Maria Colon

@maria-colon | contributor
Maria Colon is former teacher, turned medical stay-at home-mom, who also has a few mental health diagnoses. She writes when neither of her children need her.She has two medically complex children, a daughter, a son, a dog, a husband and a whole lot of housework.
Community Voices

Inviting Mania In.

Mania doesn’t creep in slowly like her darker sister

#Depression.  She barrels through the

door, knocking down everything in her path, leaving a trail of destruction

wherever she goes, a destruction I am more than happy to accompany her in.

I know when she is knocking, desperate to be let in.  I can feel her electricity, like the slow hum

of the porch light illuminating the darkness. It’s easy to ignore the initial

signs of her return. I can see her peeking through the windows, looking for a way,

anyway in.  Rationalizing in my mind that

I can control her, that this time will be different, I unlock the door and

invite her inside. Once welcomed she wastes no time settling in.   I can feel her warmth, her energy coursing

through my veins as we become one again.

It’s not until I am completely consumed by her that I realize all

control is gone, and once again the world around me has dissolved into

beautiful chaos.

I would be lying if I said her presence wasn’t welcome.  As much as I know I shouldn’t I love her, the instantaneous surge of  happiness she provides, the vibrant color she brings to the grey world

my medication keeps me locked into, is met with eagerness and excitement..  She is the manifestation of my deepest

fantasies, and desires.  Offering escape

from the mundane, encouragement to find pleasure in everything around me, she

is the worst type of enabler.   With her arrival I a find myself dangerously

close to everything that can bring my world tumbling down.  She and I will spend thousands of dollars in

a manner of days, dissolving into a bender faster than the funnel can be

filled. Hedonism is the party game she so quickly brings, as if it is nothing

more than a simple game of twister. Finally freed of medications and inhibitions

I am all too eager to play.

The problem with Mania is that she will inevitable leave, vanishing

without a trace, the responsibility of cleaning our mess falling solely on me.   With regret and despair I will take in the

world around me, the pieces of my life strewn about like red solo-cups the

night after a party.  With mania’s

departure her solemn, nagging, no less destructive sister will arrive.  Depression will force me to grab the garbage

bag, stuffing any remnants of the out of control bender inside, desperately

hoping everything is neat and tidy before the stable cohabitants of my world  arrive home.  It won’t be. There is no way I can clean the

mess in time.  So I will be left with the

destruction I have caused, the guilt that will swiftly arrive to the surface,

and the knowledge that I have once again jeopardized everything I hold close to

my heart.

 

Community Voices

Breaking as the mother of a chronically Ill Child

Once again I f find myself immersed

in an admission to the local children’s hospital with my son.  He

has been in and out for the last seven weeks. Feeding

intolerance, ileus, dehydration, admission, bowel rest, restart feeds, hit

baseline, repeat. This is not a new course for us, not outside the realm of our

normal in any sense.  We have followed this pattern for years,

severity and duration increasing during the winter months.  But

something is different this time, and it’s not the course of our sons care. No,

this time the difference lies within me. Something deep inside is bending and

breaking, my soul shattering into the little pieces and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s the recent realization that I can’t

“fix” him. When we brought him home at 17 months, I believed all he

needed was love, togetherness and consistency. I believed whole heartedly that

if I loved him enough, I could take away all his pain, alleviate his

struggles.  Fix what was broken. But I can’t. No matter how hard I want to

make everything in his world easy, it’s not feasible. And as hard as it is to

accept, I have slowly begun to realize it’s something that I must.

Maybe it’s that as a toddler he was unable to verbalize his

pain and frustration.  While listening to him cry out has always been

hard, having him beg for mommy to make it stop as I hold him down for

port-access, ND placements, and IV attempts is soul crushing.  Could I

take a step back, refuse to be present for these not so amazing moments? Of

course. But I won’t. I promised him years ago that he would never be alone,

that I would always stand beside him, and no matter what I will.

