I Don't Know How to Explain Mental Illness to My 5-Year-Old

I’m not a sticker chart, menu-planning, activity-organizing kinda mom. Sorry to disillusion you if you thought I was.

And I really hope I didn’t give you the impression that I have it all together — that would be yet another misconception. I’m just a mom trying to keep it all together, myself included.

“How do you do it?” Or “I don’t know how you do it!”

I hear these on the reg, and I always respond with, “I don’t know, I just do.”

Truth be told, I really don’t know, and it’s true, I just do.

It’s difficult to be a stay-at-home mom or dad. (Don’t wanna leave them out, there are quite a few dads doing what us moms are doing, and they deserve their props too.)

My situation is different, and just like I tell my kids, different isn’t bad.

I explain my youngest daughter’s autism to my oldest daughter in ways she can understand, and it is hard to explain the “quirks” of being nonverbal with autism and sensory processing disorder to a 5-year-old girl who just wants to have conversations about princesses, dinosaurs, and other really cool animals, and to ask 20+ questions, starting with, “What’s your favorite color?” because hers is purple and she wants the whole world to know it.

“Sissy is different, and different isn’t bad”

So how do I explain to her that Mommy is different and different isn’t bad?

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I don’t know how, but I’m gonna have to do it because she’s starting to see my “quirks.”

Yeah, I’ve got “quirks,” and they are not just starting to show — she’s just starting to see them. She’s an amazing 5-year-old, wise beyond her years. I hope when she learns the truth about me she won’t be disappointed.

My beautiful girl,

You are a piece of my heart, and I love you so very much.

Remember how I told you that you have “itchies” on the outside (eczema), and your sister has her “itchies” on the inside, and that with medicine and lotion we can help your “itchies” feel better, but Zoey’s “itchies” are on the inside and we can’t see them and there isn’t a medicine or lotion to help her feel better? We love her and we try to help her get through the bad “itchy” days. Well, I have to tell you something my love…

I have “itchies” on the inside too.

My “itchies” make me sad, and yes they make me sometimes cry. They make me tired and sleepy, and they make it hard for me to run and play with you all the time like you want me to, and yes, that makes me sad too.

They make me worry and stress about things more than I should, they make me nervous and anxious, and so I sometimes get scared and panic, and on those days I love that you follow me around and say, “Breathe, Mommy… breathe,” but it makes me sad and cry that you know to say that to me because you are only 5 years old.

My “itchies” make me do silly things too, like lining things up from small to big, checking and rechecking things to make sure they are off and not on, and saying things more than once, over and over because I need to do it. And I love that your favorite number is 100, but it makes me sad that you know my favorite number is 3 because I didn’t know you were watching me that close.

I am sorry we don’t do more out and about in the world like most families do, but my “itchies” make it hard for me to be around a lot of people all at once, and that’s why you go out on your adventures with Daddy more than you do with me, but please know this, my beautiful little girl, I am sad that I can’t go on all of your adventures because I really, really want to, but my “itchies” make it hard for me to do that.

I want you to know there is medicine for me and I do take it every day, and every Monday when I leave to go to the “doctor” it’s because I’m working hard on getting better because I don’t want my “itchies” to hurt me anymore.

So you see, baby girl, we all have our “itchies,” and they are not all the same.

We all have our different “itchies” to scratch, some are like yours — they can be seen on the outside — and then some are like mine that can’t be seen and itch us from the inside. And although our “itchies” may be different, please remember what I always say… different isn’t bad!

Love you with all my heart,

So that’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

I don’t know what else to say to her because I really don’t know how to explain to a 5-year-old that her mommy has mental illness.

Image via Thinkstock.

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