What It's Like When My Children See My Mental Illness Meltdowns

Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Not long ago, I sat on my kitchen floor, crying hysterically. I was having a terrible day and had self-harmed earlier that morning, but it didn’t give me the expected rush it usually does and I was overwhelmed by pain and hopelessness. As tears streamed down my face, I began to attempt to end my life. My son, 18 years old, walked in and stopped me. Looking into the eyes of my child, I realized the enormity of the situation. I grabbed the tool I was using to end my life, then ran to the bathroom and disposed of it. As my son watched, I induced vomiting to reverse what I’d done.

The above scenario is just one of many meltdowns my children have witnessed and I can’t help but wonder: what am I doing to my children?

They see me curled up in bed, staring blankly at the wall. They see me sitting in the family room, completely disassociated from what’s going on. They see me in a corner, crying hysterically. They notice blood on my clothes and they know it’s from self-harm. What kind of mother allows her children to witness such events?

I guess the answer to that is widely varied: the same mother who plays board games with them at midnight, who cooks their favorite meals on their birthdays, who treats them to milkshakes and a movie just because.

Another answer to the aforementioned question: a mentally ill mother.

I have worked extremely hard — both in therapy and in my personal life — to fight the battle that rages inside of my head, but there are still times I can’t control my thoughts, life and in turn my emotions. They collect inside me and overflow with tears, anger or complete numbness.

I’m so thankful my illness didn’t strike when my kids were small (they’re 16 and 18) but regardless of age, it can’t be easy to see your mother in so much pain that she’s willing to harm herself or die by suicide just to have the pain end.

Sometimes, I try to talk to them about it but I rarely get any useful info from them. After all, they’re probably afraid to be honest with me, worried their honest opinions would just send me into another emotional meltdown.

However, when I look at my children, I see strong, independent men. I see caring, respectful citizens. I see tolerant, understanding beings.

They readily accept and befriend those who may be a little “different” and reach out to troubled souls. They treat everyone with dignity and love all kinds of people without boundaries.

I’m far from a perfect parent — I’ve screwed up and made mistakes and at times taken my job as their mom for granted — but when I look at them, I can’t help but think, “Maybe what I’ve done to them isn’t all bad.” Maybe my struggles have helped them to understand that although we are all different, we are all valuable.

Maybe I’ve taught them the greatest gift you can give is kindness. And that makes me a pretty good mom.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

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