Maybe it’s the constant feeling of being under a microscope.  The

unhealthy need to put on a happy face, crack a joke, and move forward,

pretending to be who everyone thinks that I am.  I have been slowly

suffocating under the weight of maintaining appearances for months.   Maybe it’s the silent judgments, perceived or real, that I have started to

notice. I admit I no longer wait for him to be in the “danger” zone

before taking him to the Emergency Department.  Once he displays any signs

of decompensation, however clinically insignificant, I am driving to the

hospital, mentally preparing to combat those who think they know

“best”.  On more than one occasion lately I have felt as though it

was believed by the professionals we have encountered that I was “over-reacting”

every time I walk in the door with him.

Maybe the disruption to everyday life is finally becoming too much.

As my son has become more capable of expressing his emotions, so has his

older sister.  She now hysterically begs me not to leave for the hospital,

crying for me to hold her, to take her with me.  “Michael is taking

all the attention again” she has stated on more than one

occasion.  And she’s right in having that feeling.  But

it’s still heartbreaking to have to tell one child, that the other needs you

more right now.  It’s more painful than one could ever imagine to

have to unwrap your daughter’s arms from around your neck so that you can go

hold her brother.

Maybe the toll this journey has taken on my relationships with family,

with friends, with my husband has become overwhelming.  It’s hard not

to feel animosity towards those living a “normal” life when you feel as though

somehow yours was shortchanged. I had dreams, and goals, and while I wouldn’t

trade my children for those any day, in any circumstance, I have found myself

fantasizing about a different path, one I imagine would be more

fulfilling.

Maybe it’s the unending feelings of doubt, hopelessness, and

fear.  The worrying that I am going to lose him.  Believing

that nothing I do is going to be good enough to give him what he

needs.  Maybe it’s the self-doubt, the self-harming thoughts that

have become more frequent in recent months. Admitting I have doubts is

difficult.  Admitting that being his mom is hard, harder than I could

have ever imagined when I first laid on eyes on his thirteen month old TPN

induced chubby little face, is something I have never dared say out-loud, let

alone ink onto the paper.

But maybe I am breaking for more than all of these reasons, and none of them

at the same time.  Maybe I am shattering so that I may rebuild a more

human me, a better me, a real me.  Maybe I am falling apart because I

can finally admit that I am afraid, and barely treading water these

days.  Maybe I am bending because I am at a place where it’s not the

weight of the responsibility that is crushing me, it’s the misconception that

no one else can help support it.  While I can’t say for certain

“why”, I can admit this: This moment has been coming for a long time, and I am

relieved that it has arrived.

Community Voices

An advocates obstinance or a mothers fear?

While making breakfast this morning, and doling out the

morning medications to our medically complex children, I nonchalantly brought

up the elephant in the room.  “I want to

talk to you about something,” I told my husband, who was elbows deep in

whisking eggs for our oldest. “I think we need to talk about our next steps for

Michael.  I know we have follow up

scheduled at ““Hospital A” ”this week, but I think we should strongly consider

whether we take him or not. It makes no sense to go to a follow-up appointment

six–hours away when testing isn’t even scheduled until the day after, and they

haven’t done anything different than here. We should take him elsewhere.”

It is important to note that we have experience with

hospital “A.” It is an amazing institution, home to one of the leading

intestinal rehabilitation programs on the east coast (dare I say the United States).

But we’ve been there in-patient twice in the last two years, with no forward

movement. Now, I recognize that each trip my son stopped his intestinal

foolishness and “got better.” Yet, each time, four-days after discharge he was

back in our local children’s hospital for a month or two. Each time we have

visited “hospital A,” we have left disappointed and frustrated at the lack of

progress. This has fueled my desire to move on, to find a hospital B, and even

C until I get what I wholeheartedly believe he needs.

Pouring the eggs into the frying pan, my spouse calmly replied

“Maria, I understand where you are coming from, and as his father I agree. We

keep advocating. But we need to take into consideration the recommendations

made during our team meeting, and how we go about phrasing our response. We

have been given an incredible amount of leeway as his advocates.  We have been listened too at every turn, and

this time you aren’t listening.  You are

being obstinate, not so subtly saying “eff you” to everyone” he said.  Defensively, I opened my mouth to spew some

X-rated reply. “I don’t care, I am his advocate. I give no f…” Cutting me off,

he said “I’m not saying to stop advocating. I’m just telling you there is a

better way to go about it. One where we don’t burn bridges.”

