Parents With Mental Illness: Trade 'Normal' for Happy
Before I had my babies, I imagined that I would be the perfect stay-at-home mom, and despite being a parent with a mental illness (bipolar 1 disorder), I thought I could keep everything normal. I planned to arrange play dates, work out, make all of my family’s food from scratch, keep the house clean and decorated, while still reserving enough energy for some saucy romance with my husband. My kids deserved to have a normal childhood, no matter how crazy their bipolar mother was. I was determined to not allow my bipolar disorder to interfere with my mothering.
The problem was, nothing about my journey to motherhood was normal. Our first baby was inexplicably stillborn at 36 weeks. Only 15 months later, after an excruciatingly long and panic-ridden pregnancy, Abraham was born healthy. My back-to-back pregnancies left my body depleted and my mind exhausted. Looking back, I can see now that I was in desperate need of intense healing for my body, heart, and mind.
What's A 'Normal' Mom Compared to A Parent With Mental Illness Anyway?
But I ignored my own needs. After my loss, I was more determined than ever to be there for my living baby boy, no matter what needs of my own might have to be neglected (Fear Of Losing Someone You Love). I couldn’t bear to not give him everything a normal mother gives a child. And so, I deprived myself of sleep and self-care to become a need-less version of myself.
Even though I was absolutely in love with my beautiful son, I struggled through this new life like I was wading through thigh-deep water. Every day tasks required huge amounts of energy (Postpartum Depression Signs And Symptoms). I couldn’t believe just feeding my baby, doing laundry, and bathing him could consume an entire day.
In the midst of all of these daily tasks, I never once asked myself if I felt well, or happy. I forgot what happy felt like in my dogged determination to be normal.
For months (or maybe several years), while I endeavored to be a normal mom, I didn’t admit to myself or to my doctors that I was teetering on the knife’s edge of a suicidal bipolar depression. I just moved through it, believing that this is what mothers do.
Parenting With A Mental Illness Made Me Judge Myself Harshly
I planned to measure normal success by all the tangibles of mothering: the cooking for, cleaning up after, washing, and dressing. I put so much pressure on myself to live normally that I forgot that I needed care, as well (Living With A Mental Illness And Self-Stigma). I forgot I needed time with friends, time to write, time to daydream, and time to push a cart through Target all by myself once in a while. I forgot I needed to feel pretty and to take care of myself. I forgot to do all of the things that made me me, that made me feel happy.
It took me years to believe I deserved to live a happy, whole life. It took years for me to disentangle from my version of normal to find a version of motherhood in which I can actually be me.
I Traded Being 'Normal' For Being A Happy Mom - Who Also Happens To Be A Parent With A Mental Illness
I get a lot more sleep now. I take time to invest in myself. I take time to step away from my role as "Mom" long enough to remember who I am. I try to see my friends regularly, and I ask for help much more frequently than I used to. Because I am willing to receive help now, I still have energy to be room-mom in the boys’ classrooms and dote on them ridiculously.
But, I dote on myself, too. And even if I need more self-care than the average mom, owning my needs and caring for myself has made me a happy mom. I’m finally good with that.
Arthur, T. (2015, October 28). Parents With Mental Illness: Trade 'Normal' for Happy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2015/10/trading-normal-for-healthy-and-happy-motherhood
Author: Taylor Arthur
First of all, I know how horrible it feels to go without sleep with a new baby. I am so sorry for you. Do you have anyone you could ask for help? Even if just for one night, a good night's rest can go a long way toward making you feel better. If you can't get help for an entire night, even a good nap in the afternoon can do wonders. Also, getting baby on a sleep routine was incredibly helpful for me. There are many methods. I used On Becoming Baby Wise by Dr. Gary Ezzo (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CLKEUVM/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?ie=UTF8&btkr=1), which helped me to develop a routine for days and nights for my babies. The routine helped baby and I get more sleep. It also made it easier for me to plan my days and feel like I knew what was coming. Babies can be so unpredictable!
I hope this helps so you can get some much needed sleep soon.
Take care of yourself, Mama. Your baby is depending on you being well.