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Mothering With An Invisible Mental Illness

Mothering with an invisible mental illness is challenging. I know you couldn’t see my mental illness when you were sitting next to me at “back to school” night. You couldn’t see the bipolar medications I swallow twice a day, or the 14 years of therapy that have equipped me to behave so normally. You can’t see my bipolar 1 disorder, but sometimes I wish you could. I’m mothering with an invisible mental illness. 

Mental Illness Is an Invisible Disability

I think that’s why people normalize what I live with: because my illness is invisible. They ask me: “We’re all a little bipolar, aren’t we?”

No, actually, we’re all not. The difference between you and me is this invisible disability called a serious mental illness: this constant use of coping skills needed to recover from mental illness, this mental cart-wheel to sound coherent, to make certain my brain spits out the correct word, to make sure I behave within the limits of normal.

What you don’t see is the invisible wheelchair I’m sitting in.  I may seem normal, and in a lot of ways I am.  But this chair adds another dimension to my life, another set of difficulties.

You see, even if I compete in the Olympics, push this chair around the track faster than all the rest, would you ever expect me to get out of the chair and compete with Olympians who use their legs to run?

That would be ludicrous.

Moms with Invisible Mental Illnesses Feel Pressure to be Normal

Mothers living with an invisible mental illness struggle to perform our duties. But you can't see that we're fighting a disability. I wish you could. Read this.

And yet, I feel such pressure to jump out of this chair and–what? Crawl to compete against the two-legged runners? And how would that look?

That’s what I feel like I’m doing: trying to meet the two-legged moms on the track, crawling along on my belly, while their two legs run circles around and over me (Living With a Mental Illness and Self-Stigma).

To be gut-honest and real? It’s embarrassing. It’s really hard to try to compete, all-around. It’s hard to explain why I get lost driving to the freeway on-ramp some days, why I sit and struggle to remember my own nieces’ and nephew’s names, why after a few busy months of life I can’t get out of my pajamas.

I don’t want to explain to you why keeping the house clean is so difficult, and why just getting my kids dressed and fed is enough of a challenge some days. I don’t want to explain the difference between drugged and lazy. Not again.

I Am So Much More than My Invisible Mental Illness

I am driven by my deep-down conviction that I was destined to be more than bipolar. I was meant to be a wife, mom, friend and writer.

I was meant to race. I was born to run the 100-meter dash. Then, I was given a wheelchair.

But this wheelchair will not define me. I am going to compete, just on a different track.

So please, the next time you look over your shoulder at me, the next time I can’t make the play date or plan the holiday or attend your social gathering, could you try to see the chair?

This mama is doing her best: first to swallow a mood stabilizer and climb into her wheelchair, then to care for her brood, then to push this chair around the track, all the while trying to keep up with the two-legged mamas who make it all look so easy.

As Eunice Kennedy Shriver said,

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be BRAVE in the attempt.

Yes, let me be brave, as I own my illness. Let me be brave as I wield this chair to run my race of life, of love, and of motherhood.

Bipolar Mom Struggles With The Daily Routine And An Invisible Mental Illness

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16 Responses to Mothering With An Invisible Mental Illness

  1. First off, welcome to the blogging team! This blog needed a voice, and judging by this post, you’ve got it.

    One day during depression, the school principal called my house. She asked why my boys had been absent so much, and I stuttered over “I didn’t realize they had been.” And then she proceeded to scold me as if I were her little girl.

    I couldn’t tell her that I hadn’t gotten my boys to school on those 9 days last semester because I couldn’t go to sleep until 5 AM (and then didn’t hear the alarm 2 hours later), or that when I did go to sleep I was out for 16 hours (and slept through lunch). Many times I got 6 hours of sleep over 3 days. And sometimes all I could do was sleep for 3 days. No one knew that. That is not a simple problem to solve for someone with depression and anxiety.

    But she didn’t know that. She thought I was an irresponsible mother. She didn’t know how much guilt I felt for letting down my children. She didn’t know I cried every day because my house wasn’t clean to my husband’s expectations (or mine). She didn’t know the deep well of failure I held inside.

    And how could I tell her?

    Sometimes, getting my boys fed was the absolute best I could do for the day. But I hated myself for it.

    So glad you’re here. I LOVED this post.

  2. Stacey says:

    Thank You

  3. Hi Kellie Jo! Thanks so much for the welcome. It makes me so sad that families dealing with mental illness have to hide it. Why can’t we be open about it? If a parent has any other kind of chronic, life-altering illness, we tell the school. And, if there are signs (like kids not getting to school) that there may be a struggle going on in the home, why aren’t we as a society offering to help instead of criticizing? I’m so sorry you had to go through that. We can change it, though. One blog at a time!

    Take care and keep in touch.

    Blessings, mama!

    Taylor

  4. Stacey,

    You’re so welcome. I wish I could hug you. Be well, and keep in touch.