I’m not trying to be obstinate. I’m not trying to argue with

the incredibly gifted members of my son’s primary GI team in our hometown.  I respect and trust the hell out of them.  I know that they have his best interests at

heart, that they would never risk his health.  I don’t think I know more than physicians

about medicine, clearly I do not, as I never went to medical school. (I do know

him better, but that’s not the point). I’m not trying to set each and every

bridge we have built over the years ablaze.

But here I am, dousing the wooden beams in kerosene, lit match held high

in defiance in my hand.  So why then am I

ready to drop the match?

Part of my obstinance I would say 35 percent comes from

impatience. Watching, and waiting is not my strong suit. I hate variability.

Clear-cut, straight-forward outcomes are what I want, what I need. I crave

stability in a way that few would understand.  Blame it on my #GeneralizedAnxietyDisorder,

blame it on innate character traits but I need control, which is amusing given

my life with children with medical needs.

My world crumbles without it, leaving me relying on poorly developed

coping skills.

The remaining 65 percent comes from fear. With TPN running

through the mediport in his chest, and a history of central line associated

blood infections, my five-year-old is a walking time bomb.  The question isn’t, “will he get a line

infection” rather “when will he get a line infection.” He has already battled

one since the ports placement in November. He’s fought of more than a dozen

(possibly more) in the years prior. We do everything in our power to decrease

risks. We follow sterile procedures at home.

We bathe him in bleach three times a week as he is allergic to chlorhexidine,

meaning bio-patches and Chg bathes/wipes are out.  We have done everything humanly possible,

short of putting him in a bubble, to keep him infection-free, and still they

develop. Yes, they can be treated with intense IV antibiotics. Yes, he has

overcome them all so far. Yet my fears remain because they reside in the “what

if”. What if we don’t notice the symptoms?

What if we don’t catch it in time?

What if antibiotics lose their effectiveness? What if he develops

sepsis?

I have seen first-hand the dark, dangerous and devastating

world of sepsis, six-and-half years ago with his sister. I have watched on as

organs have shut down, as ventilators have kept a tiny body breathing. I have

felt the helplessness, the selfishness as you will your baby to fight with

everything she has. I have felt the despair, the complete devastation that comes

with watching your baby cling to life, struggling to stay on this earth.  I have felt the unimaginable pain of a

mother’s heart, releasing part of itself, giving it permission to stop

fighting, to rest, to feel no more pain. I have whispered into an isolette that

it’s okay for her to leave me, to return the gentle arms of a God I often doubt

exists, before being given a miracle.

Why then do I still feel such fear? Why, with one miracle at the

breakfast table do I feel unimaginable and overwhelming panic? Why, do I

question my faith?

Because I’m not strong enough to do it again. I’m not

selfless enough to let another child go. I’m not brave enough to face the

unknown one more time. I am not forgiving enough to justify the decisions I may

one day be forced again to make. I’m afraid that one day my prayers won’t be

heard, my pleas will remain unanswered, and my world will crumble with the loss

of half my heart. Because how many miracles can one mother be granted?

