10 Rules I Live By as a Parent With a Mental Illness

Parenting is hard work on the best of days. But when you add in something like depression, for some people it becomes nigh on unbearable. I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), but I do have bipolar disorder, and after fighting with the ups and downs of that for the last 10 years, I’ve put together my own list of things that have helped me be the best parent possible when I just want to crawl under a rock and hide instead of dealing with those darling monsters I helped create.

1. Take care of myself.

Being sleep-deprived, not eating and forgetting to shower can and will make those long days with my kids even longer and put everyone on edge. Research suggests that adults should get at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night. If I don’t eat, I will be grumpier and more prone to mood swings and bouts of irritability or crying spells. Showering every day will improve my mood and will give me one thing I can check off my list of things I’ve accomplished that day.

2. Exercise as much as is feasible. 

This is a hard one for me. When I’m depressed, getting up and walking to the fridge is too much exercise. Rolling over on the couch is too much exercise. But research has found that a little bit of movement, even just a short walk, can help lift your mood. I load my kids up in the stroller and take them to the park. It’ll feel like an impossible task, but the benefits are worth it. I’m creating memories with my kids and helping my mood at the same time. Win-win, right? If I’ve got a friend or family member who can help encourage me to go out, I take their advice and walk with them. It’s worth it.

3. Stick to a simple routine and don’t let chaos ensue. 

Even if I’m depressed, or maybe especially if I’m depressed, having a simple routine can help keep the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness at bay. It can be as simple as “wake up, playtime, lunch time, quiet time, snack, playtime, dinner, movie time, bedtime.” I don’t make things harder on myself than they need to be.

4. Let my kids be as independent as their age will allow.

If they want to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches three nights in a row and can fix them themselves, have at it. Fish sticks in the microwave? It’s A-OK. A summer dress with snow boots? No problem. As long as my child is safe and supervised to the level they need, it’s OK if I’m not being Suzy Homemaker with them right now.

5. Concentrate on the absolute “have-tos,” not “want-tos.” 

need to change the baby’s diaper in the morning. I want to clean and organize her room. That can wait until I’ve got more energy or have some help.

6. Ask for outside help.

I let my support system take the kids to the park, or over to their house for a few hours while I get a break at the bookstore with a friend. It’s important to take care of you when you’re feeling depleted.

7. Find a supportive person to lean on while I’m struggling.

It could be a trusted friend, a therapist, a family member, a clergyman or anyone I feel safe talking to that can help me make it through each day. This support person can be the one that helps encourage me to keep trying each day, even when things look super hard. A good support person will be an empathetic ear, is good at validating your emotions and respects your privacy.

8. Think “good enough” instead of “never enough.”

If I need to get paper plates and cups so I’m doing less dishes, there’s no shame in that. If I’ve ordered take out twice this week, so what? The kids have been fed. I don’t let my perceptions of what others may think get me even more down. That’s a negative spiral that doesn’t help at all. Anything to simplify my life right now is a good idea. If I do laundry and the kids have clean clothes, who cares if they’re folded or not? It OK to practice this idea of “good enough.” We live in an age of “never enough,” where we are never a good enough mother, or we never spend enough time with our kids, or never volunteer enough at our kids’ school. And it’s not right. We are enough just as we are, right now.

9. Practice self-compassion.

It’s going to happen. I’m going to yell at my kid. Or not feel like doing something they want to do. Or not put jammies on them and they sleep in the same clothes they wore the day before. It’s OK. I’m not making a habit out of this, and if I was feeling well, this would be a non-issue. If I had a friend who was going through depression, what would I say to her right now? Would I judge and condemn her for losing her cool, or would I give her a hug and say, “Hey, we all have rough days. You’ll get through this. I love you. I’m here for you.” Why can’t I tell myself that? I practice loving myself.

10. Get regular physicals.

If things continue to look bleak and dark, I get checked out by my doctor to make sure there’s nothing else going on. Low vitamin D levels or thyroid issues may be linked to depression in women, and just the stress of having children can be hard on many women as well. As always, seek immediate treatment if you have thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else.

In conclusion, getting past a depressive episode is not easy, especially when you’ve got little ones counting on you for their survival! I beg you to not run faster than you have strength. Things might seem bleak and discouraging now, but like Harvey Dent said in “The Dark Knight,” “The night is always darkest before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.” I know holding onto a promise from a fictional character might seem silly, but that promise has gotten me through some of the darkest days of my life.

So although your kids may drive you up a wall, and you may feel overwhelmed, hopeless or thoroughly discouraged that you’re not living fully in the moment with your children, know that this feeling will pass, and joy and light will come again.

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14 People Describe What It’s Really Like to Experience Mania

Increased energy, activity and restlessness. Extreme irritability. Racing thoughts. These are some of the symptoms of mania, the “high” side of bipolar disorder. But just because bipolar’s “low” can take the form of depression, doesn’t mean mania is simply the opposite. It doesn’t just mean “really happy” — and unless you’ve lived it, it’s hard to understand what it’s like.

