When I Realized My Untreated Mental Illness Was Affecting My Children


As a mother, I don’t play when it comes to protecting my children. It’s a talent, I guess. But one thing some mothers have that can utterly destroy their family is pride. Especially when that mother needs to get help for her illness. I know that too well. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, but refused to get help for 11 years. Unfortunately, in those 11 years, I was raising two young sons.

You see, my refusal to get help never crossed my mind when my youngest got suspended or my oldest became introverted. Because I didn’t smoke or drink, I thought I was the best mother in the world. I was home when they got home. I went to college and earned my degrees. I had a business. To the outside world, I was an outstanding mother, but my reality came crashing down on me when my oldest son moved out of my house and to another state.

After a couple of days, I attempted to call to check on him. But no answer. A week went by and I was getting pushed to voicemail. When I finally spoke with him, he no longer called me “mama.” He called me his “parental unit.” I was floored; I thought I had given him the world. I had him at 16 and every accomplishment after that was to show him that we were not statistics. So it hurt my heart that he no longer wanted to call me mom.

When I asked him why, he told me I was hard to live with during his childhood and that I caused him great stress. It was then that I realized that my refusal to get help for my bipolar disorder affected my children. I refused to get help for something that was treatable because I wanted my boys to see me as strong and a fighter. Instead, they saw stubbornness, judgement and a person who would fight with them over the simplest things.

When my son returned to my home almost a year later, I saw a difference in him. He was more intolerant of who he thought I still was. Almost rebellious. But I didn’t respond like I thought I would. Instead, I used the time he didn’t speak to me as a learning curve to give my youngest son more attention and to be careful with my words. I made a video and posted it on my YouTube page with both of my sons on how their lives were impacted by having a parent who refused to use medication for their mental illness. Their answers were shocking, but another lesson on my journey to emotional wellness.

I want parents who live with mental illness to get the help they need. To include their family in their treatment plan and to forgive themselves (I’m still trying) for anything they did while unmedicated. I want you to be honest with yourself and with your kids about mental illness. I need you to prepare them for all that it entails. To tell them about the stigmas that are placed on people with mental illness. They need you, so you need to get help.

I can’t get back the years I selfishly stole from my sons, but I can help you.

Follow this journey on Young, Black and Bipolar.

The Mighty is asking the following: If you’re a parent with a mental illness, tell us about a time you tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to explain to your children about your mental illness/mental health issues. How did they react? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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