity and concern. Disassociation is my specialty – well, it was. I remember when I connected with Yoga, I was shocked at feeling my feet for the first time.
I guess, it’s fair to point out that the co-morbidity of my stuff is very high, is this PTSD, is this Bipolar, is this being a human being? That’s honestly why I started writing. “Why am I so fucking miserable?” was where I started. There is no line between mental illness and me. I’m also an ACOA, and similarly, there is no line between the characteristics of an ACOA and me. It is all me. I refuse to say “oh well that’s my bipolar talking there.” No, that’s my fingers flying across the keyboard spouting out my brain babbles, there. This is an ongoing process, as is forgiving myself.
I have an incredible memory. It’s almost photographic. The problem is, that recorder doesn’t like to shut up when I’m trying to meditate, relax, or ya know, be with my kids. My mind plays anywhere from 5-25 different tracks at a time. Meditation and mindfulness are the only two keys that I have found to manage this. Regardless of mania, my brain does not shut up. I don’t even know what “racing thoughts” means, because my brain is a goddamn relay race/triathalon/5 year old on crack unless I’m able to breathe and slow myself down.
The harder reality to accept and manage is that these issues affect my relationship with my kids. Like my recorder of a mind loves to play, for most of their lives, I did not stop moving. I was driven to be perfection in my career, housekeeping, wife-ing, and mother-ing. Every weekend, I’d pack our agendas with activities and adventures in a desperate attempt to mask my internal struggles and alleviate my guilt for always being a shitty mom.
I did not have a diagnosis of any sort until I was 31 years old, yet all that I describe has been my entire life. I have spent most of my life writing everything I’ve ever thought or felt off as “being fucking crazy” because that’s how it was referred to by everyone, it feels like. I just kept it all inside as much as I could, and I created an internal world to live in, or used my imagination to go somewhere else. I’ve re-written myself so many times in my mind, that I struggle to tell you what reality is. That’s tough.
I can’t remotely get to those levels anymore, nor would I want to. I’m so much more interested in calm and quiet. The chaos of my life still makes me nauseous and I want it all quieter, yet I once thrived in chaos. I used to worry that I create it all myself – drama, relationship problems, etc. I still worry that my children’s behavior is a direct reflection of my inability to be “normal”.
Prior to January or so, when I was told “you are acting manic” I was actually deeply depressed. I would force myself into this hyperactivity to hide everything. Our busy schedules would double, and looking back on the depression I had through April, I don’t have the first clue how I did it. Well, yes I do, I’d dissassociate and focus on everything but me. I can’t say there’s a winning solution in this – what I did to myself before with depression was awful, but allowing myself to fall apart is not sustainable either. That is why I am working so hard to maintain balance. (You’d think as a Libra, this wouldn’t be such a challenge…)
I am constantly afraid that my moods affect my ability to be ___. I constantly stress or analyze if I am more or less affectionate, am I paying enough attention to my kids, am I caring for them well enough? Baseline expectations are difficult for me to understand. When you’ve spent 34 years being Hercules, how do you drink your morning coffee and say, alright, well I’m going to lift this here 5 lb dumbbell and call it a day? My other shadow is, “Do I withdraw affection because of my moods?”
My focus has predominantly been on re-training my brain. The way I talk to myself is/was abhorrent. When I think on something like the Law of Attraction in correlation to my own treatment of myself, I can see why I attract people who treat me like shit. I can also clearly see growth, because there are a few people I have cut out of my life, and that excites me. I do not want toxicity in my life. When my recorder starts playing, I have been taking a deep breath and saying, “I forgive you”. When I compare now to then, I say “Your smile is real, now, and that means more to the kids.” Most importantly, my smile is real now and that feels so good for me.
I’ve started doing Yoga with my daughter in the morning. I taught her sun salutations, and we’ve been working through a tiny routine together, with the plan to build up our own morning routine. She rolls out our mats side by side, and we talk each other through our breaths and shapes. In my forward fold, I sneak a glance over the happy smile on her face, and I record that. I record me teaching my daughter my second greatest coping skill. Yoga. Yoga put me back in my body, and helped me understand when I or someone else was hurting me. I am building a routine with my daughter because that is the only way I can understand a baseline. If I do this every day, it is something I do. When depression comes again, I have promised myself that she and I will still do Yoga. I believe those little steps amount to greater impact than any amount of plastic crap or expensive vacations or any other guilt relief attempt could do.
A great mom is not defined by the stuff she gives her children or the places they go. A great mom is defined by teaching her children to love, and the only way for them to learn love is to love themselves first. Maybe I am backwards, because my children taught me how to love myself. I spent 9 years putting them above me in every word, and for the past year, I’ve started me first. I’m a new person, and my kids are happier for it. And hell, Yoga in the morning helps me from screaming what the actual fuck at my feet – I still feel guilty about the Frosted Flakes though.
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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