Maria Colon

My Son's Physician Suggested I Take Care of Myself

Last week, my husband and I took our 4-year-old medically complex son to one of his many appointments. It was a routine check-in with the developmental pediatrician and behavioral services team. We talked about his behavioral challenges at home and school, his current academic performance and overall physical health. We discussed discipline strategies, developmental milestones, briefly touching on medication. Suddenly, and without warning, the focus shifted from my son’s needs to ours. “Have you considered distancing yourself a little, taking some time for you? Give it an hour a week, an hour that you focus on your needs. Maybe try yoga, or have a date night. Just step away for a little while.” Instantly I was filled with rage and disbelief. Retreating into myself, I nodded in agreement, a storm brewing in my chest. “Thank you, that’s definitely something we will consider.”  After a brief and awkward pause, conversations about my son resumed. But the damage was already done. In the time it took for the physician to offer her unsolicited advice, my biggest fear was brought out of the shadows and into light: I am not as put together as I try so desperately to appear, and it’s starting to show. After experiencing a major depressive episode last year, I have prided myself on the level of care I am able to provide for my children, and even more so, on my ability to mask the anxiety I feel. Unless you’ve read some of my other works, or are my therapist, you would never know I am not the person I pretend to be. At first glance, I may appear to have it all together. I am an overly organized advocate for two children with medical exceptionalities. I manage appointments, and am in constant contact with therapists and doctors. I make informed, educated decisions based on the medical, social and emotional needs of my children. I attend IEP meetings armed with my son’s most recent evaluations, diagnoses and collected data. I am most always smiling, maneuvering life with jokes and lighthearted conversation. I have maintained this façade for years, hiding behind what I project out into the world. To look at me, you might never know I am slowly being crushed under the weight of parenting children with disabilities. Anxiety is a staple in my life, an ever present foe bringing with her tears, heartache and rage. But I hide it so well, or at least I thought I did, until recently. I’ll admit I struggle daily with finding balance between what I expect, and what actually takes place. I have a hard time accepting that the world does not go according to the plans I have made. My life is chaotic, filled with challenges and things being out of place. In the beginning of this journey, I accepted this as fact. Not all things will happen according to plan. Life will not follow a well-mapped course. Mishaps and missteps will occur. I rolled with the punches, and made the best of bad situations. Unfortunately, over the years, this outlook on life has dissipated, giving way to obsessiveness over what I can in fact, control. I have developed a suffocating need to appear “normal,” put together and on top of my game at all times. It is imperative that I look OK to the outside world, especially medical professionals. This need is what drives me, and while it’s not the healthiest stress management technique, it provides me with some level of comfort. I need control. I strive for it. In a world where so much is extraneously influenced, I must control what I allow others to see. Perception, to me, is everything. But what if it’s not? What if actually being OK is more important than appearing so? Maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to overcompensate for what I perceive as shortcomings. Maybe it’s OK not to put on a brave face for the world to see. Maybe I can be human; I can fail and struggle, allowing those in front of me access to my not so well managed world. Maybe it’s time to stop faking it until I make it, and actually find ways to manage. Maybe I do need to take up yoga, or knitting or bird-watching. Maybe I should distance myself from the constant demands of parenting kids with disabilities, even if only for an hour, once a week. Maybe it is time for me to take a second and actually breathe, letting go of what is out of my control. As much as I hate to admit it, this physician may be onto something. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Maria Colon

Rediscovering Who I Am and What I Need After a Depressive Episode

A little over a year ago I quit my job. I woke up one day and couldn’t face going to work. It was an average day, during a “normal” period in my life. While I had just suffered a miscarriage, I was healing and moving forward as best as I could. There were no medical catastrophes occurring in my children’s lives, my marriage was is a good place and my mental health should have been too. But it was not. I woke up one day, got ready for work, sat down on my bed and cried. I cried for a good 20 minutes, waking up my husband to ask him what to do. He suggested that I needed a mental health day. So, I called my boss and told her I needed the day off and went back to bed. I went back to bed for three days. On the second day, my husband, now worried about me, called my psychiatrist. He urged me to go see my therapist, which I eventually did. But it took everything in me to get up and out the door. At this point, I hadn’t been to work in four days. I managed to call my boss each day and tell her I wouldn’t be in so I didn’t “no call, no show.” I planned on returning to work one day — I just wasn’t sure when that would be. I saw my therapist three times a week for the next two weeks. It was painful getting out of the bed to see her, and while I managed to go to therapy, I did little else. All I could do was cry, sleep and breathe. Unsuspectingly and without warning, I found myself immersed in darkness, battling a major depressive episode and fearing the manic episode that generally follows. After three weeks of not going to work, my therapist and my psychiatrist wrote me out on disability for the foreseeable future due to a major depressive episode. The same day the paperwork went through to human resources allowing me a leave of absence, I quit my job. I was unwilling to leave them shorthanded, when another more qualified and mentally stable individual could fill my position. While I understood that disability laws protected my employment, I made a choice and left. After a significant amount of therapy, I would come to realize I was too embarrassed to return to my old employer. So I ran and haven’t looked back. A little over a year ago, I quietly broke down, emotionally and mentally. A little over a year ago, I quit my job, once again becoming a stay-at-home mother to two children with medical needs. A little over a year ago, I lost myself. But in that year an amazing thing happened — I found myself again. After months of therapy, I have come to realize that the stressful nature of working with individuals with medical and developmental needs was too much for me. I have come to terms, as best as I can, with the miscarriage that triggered my depression and the one that followed eight months later. I have finally admitted to myself that the demands of caring for my two young children with medical needs is too much to handle on my own. Through therapy, I have worked hard to develop healthy coping skills and manage my stress in a productive manner. Rather than repressing my emotions, I am opening up about my feelings to others, and more importantly, to myself. Finally, a year later, I have rediscovered who I am and what I need. In recent weeks, I have begun perusing online employment opportunities, even filling out a few applications. I have yet to submit one. I have begun brainstorming what I want to do now — in five years and in ten years. I still do not know what that is, but I’m trying to figure it out. I have spoken in depth to my therapist about managing my stress levels and what that would look like when I return to work. Tonight, I worked on my resume and cover letter, and maybe, just maybe, when tomorrow comes, I will be one step closer to hitting send. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via

