20 Reasons why parenting with mental illness is hard

Many of these reasons are not limited to parents with mental illness but apply to parents generally. This shit is hard, whether you are certifiable or not. So I present to you, in no particular order, the following 20 reasons why parenting with mental illness is hard:

  1. Even when you wake up knowing it is going to be a shit day, you still have to get out of bed.
  2. Crying in front of your kids.
  3. Having to explain to your kids, in a non-scary way, why you are crying.
  4. The screaming (mostly theirs).
  5. The guilt (all yours).
  6. Feeling scared and incompetent, which leads to acting irritated and impatient with your kids and your partner.
  7. Medical need for consistent, uninterrupted, 7-8 hour sleep periods vs. teething, illness, nightmares, diaper fails, thirst, scary noises, heat, cold, etc.
  8. Feeling afraid of spending time with your own kids, especially when there is no other adult around to help in case you mess up or break down.
  9. Not being able to chase a tough day of parenting with a glass of wine.
  10. Having weekends become a trigger.
  11. Missing good parts.
  12. Wondering whether you have passed on your illness to your child; and wondering whether it will pass on to one of your grandchildren.
  13. Being hypomanic at your kid’s birthday party.
  14. Feeling socially dysfunctional and/or terrified at all the other birthday parties.
  15. Having to ask your spouse to carry the parenting load alone when you just can’t, not for one more minute.
  16. Being the overzealous, annoying safety patrol person at the park, because you can’t not say something.
  17. Feeling overwhelmed with love and anxiety, simultaneously, every waking minute of your day and knowing this feeling will last for years, if not forever.
  18. Being very, very organized (e.g. meals planned, bags packed, weekly schedule on paper), but inevitably becoming increasingly unorganized until you can barely remember what day it is. Repeat ad nauseam.
  19. Wondering whether your struggles as a parent are truly related to your mental illness, or if you’re just not very good at parenting.
  20. Questioning your decision to have children at all, given the hereditary nature of most mental illnesses and the likelihood that you would be less debilitated by your illness if you were not a parent.

*Credit for awesome card pictured above goes to Emily McDowell Studio


Letters from Camp, Part 1

My dear friend,

It has been two days now and so far I don’t really like it here. I don’t feel like I fit in. Mostly I feel like it’s too much; that I shouldn’t be taking time away from my family or my job to listen to other people talk about things I have never experienced or things I already know or things that just don’t seem like they are relevant to my life. Except some of the things we talk about seem highly relevant and some of the other campers are actually quiet similar to me in terms of life circumstances and flawed coping mechanisms. Mostly I am terrified that I belong here.

The first day, after two hours of group, I had a near-panic attack and seriously considered escaping back to my house, my home base, my safe place. Except that home is actually not so safe for me much of the time. Home is where everyone needs or wants me very badly, immediately, and simultaneously. Home is where I am mommy and honey but rarely, if ever, myself. Home is where I have felt compelled to alter my central nervous system to withstand the screaming anxiety and crushing depression that goes along with my continued, ill-fated attempts to do ALL THE THINGS my broken brain has convinced me are necessary to be good and enough.

So I didn’t go home that first day in treatment. I washed my face in the public restroom down the hall from the center, swallowed my sobbing as best I could, and went back to learn more about how to be well again.

Today was still mostly terrifying but I didn’t cry. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Honestly, I will keep going even if it never gets better just so long as it works. Dear god, please let this work. I am so tired of fighting this battle. I miss my life and myself.

All my best,