    Blessings,
    Taylor

  5. Tracy says:

    Hi, I loved your video just because I am a mom of 1 little girl and have a cat and 2 dogs also. I have not had any official diagnosis like bipolar or anything, just that I have bouts of depression and anxiety which I am being medicated for. I can relate to your struggles as I know that there are other moms with more kids and more hassles or maybe work longer hours but I still struggle with the daily routine. The washing basket is overflowing because I can’t keep up with the loads, the dishes pile up in the sink because my daughter and pets demand so much attention. I struggle to think of what to cook each night, I lose my temper frequently with my daughter in the morning in the rush to be punctual with the childminder. As soon as I get too much on at work I start panicking, feeling tired and wanting to cry at everything. I feel guilty for being a bad mother and my man asks me why I am sad or angry or upset when he does his best to provide for me. I have no answer! Like you I compare myself to other mums and wonder if they struggle the same as me and feel bad when their kids are potty trained and mine is still in nappies like I’ve been too lazy to deal with it.
    I wish you well and thanks again for the video, it gives me hope. :)
    Tracy

  6. April Monteverde-Hamilton says:

    Thank you so much for your video! I have two little boys and feel exactly as you described every day! The expectations i put on myself are crazy and the crash when i dont meet them is awful. I look forward to hearing more about you, and would love to exchange some coping skills. Look forward to hearing more of your story…

  7. Kristine says:

    Hi Taylor,
    Nicely said I have a boy and girl and all that was said is how I felt every day. My Children are Grown ups now. My Son was in a tragic accident in 2007 I miss him so very much he stole my heart from day one. My Daughter is married and I’m a Nana to a beautiful granddaughter. I remarried so I am a stepmother to 2 grown boys. So yes I know what it’s like to have a mental Illness and feel like a failure. My invisible Mental Illness is Bipolar Disorder 1 with PTSD. Even with my 3 Grown Children I still struggle and worry about doing the right thing making sure they are okay ect. So Thank you for sharing this!
    Kris R. M.

  8. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for this Taylor. I’ve been struggling with all of those things, especially mornings. My eldest son and I both have ADHD, and some days I struggle to take my meds because I haven’t taken my meds. As well as ADHD I have unipolar depression, anxiety and OCD, so I’m a bundle of mental messiness. My youngest son has recently been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, so it can be beyond chaotic some days. Anyway, enough about me, I really just wanted to say thank you for being so open and honest and for helping me realise I’m not the only one who forgets lunches and permission slips.
    Linda

  9. ldgsmiley says:

    There have been times that I’ve had the thought “I’m not even the GOOD bipolar.” As if that is a thing. This is the first time in my 18yrs with this major malfunction that Ive not felt alone in my struggles as a wife/mom/homemaker. Every day I would hear what I hadnt done right from my then husband. And, having others judge me because I dont look sick is the worst as well. Thank you ladies for sharing your very similar experiences.

  10. Tracy,

    Thank you so much for commenting. I totally know what you mean about starting to panic and crying! I do that all the time. I also feel overwhelmed with keeping laundry in check and housework done. But, I think that a lot of my stress comes from how I’m talking to myself, using words like “lazy” to scold myself when things are not getting done. I’m trying to be more gentle with myself and give myself space when I feel overwhelmed. This will be an ongoing conversation on my blog, as it is an ongoing struggle in my life! I hope we can learn from each other. And, I hope you find comfort in the fact that you are not alone. And just between you and me? Laundry and housework being done does not a good mom make. I have a sign in my kitchen that says, “Good moms have dirty oven, messy floors, and happy kids.” I choose that for a motherhood motto:).

    Take care and be kind to yourself! You sound like you’re doing a great job.

    Blessings,
    Taylor

  11. April,

    Two little boys, huh? You know EXACTLY what my day looks like. Hee-hee. I have very high expectations of myself, too, and I’m trying really hard to let them go. I try to tell myself every day that what matters to my boys is that I love them. They could care less if the house is spotless. I crash, too, especially after trying too hard to be perfect. I hope we can band together here and reassure each other that less-than-perfect is great. Take care, Mama! We can do this motherhood thing, especially when we encourage each other.

    Blessings,
    Taylor

  12. Linda,

    Thanks so much for this. And YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE! That sounds amazing, doesn’t it? A common thread in all of these comments is that we’re all struggling with these daily tasks. Sometimes I think just knowing that takes the pressure off. I, too, am a bundle of messiness. But, that doesn’t mean through all of it that we can’t show our kids real love. It sounds like you are. Keep on, mama!

    Blessings,
    Taylor

  13. Hi friend,

    Is there a good bipolar? I’m certainly not it! You are not alone, and there are many of us struggling. We’ll keep talking about it here.

    Blessings and peace to you,
    Taylor

  14. Hi Kris,

    It’s so good to hear from a mom who is further down the Mom road than I am. It sounds like you have been through some really hard things. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. There is nothing, NOTHING like surviving your own child’s death. And yet, you are still here, still worrying about your kids and grandkids. That gives me hope that I can be that kind of mom and grandma, too. Thank you for your comment.

    Blessings,
    Taylor

  15. Ben says:

    This was a very powerful post to read and thank you for sharing. You made me realise what my mother must have gone through when she had depression and I think understanding is very important for those who live in fear of no one understanding or loving them when they have the turmoil inside.

  16. Ben,

    I am so glad this helps you understand your mother better. I know a lot of us moms living with mental illness do live in fear of being misunderstood and misjudged. I hope you will be able to hug your mama:).

    Blessings,
    Taylor

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