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What It's Like Being a Parent With Mental Illness During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Self-help articles and therapists often like to make coddling your mental disorder(s) the only star of the show. “You first. Gotta put on your oxygen mask before assisting others,” haha. But what if, say, you were the pilot and your oxygen mask was out of reach? I have to steady the plane before I can reach for my mask. And the plane never steadies.

That’s what having children is like when trying to deal with my own mental disorders and their symptoms.

Did your anxiety keep you up for the 20th night in a row? Did night terrors wake you at 3 a.m. leaving you unable to go back to sleep? Are you adrenaline depleted, does your body feel like the weight of the world is sat upon you? Having a touch of the executive dysfunction? Make it happen, cap’n. Get up, get going.

The toddler is still going to be up between 7 and 8 a.m., 50/50 that the toddler also needs a sheet change, maybe a shower. The preteen has to be dragged out of bed by 8:30 a.m. to get to (virtual) school by 9 a.m. You have to throw breakfast at them before then, maybe ask the one going to school to look presentable.

“Ew, I hate this,” says the preteen about any food that is ever presented.

You’re late … just go to class.

Currently sensory overload (a gift from my anxiety) and executive dysfunction (from depression) are hanging on to me with heavy handed fists while trapped inside this house with a toddler and pre-teen 24/7. It took every ounce of will to move from the bed after laying half-awake for three hours to get up and change the toddler and start the daily sequence. By the time the elder is in class, I lay down on the couch where I will stay vigilant for mother-duty for the rest of the day. “Stop pulling the cat’s tail! Would you like a time out? Do not jump over that couch, get off that chair,” I repeat endlessly. I could probably just say it over and over without looking and be correct with the same effect of nothing resolving and not being listened to.

I should probably deal with the laundry. The washer is full, the dryer is full, the clean basket is full and the dirty basket is full. Whaaaats new on my news feed for Facebook?

Oh shit, it’s almost lunch time. I grab some pre-frozen sandwiches out of the freezer and set them on the counter to thaw. I’m a great provider of sustenance for the children.

The tot pulls the cat’s tail again and goes for a timeout.

The older one pokes out of the bedroom on a break from school and demands food. The food is once again, not appreciated.

“But I’m always so hungry you don’t feed me ENOUGH …”

So get something after you’re done.

“OK but I don’t want THIS …”

Then you aren’t hungry enough.

I hear the whining noise start and my ability to hear starts shutting down.

My brain has learned auto-off cues to protect against anxiety attacks, and every once in a great while the cues enter at the correct times. It has been called to my attention that this is called disassociation and that it’s not a terrific sign.

Anxiety has given me the gift of generalized hypervigilance, or extreme sensitivity to sound and often light as well. If there’s too much sound, my brain apparently feels like we are under attack and offers up panic or disassociation in return.

There is so much sound engulfing every minute of the day. Screeching, screaming, whining, complaining and arguing fill my every moment from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Most of the time, the children being at the ages they are, have no actual content to offer the environment, only sounds that express or create displeasure.

The eldest is asked repeatedly to hush throughout the day because they have a tic of HAVING to make noise. Humming, thinking out loud, and for some god-foresaken reason, singing television commercial jingles. In the background I hear “liberty liberty liberty L I B E R T Y” as I try to take a few moments here to myself.

Technically, it is past their bed times, but the elder is constantly hungry and eats dinner and dessert and then two more snacks before bed, or else keeps coming out for more until 11 p.m.

Within the hour I will take melatonin, CBD oil and chamomile tea in hopes of sleeping. It’s hard to get tired when you’re so tired all the time. What a f*cking cycle, right? Too tired and depressed to move off the couch except when absolutely critical that I do so, not tired enough to achieve meaningful sleep.

I did not plan well for the ages my children would be during a global pandemic.

How do you cope with your children when your symptoms of your disorder(s) flare? Tell us in the comments.

A version of this story originally appeared on

Photo credit: ipolonina/Getty Images

Originally published: February 15, 2021
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