Maria Colon

When Depression Affects My Life as a Mother

Today mommy had a bad day. She was anxious and irritable, short tempered and unfair. Mommy snapped at you. Ignored you and yelled. Mommy had no motivation, no ounce of compassion or care for your needs and wants. Today mommy had anxiety , debilitating and unwavering. It felt as though the world was crumbling around her for no reason at all. The pressure in mommy’s chest felt suffocating, making everyday decisions obstacles to be tackled, obstacles she felt couldn’t be overcome. Today mommy was depressed. It took everything in her to get out of bed this morning and try to function throughout the day. It took every ounce of mommy’s will to get you ready and out the door in time for school. Feeding you felt like a chore. Getting you bathed and dressed felt near impossible. I know you saw it, the sadness in mommy’s eyes. I know this because you asked what was wrong with mommy, in your concerned sweet 4-year-old voice. Today mommy doubted everything. Her ability to overcome the sadness, her resolve in surviving the day. Each and every moment felt heavy, and full of pain. Today mommy failed at being kind and compassionate, loving and patient. She knows the calm, loving, understanding mother you usually have was replaced today by an angry, heartbroken woman who looked like your mommy, but didn’t act like her. Mommy was less than perfect, and for that I am sorry. Today mommy cried, alone after you had gone to school. She cried for you. For the look in your eyes when she snapped at you over a few toys left on the floor. She cried for you, for yelling over the accident you had as we were walking out the door. Today mommy cried, alone, after you had gone to school for the look of hurt on your face, the quiver in your voice. Today mommy cried, for all her shortcomings. But today Mommy faced the day. Today mommy was brave beyond measure. Today mommy stayed in a world she couldn’t bear to be part of. Today mommy raised her head, not so high, and pushed forward trying her best to make it through each second of every minute, every minute of every hour. Today mommy tried her hardest. It wasn’t nearly enough but it was all she could do. Today mommy tried to be patient though she failed many times. Today mommy tried to be the mommy you need, the mommy you deserve. Today mommy loved you, as much as she had yesterday and as much as she will tomorrow. While it was hard for her to show, she felt it, pushing back against the sadness in her heart. Today mommy had a bad day, a day that made her feel like breaking. But she didn’t. Tonight as mommy tucked you into bed she felt proud. Proud of making it through the day, proud of surviving. Tonight, as mommy kissed you goodnight, she thanked the moon and stars for you and your unconditional love. Today mommy made it through, and she has you to thank for that. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo via contributor.