So, we asked members of our Mighty community who live with bipolar disorder to describe what it’s really like to experience mania.

Here’s what they had to say:

1.A tornado. I’m whirling so fast I don’t realize what’s happened until it’s too late.” — Loretta Woods

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2. “Mania is the most intense experience. Everything is sped up. I walk fast, talk fast and don’t make much sense because the thoughts are racing through my brain so fast I can’t keep track of them. I can’t stop walking, talking, thinking, fidgeting. I call people night and day and talk for hours, all the while pacing around the house or the neighborhood. I don’t eat because I’m not hungry and I’m not physically capable of standing still long enough to make a sandwich.” — Becky O’Grady

3. “It’s like I’m looking at myself from the outside seeing myself lose control, but I’m not able to stop it. I know when I’m manic but can’t stop myself from being self-destructive.” — Laura Blair

4. “The analogy I usually give is that I’m driving a car but the gas pedal is stuck to the floor, and other people keep trying to grab at the steering wheel.” — Kitt Collins

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5. “It’s a dangerous bit of happiness.” — Sarah Dismuke Garcia

6. “It’s the best roller coaster you’ve ever been on, except it keeps getting more and more dangerous and scary and you can’t get off.” — Katie Pico-Conner

7. “When I’m manic I feel like I have superpowers. I have endless energy. I can see every single detail in everything I look at. I can hear each note by each instrument played in a song. I have confidence and the ability to do anything I want to. I cannot fail. I am afraid of nothing. I am superwoman, and it is euphoric. But then it starts going bad. The energy becomes uncomfortable, and I literally can’t stop moving. Sounds and sights become overwhelming, and I start experiencing things that aren’t really there. I become a danger because I can’t tell the difference between what’s safe and what isn’t.” — Paula Stauffer Bostrom

8. “Inside your head, it’s busy and chaotic. It’s standing in a room full of people talking loudly, while the person you’re actually trying to talk to is whispering. — Erin Howard

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9. “It’s like being on a carousel that won’t stop. Like drinking 10 cups of coffee and thinking every thought that comes into your head is the most fantastic idea anyone has ever had. Sometimes it’s as if I can’t do anything wrong, and sometimes it’s like I can’t do anything right, and neither can anyone else.” — Jenna Bagnini

10. “It’s like I have electricity running through me and like my skin and scalp are tingling. My thoughts go so fast sometimes I feel as though I’m moving in molasses and everything or everyone around me is in slow motion.” —  Brittany A. Torres

11. “It’s a roller coster without a harness. Hold real tight and hope for the best. It will end.” — JoJo Agnello

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12. “It’s not the antithesis to depression like many think. It’s not just happiness but a volatile amount of energy.” — Kristin George

13. “A lot of people don’t realize mania can manifest itself in several ways. One that is often overlooked is anger. Full force anger at the world and you can’t control it. No sleep. You feel like you should want to sleep, but you don’t. And we’re not talking about getting just a couple of hours here and there. This is wide awake, full of energy, but you can’t focus it. Your mind jumps from subject to subject. People around you aren’t sure what you are talking about because you start in the middle of a new subject.” — Nadine Hughes

14. “I feel like a robot whose wires are short circuiting.” — Mary Jo Chadwell


*Some answers have been edited and shortened

When My Coworker Asked If I Was Going to Bring a Gun to Work

“Should I be worried that you’re going to bring a gun here and shoot me?”

Those were the words my coworker used when I revealed to him I have bipolar disorder. This was the first time I was rendered speechless by someone’s response to my mental illness. It was also the first time I realized there are actually people who make grand assumptions about people who live with mental illness.

Unfortunately, gun violence is a huge issue in the United States. Every day, people are murdered by another person using a gun. It seems like every week there’s yet another “mass” shooting. And sometimes, people make comments about the shooter, saying he or she must have a mental illness.

I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for 12 years. Before and since my diagnosis, I have never been violent towards another person, even when my symptoms were at their most severe.

The truth is, I still kiss my mom. I cry at TV commercials about the Humane Society.  I Snapchat silly pictures to my niece and nephew. I dance in the car with my sister. I send my dad “I love you” texts with too many heart emojis. I make funny faces at random kids to see them smile. I send my Grandma flowers just because.

So to my coworker: No, I will never bring a gun to work. I will never be violent towards you or hurt you in anyway. You can’t make assumptions about people based on their illnesses. I’m too busy sending silly Snapchats and dancing in the car, anyway.

When I Look For a Hero, This Is Where I Look Now

I’ve been working through some body image issues and looking for a positive body role model. I’ve been looking for someone to inspire me to become something better.

But then I realized: I’m my own hero.

Every time I look into the mirror means I’ve made it through the fist-clenching struggles of another day. I haven’t given in to the harrowing little voices whispering in my ear to end it all. I haven’t surrendered to the false sweetness of eternal surrender.

I know when I see myself, I’m working my butt off to become a better person, to overcome my seemingly endless inner demons. Spending hours going therapies, counseling and psychiatrist appointments. Going through the never ending nightmare of finding the right combination of drugs to live a somewhat normal life. Enduring the side effects. Dealing with the emotional turmoil of delving deep into the dark places where the demons came from, and bringing what has been stuffed away into the sickening bright light.

