Motherhood and Mental Illness

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a mom. I was always the mom when my friends and I played house. I remember asking for and receiving a baby doll for many Christmases, even my tenth when my obsession with motherhood outweighed even my growing passion for soccer. I felt like I had so much love inside, I just wanted to care for someone else. As I grew up, my youth group friends called me ‘Mom’ because of my motherly attitude. When I got my first apartment it wasn’t long before I was taking in young adults who had rough home lives or just needed a place to stay for a while. But none of it was the same as having a child of my own.

So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that after I got married we started trying to conceive right away. We had been together already eight years and we felt ready to settle down as parents. I worried, as I had been worrying for years, that my “unofficially diagnosed” endometriosis would throw a wrench in our plans but only six months later (which felt like years for me) I saw two pink lines on my pregnancy test. I was joyous but cautious until the doctor confirmed, and even then I was afraid of something going wrong.

Approximately eight months later, after a rough pregnancy with many nights in the hospital and bedrest,  my beautiful daughter was born via c-section. We were so happy but also stunned like deer in headlights. Eight months after that I finally had to admit the truth, I was not ok. I had been in denial for too long. I’m not sure where the denial began, somewhere in my teenaged years, though the problem had begun so much earlier. I had a mental illness and it wasn’t just going to go away with the “joys” of motherhood that I had been longing for since forever.

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Somehow I had managed to rationalize my almost daily self-harm, my suicidal thoughts and my suicide attempts. I had compartmentalized my abuse and rape by a former beau and my strained relationship with my own mother. I had deluded myself into thinking I was healthy and successfully convinced my now husband of the same lie. I had received treatment for depression a few times in the past but had quickly lied and denied anything to do with harming myself, cutting or suicidal ideations and tendencies. My lack of honesty only hurt me. I went fifteen years too long without treatment and had allowed the disease I would not own to rule over my life, missing out on normal milestones like getting my driver’s license, and ruining my friendships.

Two weeks after my daughter turned 8 months old, I checked myself into a treatment facility. When they took me back for my evaluation, my husband kissed me sweetly, he admitted later that he didn’t think I would be kept, he expect group therapy or something but he did not know the extent of my illness which I was determined to tell the evaluator. For once I was honest and it earned me a bed.

I was to go in and out of treatment for the next six months. Five stays, totaling approximately sixty days, countless med changes, eight ECT treatments, finally a psychiatrist who listened and an accurate diagnosis. I could finally name the demons in my head. Bipolar Disorder, Severe Generalized Disorder, Self-harm Addiction, PTSD, and Suicidal Ideations. I was finally able to get the medication that helped me and begin to use the coping skills I learned in therapy.

But how could I be a mom when I felt like a child myself? Born again with a new name and a new truth. I fought thoughts that my daughter would be better off without me for a mother. I worked to keep a positive light on a life where my mind threw only shadows. I feared the days where I could not get myself out of bed. I feared the desire to isolate. I feared the rage that often accompanied manic phases. I feared for my daughter. I mostly feared that she would someday find herself with the same demons and it would all be my fault.

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I have come a long way, though I do suffer with doubt which I think is only human. I cannot tell you that everyday is sunshine with my now three year old. I can’t tell you that I don’t get sad or angry or lost. Somedays I do have trouble getting out of bed but now on those days my daughter and I cuddle together and read books or watch a movie on my laptop. My bad days have made her more independent and my good days have made her loving and creative. She herself is a toddler and as you may know they have bad and good days as well. She knows that Mommy has a sickness in her head and that’s why Mommy takes medicine. She knows that when you feel sad you tell someone you love and she knows how to be kind when someone else is sad.

My mental illness will always be with me and fighting it will be a part-time job for the rest of my life. Some days are harder than others when it comes to fighting the guilty feelings that my daughter has a mother so impaired. But I know that no parent is perfect and that I am a loving mother and I would do anything for my daughter. I am going to teach her compassion and empathy. I will watch her for the signs of all illnesses, mental or physical, as a parent should. My mental illness is part of who I am, just like being a parent is part of who I am, but it does not define me. I will not allow it define my experiences as a mother.

{By: Rachel Potts, I Still Matter volunteer & blogger}

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