Maria Colon

The Lies I Tell Myself When I'm Struggling With Bipolar Disorder

Managing my bipolar disorder is an ongoing battle; one that lately, I feel I am losing. This is just one of the many lies I tell myself as I fight to keep depression and mania at bay. I lie to myself every minute of every day — about little things and big things. I tell myself I can handle my disorder, that I am in control, but I am not. I am lying to everyone, including myself, about so many things. Lie #1: Self-care is not as important as caring for others. This is a huge lie, one I tell myself on a regular basis. “Life is too busy right now to practice self-care.” With one under school-age child in the hospital and another special-needs child at home, my time is divided. I rarely have time to cook or eat dinner, let alone carve out time to manage my disorder. I make every excuse in the book from, “It is too hard to find the time” to “My children need me more, right now.” The truth: Self-care is the most important thing I can do. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so refilling and refueling is essential. Is it hard to carve out time to do something for myself? Absolutely. Is it imperative that I do? Yes. Self-care doesn’t need to be a huge ordeal or an extravagant outing. It can be as simple as enjoying a warm cup of coffee in the morning, and I enjoy that cup every single day. Lie #2: Reaching out is pointless. “No one wants to hear about my problems, let alone my mental health status. It is better if I keep it to myself, and try to manage it on my own.” Reaching out is hard on a normal day, so reaching out when dealing with suicidal thoughts and ideas of grandeur seems damn-near impossible. First and foremost, I don’t want to worry anyone. Secondly, I am often embarrassed of my thoughts and feelings. This, coupled with my lies on self-care, make it hard to confide in anyone. The truth: I have an incredible support system. From my therapist, to my family, to friends new and old, I am never truly alone. They will not allow me to be. My mother and sister call me daily to check in, and there is nothing I could ever say that would make them love or respect me any less. I have a spouse who is involved and engaged in my care plan. He has learned my triggers, and does his best to reduce my exposure to them. He listens without trying to “fix” me or my problems. People are not only willing to listen, they worry when I stop talking to them. Lie #3: My medications are not working, so I should stop taking them. This is a big one for me. With side effects in full-force — including weight gain, restlessness and drowsiness — I often find myself rationalizing not taking my medications. “They make me feel numb to the world. You can manage just fine without them.” Someday, I may stop taking my medications, but I am not there yet. The truth: I am brave beyond measure. I have not skipped doses or strayed from the directions. I continue to speak with my psychiatrist about what medications are working and which are not. I advocate for myself daily, and when I need to, I find a creative outlet to help battle through the medication fog. Lie #4: You are a failure. As a wife, a mother, a friend, a daughter and a person. I battle this thought every day. I wake up in the morning believing I am not enough, and go to bed at night begging that tomorrow will be different. Lately, it seems like I can’t do anything right. From the complex tasks, like advocating for my son, to basic activities, like taking my daughter to the park, I feel like I am failing. The truth: I am an exceptional mother, advocate, wife, daughter and friend. I might not always be the best I could be that day, but I am a damn-good person. If you need me, I will be there — sometimes before you knew you needed me! If you need a shirt, I’ll give you the one off my back. More importantly, I will give you everything I am. I am enough as I am, today and every day. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

