When I was younger, I was always jokingly referred to as the “Little Worrier” or “Miss Perfectionist.” I was always preoccupied with the what-ifs and ensuring I had control over every little aspect of my life. As I got older, what should have been small things, became huge issues.
Getting a B on a test was worth worrying about, despite having an A in the class. A friend passing on a meet-up was suddenly because that friend hated me and wanted to talk about me to other people. These thoughts and feelings grew and grew as I got older and culminated in basically having a mental breakdown my senior year of college and withdrawing from school.
That was when the sadness started to really settle in beside racing thoughts. I would cry and lay in bed for days on end. I would sleep all of the time. And then I started to wonder if maybe it would be better for everyone in my life if I simply wasn’t there. I managed to work past these feelings by finding faith, and started to feel more like myself as more time went on.
It wasn’t until I got older and started seeing a doctor regularly, that I was officially diagnosed. And boy was it a list: Major Depressive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Panic disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and an eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder).
When I got these diagnoses, I cried. Not because of what they were, but because it finally made sense. It wasn’t my fault that I felt the way that I did. These were real conditions, an illness. I was relieved to know that I wasn’t just broken.
I did well for a long time after that. Then I had children. With my oldest, the postpartum anxiety was so bad, as was the depression. There were times where I looked at my child and wanted to get in the car and leave, because I thought he would be better off with just his father. I also would stay up and watch him sleep, terrified something was going to happen to him if I allowed myself to sleep. I finally admitted my feelings to my OB and she put me on medication. Unfortunately, I waited almost 3 months to say anything, and I still feel like it impacted my bonding with him.
Eventually, I was able to feel the fog lift and things were good for awhile. I was able to wean off of the meds and we got pregnant with our second. He was born and things were great. No postpartum depression or anxiety. We nursed for 13 months, and towards the end of that, it came back.
This time I sought help right away. I entered counseling and got meds. There was no bottom that I had to hit this time and I felt great. I was aware that my conditions were there and I was able to control them.
Unfortunately, the meds only worked so long before I grew a tolerance to them. This time, I tanked. Hard. The suicidal thoughts came flooding back, the anxiety was causing my blood pressure to go crazy. I was able to get on another med that seems to be working, and I can say that right now, I’m doing okay.
When I was single and dealing with this, I felt that that fallout from my mental illness was pretty minimal. It did cost some friendships over the years. For the most part, I was always able to say that the impact only affected me.
It’s all changed since I’ve had kids. Now when I’m depressed and don’t want to do anything but sleep, it’s my children who are missing out on time with me, who miss my presence when they go out to the park. When I’m anxious, it makes my mood more temperamental. When my eating disorder raises it’s ugly head, it affects my health and self-confidence.
What hurts the worst, is knowing that I’m responsible for teaching my children how to manage their emotions, but I cannot even manage my own at times.
Mental illness is such an invisible monster. When I’m in a depression episode, people looking from the outside might think that I’m a lazy, disinterested parent. When I’m anxious or panicky, I may look overly uptight and like a helicopter parent. Really, I’m someone in pain who is crying out. I love my children, but sometimes my mental illness who is in control, not my heart and desires.
The reason I am sharing this is because I want other parents with mental illness to know you are not alone.
You are not a mentally ill person, you are a person with mental illness. It is not the only thing that defines you. Your strength, your love, your kindness…those are things that define you.
You may look down at yourself and think your mental illness may make you a bad parent, but that’s not the case. When I feel that way, I have to remind myself that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We all have our faults, things in our lives that make parenting hard at times.
I choose to believe that I am more than my mental illness.
That I am a good mother who loves her children. Those are the identities that I want to come first: wife, mother, friend. Mental illness is just another trial that I have to overcome.