Mothering with Mental Illness

I see you. The woman, trying her hardest to be the best mother possible while struggling under the weight of mental illness. I see you, because I am you. 

As someone with severe anxiety and a bipolar diagnosis, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to just function on a daily basis, with or without children. My experience with mental illness, however, has changed drastically since Remi came into the world a little over 2 years ago. Here are the ways that my mental illness affects me as a mother.

I Over-analyze Everything

I think this is probably true for a lot of mothers, regardless of whether or not they deal with anxiety on a regular basis. Current parenting culture doesn’t just permit this kind of self-scrutiny; it almost demands it. 

There are SO many different values and philosophies within the parenting communities that it’s almost impossible not to wonder if you’re doing all of this the right way. What makes it even harder is knowing that there isn’t one answer, which means that I tend to overanalyze every little thing that I do as a parent. Is Remi watching too much TV? Am I a failure for giving Leo a bottle?

The consequence of this detailed analysis is usually coming up with a definitive answer. Yes, I am a failure if I give Leo a bottle. But then sometimes I do it anyway and feel even WORSE. Because I *know* that what I’m doing is wrong, but I can’t help it. The layers upon layers of guilt just stack on top of each other until I’m one big pile of mommy shame.

And yes, I know that giving Leo a bottle doesn’t make me a failure as a mother, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel like it sometimes. 

Suicidal Ideation and Fear of Dying

The suicidal thoughts haven’t magically stopped in the past few years, but they’ve definitely changed. I still come up with detailed plans on how I would kill myself, but there is zero desire to actually DO it. It’s actually this really weird juxtaposition between suicidal ideation and actually being terrified to die. I honestly don’t know what would be harder: living without my children, or knowing that my children have to live without me. Then there’s the classic if I died right now, my kids wouldn’t remember me. Yeah, that’s a hard one to reconcile. 

Intrusive Thoughts

Again, this is something that probably happens to most parents, regardless of whether or not they have an actual anxiety disorder. That is, being anxious that something might happen to your children. It’s terrible, but I often can’t help but come up with disaster scenarios in which we get into a car accident or one of my boys has cancer. They get to the point that I actually have to come up with plans to try and prevent things from happening that are pretty unlikely to happen in the first place. 

How bad is it? I don’t want to ever have a swimming pool at my house. I don’t even want to TAKE my boys some place where there is a swimming pool that they could accidentally get to. I don’t like when I, or anyone else, walks with them near major streets. All the school shootings are the worst; I’ve even considered homeschooling the boys, and I would be a terrible homeschooling mother.

Stabilization

This one surprised me, but it makes sense when you take a step back. My hypomania (from my bipolar) manifests itself as creative highs, and used to work ALL the time when I would get inspired. Seriously, I would sleep four hours a day at times just because I was so into my work. My lows would be just as low, and there were days when I couldn’t even get out of bed. 

I don’t really have the luxury of giving into my hypomanic episodes anymore, and I still have to get out of bed, even on my worst days, so that I can take care of my kids. I still have these mood swings, but I just don’t have the option to act on them. It’s good, in some ways, because it forces me to stabilize myself, but it can also be really tough. I miss working, and I sometimes get depressed because I *can’t* work, which is new. 

In all, my mental health is doing fairly well. I still struggle, daily, with these kinds of things, but I’m at a much better place mentally than I have been in the past. I’m happy and functional, which is all that matters right now. As long as I can handle the anxiety and the mood swings, I’ll be fine. 

Photo by Jillian Rose

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