Maria Colon

I'm Not Strong, My Son Is

“I don’t know how you do it, I wouldn’t be that strong,” a close friend said to me during a recent conversation. I have heard this sentiment over and over again for the past seven months. My 4-year-old son has been hospitalized since September 2016, coming home briefly in March before going back to the local Children’s Hospital with yet another central-line infection. For seven months we have lived a disrupted life. Time split between two children. Days divided between home and the hospital. My husband and I have become ships passing in the night. As well intended as the people are who compliment my strength, I can’t help but feel they are wrong. They could never understand how inaccurate it is to assume I’m strong. I’m not nearly the picture of strength I portray. But as a parent, there is no other choice than to stand beside your child. So I do. There is no other option than to fight alongside them. So I always will. The unconditional love of a parent for their child will allow you to find a strength you never knew existed but it pales in comparison to the strength residing within your child. My son is the fighter in the family, the one whose strength and courage during this journey has never wavered. As his mother, I would love to say I have remained strong in my faith, in standing beside him, in fighting for him, but I haven’t. On more than one occasion I have broken down, pleading to a higher power for reprieve. But not my son. He has fought hard and continues to do so every single day. My son is the one who has undergone countless medical procedures and interventions. The last half year is marked by surgeries, line placements, EKG’s, EEG’s and GI tests. Yet he never complains, taking each in stride and with unparalleled grace for his age. He lies still, smiling at the camera for X-rays and GI tests. He doesn’t play with the EKG or EEG wires, focusing instead in his favorite train, Thomas. He rarely cries or fights when coming out of anesthesia, though on occasion he will call for his momma. My son is the one who has spent the last seven months living in a hospital. Every major holiday, and his birthday, has been spent within the hospital walls. He has been away from everything he loves since September: toys, his sister, the beloved family dog. He could be miserable and crying for home but he isn’t. Instead, he has adjusted to his living arrangement, greeting me with a smile every single morning when I arrive. Does he miss home? Of course, “I come home tomorrow, when I’m better” he says. But that’s it. He never begs to leave or for me to take him with me when I head out the door.  Heartbreaking as it, he simply kisses me, tells me he loves me, and says, “I’ll see you tomorrow Mommy.” My son is the one who has fought big battles raging inside his little body. He is the one who has overcome multiple infections. Infections that have threatened his life. He has battled against the 104° fevers that signal the frightening and reoccurring line infections. He is the one who had undergone countless courses of antibiotics, which upset his entire digestive system as they fight the bacteria in his bloodstream. He is the one who required only one day on the PICU after major abdominal surgery. He is the fighter, the champion who continues to bounce back after his setbacks. My son is the one who hasn’t had anything to eat by mouth in seven months, and nothing to drink in three. He receives all his nutrition through Total Parental Nutrition (TPN) and supplemental g-tube feeds. Yet he doesn’t complain or cry for food. While we try not to eat around him, on the rare occasions we do, he doesn’t become angry. He doesn’t beg, asking for bites of our food. He simply asks, “Can I have noodles when I’m better?” accepting our “someday” response. Somehow he understands he can’t just yet, and accepts it. The truth is I’m not the strong one. My 4-year-old son is. And if I’m lucky, some of Michael’s strength will wear off on me, so that I may continue to be the mother and advocate he deserves. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by kdshutterman

Maria Colon

Tips for Managing Stressful Times for a Parent With Bipolar Disorder

With my sons most recent admission to the hospital I have found myself in dangerous waters. I have been manic for over a month now, and the exuberant amount of energy and ideas of grandiosity have begun to take  heir toll. I am not sure what triggered this manic episode, if I had to guess the incredible amount of stress has something to do with it. For the past six weeks I have been living a life of medical necessity. Days are marked by doctors and medications — my son’s not my own — and the weight of responsibility is starting to take its toll. I have been living a life of medical necessity, battling sepsis and surgeries alongside my son, and mania and depression on my own. While the depression has been kept at bay, my mania has not, and it is beginning to show. I have tried to keep it under wraps and while my therapist applauded my efforts at controlling my impulses, I can’t help but feel I am fighting a never-ending battle. Living life at the hospital poses a unique set of challenges, masking my mania included. For me, I feel like I always have to be “on,” which is exhausting. My son deserves a mother who is emotionally and mentally present, not just physically there. The past month it has taken all of my coping skills to stay above water. Every day poses a new challenge, for me and my son alike. And every day I have remind myself of a few things, which I hope you find helpful if you are ever in a similar situation as the one I am currently in. 1. Take your medications. If you are on a medication schedule, keep it. My biggest mistake occurs on nights when I sleep at the local children’s hospital with my son. I tend to not take my medications on those nights, and pay for it dearly. Skipping doses does not do (any) body any good, especially me. 2. Keep talking. If you see a therapist, keep seeing them. It can be incredible hard to carve out time for therapy when life is calm, add in the additional time constraints and responsibilities of having a child in the hospital, and therapy seems damn near impossible. Make it a priority. Even if you can only phone conference from the hospital room (I’ve done it), make sure you have your support system intact. Keep your medical providers and therapists informed. This might seem like a no brainer, but it took me a long time to have the confidence to call my doctor and tell him when life became too overwhelming. During times of stress, it is important to keep everyone on your care team on the same page. 3. Ask for help. Rely on family and friends. If you have a support system, use it. If people offer to help, take it. I have a freezer full of ready to go meals, made by friends and family. I’ll admit I rarely take the time to eat them, but I have them. 4. Open up about it. I have found the easiest way to manage my mental health is to be honest and open about it. Close friends and family have been looped in for years now and my husband is incredibly supportive. And while I have an incredible support system, already I have learned that there is nothing wrong with looping others in. One day last week, during a conversation with an incredible nursing friend, I opened up about my disorder. Was it uncomfortable? A little. Did I worry what their reaction would be? Of course. But at the end of the day it was important for me to be open and honest with this person when they asked, “How are you doing?” 5. Take care of yourself. Above all else, practice self-care. This goes right along with taking your medications, but includes so much more. Take a break once in a while, get a cup of coffee and chat with a friend. Sleep — this is probably one of the most important things you can do when managing mental illness and stress. Try to eat well. I know it can be difficult to eat healthy if you’re living on hospital cafeteria food or take out, but try to fit in a vegetable or fruit once in a while. If you aren’t on one, add a multivitamin to your regimen. Exercise. This might seem a little selfish but one of the best tools I have against my mania is exercise. Physical exertion helps calm the anxiety that often comes with my manic episodes, so for me fitting in a run here or there is vital to my survival. Whatever you do, however you manage to fit it in, just remember to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via diego_cervo

