It is 5:30 in the morning, and after another sleepless night due to nightmares, I am sitting on the couch watching my girls sleep peacefully. This is when I most see the innocence in my little girls, and I can’t help but wonder how I’m affected them.
After all, when your mother has more than one mental illness, bipolar disorder being the main, you run a higher risk of having that disorder yourself. However, I am trying to turn a new leaf. In keeping with that spirit, I have compiled a list of five things I’ve learned since becoming a mother, battling mental illness. I have learned…
1. How to speak openly with my children about mental illness.
I want my girls to grow up knowing as much as possible about all mental illnesses, with an emphasis on bipolar disorder as it can be genetic. But of course, we’re still learning about it. We need more resources and more studies done. How can we expect to get that from future generations if we don’t raise our children to grow up with compassion and empathy for those who battle mental illness?
2. How to speak openly with my children about my mental illness.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after first being treated for postpartum depression. For the first several years of my daughters’ lives, I was afraid to let them see any part of my illness. I wanted to protect them from it for as long as possible, but after hearing my own daughter make stigmatizing remarks, I knew I had to find a way to talk to them about my personal mental health, not just mental health in general.
3. It is OK to admit when I need help.
The Lord blessed me greatly with two little girls, who love to help Momma clean up around the house (as long as it isn’t their rooms.) I have no problem putting them to work. However, when it came to needing help with my illnesses I was too ashamed to ask. I have been learning that it’s OK to let my girls know I need a time out. If I am having a rough day with my illnesses, I am no longer ashamed to ask my girls for help, whether it be having them lie in bed with me for a while or telling them to watch television while I take a five minute time out in the bathroom. It is the easiest, yet hardest way, for me to teach them about compassion and empathy.
4. I am stronger than I think I am.
Every single day I wake up and get out of bed. Some days, it is all I am capable of, and again I’m learning that’s OK. However, I am also learning just getting out of bed isn’t always enough. For me, I know the medications I am on will only help so much, and the rest is up to me. Each day I push myself to do just one more thing, I thought I couldn’t do while depressed, I am proving to myself how strong I actually am. Considering I’ve spent most of my life focusing on my own weaknesses, it’s a pretty big accomplishment.
5. It is not my fault.
For years, I was riddled with guilt, thinking I had doomed my daughters’ to the same fate as me, thinking because of me they would develop some sort of mental illness. You know what? It isn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for mental illness. I didn’t do anything wrong by having children. Just because I have mental health problems doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to live a normal, happy life with a husband and children. If one or both of my girls end up with a mental illness, then I will teach them the things they have taught me, only with a clear conscious because it is not my fault.
There’s no doubt I’ve learned more than this in the last seven years, but these five things have helped me through tough times. What would you add to the list? How about instead of only seeing our weaknesses we start seeing our strengths instead? How would that improve your mood today?
This post originally appeared on modernbipolarmomma.