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To the People Who Question Why I Talk to My Daughters About My Bipolar Disorder

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This is a controversial topic. Some people say I am wrong for sharing details of my illness with my children. Some people see this as me “not protecting” them from my illness. Some say I should never have had children as a woman with bipolar disorder, which can be hereditary.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

To all those people, I say read my story first. To them, I say get to know my children, get to know the kind, intelligent, beautiful girls I am privileged to be able to call my daughters. Read my reasons for telling them about my mental health issues. I strongly believe that the unknown is nearly always scarier than the known.

Yes, there are some really scary stories about mental health issues out there. Yet, having facts and some understanding can make it less frightening and therefore, more easy to process and deal with. Obviously, this needs to be at an age-appropriate level. When my children were younger, I told them sometimes my illness makes me feel like Tigger, very happy and full of energy for no reason. Other times, it makes mom sad and tired for no reason.

I told them these things happened to me and it wasn’t because of anything they did or didn’t do. There. That’s it. A simple explanation, which tries to make a bit of sense out of my illness. It also reassures them mom’s illness is not related to their behavior.

Now my girls are teenagers. They have a greater understanding. They ask questions and they do their own research. They meet the professionals involved in my care and they know it is the professionals’ job to help me. Having said that, yes, they do help me. They help in the house. They give me cuddles when I’m down. They help just by being themselves. We love each other unconditionally.

I am not saying it is always easy for them, for me or anyone else involved. Of course, I wish I could do more and do it consistently for them. I wish I could earn more money to take them on more holidays and days out. For them, I know it is difficult if I have to go into hospital or the crisis unit. They miss me, just as I miss them when this happens. However, they have a brilliant dad, who already does so much for them and steps up further when I am unwell. We have joint custody and are very close anyway, living a few doors from each other to limit disruption to the children.

Up until recently, they also had a wonderful grandma in my mom, who supported them practically and emotionally. Over the years, they have had good teachers who have also been there for them. I also have some amazing friends who do what they can to help both me and the children.

Regarding the point about some illnesses having a hereditary aspect, mental health issues are common. We’ve all heard the “1 in 4 people will be affected” statistic. We are all at risk. Of course, it would break my heart should either of my children become unwell in any way, physically or mentally. I would like to think because of my own experiences, I would be able to support them in every way possible, regardless of anything that could happen.

In many ways, they are equipped to deal with some adversity already. Due to my illness, my children have had to learn resilience, which is not a bad thing. I’ve also already noticed how nonjudgmental they are and how they are able to emphathize with others. Recently, I was told my eldest daughter sat with an older girl who was having a panic attack. My daughter had stayed with her and helped the girl manage her anxiety. My daughter made sure the girl was safe and able to return to class. This makes me proud.

I’ve noticed neither of my children are ashamed of me or my illness. It’s not a massive deal to them and the stigma isn’t being passed on through my children. They will both quite happily say, “Oh yeah, my mom has bipolar disorder. Do you have any questions?” This is exactly how I think it should be.

Finally, I’d like to say in no way are my daughters missing out. My older daughter is academic and achieves top grades at school, alongside a small group of very good friends. Aside from that, we send her to drama school on weekends, as she has a beautiful singing voice. She would like to work in musical theater because as she says, “It makes everyone feel something and be happy.” My younger daughter is a talented gymnast, cheerleader and artist. She is a beautiful little girl who does well at school and has a large circle of friends.

They both make me and their dad proud of them every day and everyone who meets them thinks they are bright, polite, lovely girls. They are all this, in spite of having a mum with bipolar disorder and other mental health issues. Most importantly, they are happy. We must be doing something right.

Don’t judge me for being a mom with mental health issues. Don’t tell me I’m doing it all wrong by telling my children about these issues. So far they are doing just fine, thanks.

Originally published: August 3, 2016
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