Maria Colon

Starting the Battle Against Depression After You've Lost Yourself

Since my diagnosis of bipolar disorder over a year ago, I have done well. I have maintained my medication regiment, therapy schedule and overall health: until I didn’t. When I learned I was pregnant in March, I quickly stopped my medication. Unfortunately, I did not restart them after my miscarriage in April, assuming everything would be OK. I had convinced myself maintaining medication was unnecessary, and that as long as I continued to receive therapy I would be fine. I have been struggling for some time now with an unrelenting sadness. At first it was fleeting and in my mind manageable. The occasional feeling of pain and worthlessness, brought on by the loss of my unborn child, was nothing I couldn’t handle. When the sadness would emerge, I simply pushed her back down, containing her deeply within my soul. “I don’t have time for this. I have two children with medical needs who need me. I have a job that demands my attention and focus. I have a life that requires I keep going,” I would tell myself. “ I can manage. I can manage. I can manage. ” This was the beginning of my slippery slope into depression. Foolishly, I ignored the early warning signs, chalking my feelings up to exhaustion, mourning, or simply having a bad day at work. The more I pushed the sadness down the more pervasive she became. As my sadness increased, so did my irritability and anxiety. Panic attacks would become frequent and crippling. Slowly the bad days have begun to blend together into weeks, and the exhaustion has become all-consuming. Before I knew it, I would become submerged in the darkness of a full-blown paralyzing depression. One day I simply couldn’t face the world anymore. So, I didn’t. I closed myself off from everything, the panic rising in my chest, permeating every thought. Breathing has begun to take great effort as does keeping the self-destructive tendencies and suicidal ideation at bay. Most days I sleep, aided by newly prescribed medications. Other days, days where I am brave enough to rise from my bed, are filled with agitation, anxiety and panic. The pain cuts deeper than anything I have ever believed could exist as I barely make it through a shower before retreating back to the safety of my comforter. Lying in the cool darkness of my room my thoughts racing: “Failure, Weakness, Failure,” whispers my depression. Tears stream down my cheeks as the intense feelings of guilt surge to the surface. I try to block out everything, but I cannot. Reaching for the newly prescribed anti-anxiety medication I succumb to sleep. Opening my eyes hours later, I can see the sun fighting its way through the tightly closed blinds. I rise, opening them ever so slightly, allowing the light to break through the darkness. I breathe deeply, inhaling the fresh air gently blowing through the open window. With my last ounce of energy, I make my way to the mirror. Glancing at my reflection, I cannot help but wonder, “Where did she go?” The vibrant, confident, happy woman I once was? The woman who took on the world with a smile and a laugh? She seems to be a distant memory these days. Staring at the mirror, I wonder who is this person that replaced her? This self-blaming, anxiety ridden, emotionally devastated being staring back at me? I do not know her, yet she is me. She is the manifestation of my depression and anxiety. She is the reflection I will face each day until the light finds its way into the tightly draw curtains hiding my soul. She is the me that I will battle little-by-little until I can finally see a smiling, confident woman looking back from the mirror once again. The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Share with us the moment, if you’ve had it, where you knew everything was going to be OK. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.