When I was a young mom with two kids I felt completely overwhelmed all the time. Not the normal, exhausted and frazzled kind of overwhelmed. The bawling my eyes out in the middle of the night kind of overwhelmed. Once, when I was babysitting another kid who was sobbing because he missed his mom, I was sobbing too because I just couldn’t handle life. It was a painful moment. Both of us just sobbing while my two toddlers looked on. I didn’t know then I was suffering from mental illness. I just knew that parenting seemed absolutely impossible.
I was so tense and anxious that I wanted to scream my head off. I remember feeling that way even as a child, but having kids just made the problem worse. I had no idea there could be a reason I felt this way, until a good friend of mine suggested I might be suffering from postpartum depression. At the time I thought, Yeah, I WISH I had an excuse. No, I’m just lazy, incompetent and ungrateful. In reality, I was none of those things. Nor was I suffering from postpartum depression. I was actually suffering from a lifelong mix of anxiety and depression with OCD and ADHD thrown in.
It took another year and another friend talking to me about her depression experience for me to finally seek professional help. I started off trying different medications and doing therapy. It was trial and error to find a medication that worked well for me. One of the medications was ineffective, and another made me completely apathetic. I had to stop taking that one because I was afraid to be left alone with my children for fear I would neglect them. One day I was lying on the couch all day letting my 2 and 4-year-olds feed themselves leftovers out of the fridge. I couldn’t muster the slightest motivation to help them at all. I even remember driving somewhere, speeding down the freeway thinking, I don’t care if I get a ticket for speeding and I don’t care if I hit the divider and die. I didn’t care about anything. But that did scare the crap out of me. Those two experiences made me realize that particular medication wasn’t right for me. To say the least.
Several years and two more kids later, I knew I was suffering from mental illness and I was being treated for it, but because of some other health problems and life in general, I just wasn’t finding a great solution. I was kind of maintaining, but I was still struggling with massive self-loathing and horrible fatigue. I felt like a failure. Even though I used to be an “anxious, crying mess of a mom,” at least I’d done a lot of things I should’ve done, like read to my kids. But now I’d gone backwards. I’d actually gotten worse as a parent over time and become a “sleep on the couch while my kids watch TV mom.” I hated myself for it, and it felt impossible to be a good parent to my kids while I was suffering so much.
Right now I’m finally in a good place where I’ve got a lot of my health problems figured out, I’m improving my health further through weight loss, and best of all, I’m on medications that are managing my mental illness pretty well. I feel really good. I’m generally happy and productive. And I’m better able to give my kids the love and attention they need.
The fact that I struggle with mental illness will never leave me. Even though I’m managing it, there will still be times when I’m trying to interact with my toddler and I’ll suddenly get a panic attack out of nowhere that causes me to shake and feel weak. I will be driving a van full of kids down the road and have a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach from some unnamed guilt. I’ll have days when my kids need me to be positive, but I’m just sad about nothing in particular. If I forget to take my second dose of adderall in the afternoon, my brain will hurt when I try to remember what the heck I have going on that day, and I’ll forget about my kid’s dentist appointment. These things will continue to happen, but now I’m able to get through them better.
Two of my five children also struggle with mental illness. It’s frustrating to see how hard it is for them to concentrate. It breaks my heart when, for no reason at all, they are so sad they can’t function. I feel helpless when normal life gets so overwhelming for them that they shut down completely. It’s hard to parent a child with mental illness, especially when you’re struggling at the same time.
I am grateful that I at least have the experience to empathize with my kids and the knowledge to get them the help they need. I’m especially grateful for good friends who shared their experiences and information with me so that I could get help for me, and later on for my family.
It’s hard to decide what steps to take to remedy the problem. It’s hard to put my needs aside for a kid who’s struggling when I am struggling myself. And it’s hard to try to push my needs to the forefront sometimes so I don’t let my well run dry.
It’s hard to be a parent when you struggle with mental illness. But it is possible.