Even looking in the mirror is a triumph — not being terrified to see my own reflection for once. Overcoming all of the messages the world says about my body — that I’m disgusting, should not be seen or even think about loving myself.

It’s hard to even associate the word hero with myself. I feel that label is only for soldiers and people who run into burning building. But I know I’m working my butt off, and it’s hard. Not giving in to the thoughts in my head every day is a battle in itself.

However, thinking about all of this is making me feel selfish. But if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t survive. I do it for the people who love me — my husband, my future children. Trying to stay alive isn’t selfish, is it? Trying to live a somewhat normal life can’t be selfish.

I hate thinking about anyone else going through this pain. I like to think I could inspire them. I’m not at the finish line yet, but I’m running as fast as I can, getting up time and time again after I fall. I guess that’s the definition of hero. Someone who displays courage. Courage is defined asthe quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” Even though I struggle with associating the word “hero” with myself, I know that I’m a courageous human being. And that’s enough.

Follow this journey Seeking the Feather Strings.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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.

We Need to Support Mental Illness, Even When It's Not Cute

I am the parent of a child with a severe mental illness, although it’s taken me several months to say that confidently and without my voice wavering.

How did we end up with a diagnosis of a severe mental illness in such a young child? With increasingly difficult and extreme behavior at home, a psychiatric inpatient hospitalization was our only option for getting help for her. We needed to get some answers. It’s incredibly frustrating trying to help a child when you don’t know what’s wrong, especially when things are getting worse. The apex of her illness presented a few months ago when I found her in the backyard trying to take her own life. I can’t put into words how it feels to watch your 6-year-old trying to kill herself. It’s not something any parent is supposed to ever see. We needed help. After a very long hospitalization, we were finally discharged with a name for the illness she has been struggling with — my daughter has pediatric bipolar disorder.

After her discharge we planned a slow transition back into school. Monday morning started with her kicking me trying to get my attention as I brought into the building. I bent over to talk to her like the doctors taught me. First, validate her feelings: “I can see you’re feeling frustrated and trying to get my attention.” Next, try to instruct her on a more appropriate manner of getting my attention: “Do you think you could’ve said nicely, ‘Excuse me?’”

Her response? “Get the f*ck out of my face!

Then she took off.

Oh yeah, F-bombing on the first day of second grade. That’s how we roll. And parents who had previously promised their undying devotion to supporting mental health awareness are suddenly silent, quickly ear-muffing their kids. The ones who don’t know she lives with a mental illness are looking at me (and her) like, “What did your kid just say?”

I completely get it. It’s easy to say you accept mental health issues until you actually see it. Sometimes, it’s messy. Sometimes, it involves F-bombs. It’s easy to look at her and just think she’s “one of those bad kids.”

But she only swears when she’s really feeling bad and is starting to lose control. I wanted to walk over to those parents and explain: “She has bipolar disorder. She gets to a point where she’s no longer in control of her words or her body. She was overstimulated and overwhelmed and feeling horrible inside. She’s not stable yet. It will get better soon. She’s not really like that, she’s lovely!” But would that make a difference?

It’s easy to share memes on Facebook say you support mental illnesses, but until you’re there, in the thick of it, you can’t understand what it’s like. Would you accept it if a mental illness incident happened in front of you? Would you feel compassionate, or would you judge? Does my daughter need to have a giant sticker on her forehead saying “Mental illness on board, please be kind”? Why can’t people just be kind anyways?

In all fairness, she also gets lots of hugs and lots of “you can do this!” when we’re out and about. She’s the poster child for mental illness. So cute, little, photogenic and usually smiling.

But it’s easy to be supportive of her mental illness when she’s smiling up at you. She looks the part of a functional 7-year-old, even when inside her head she’s struggling to keep it together. When that F-bomb deal-breaker echoed through the hall, if disapproval had a sound, that would have been it. But what if I told you she cried for hours earlier this week when she realized she would never be cured of bipolar disorder? About how she cried when a girl she knew who broke her leg got her cast off, because that wasn’t going to happen to her brain. About how after school on Monday she obsessively paced her room, muttering about how everyone was looking at her and everyone thought she was weird and “crazy.” Would that make you rethink the way you reacted to her mental illness-related outburst?

She’s not giving me a hard time, she’s having a hard time. And despite how fervently I want to scream out the realities of mental illness to create awareness and understanding, I feel like this type of illness will never truly be accepted until we start talking about what it really looks like. Despite how cute she is, she isn’t fully accepted for her mental illness, even now. And once the cuteness and littleness wears off, my daughter will just be another person with a sick brain who’s poorly understood and feeling alone. We need to start showing her now it’s OK to be who she is, F-bombs and all.

Jade's daughter is smiling and holding a sign that says, "I have bipolar disorder!" She has blonde hair, and is wearing a black shirt that says "World Mental Health Day" in green.
Jade’s daughter.

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