Parenting With Mental Illness
The first thing people tell you when you get pregnant is that your life is no longer yours. Everything you do from here on out is for the baby currently chillin’ in your uterus. I believe I have said it before and that is, for the most part, unfortunately true. Maybe not in the you-should-drop-everything-and-devote-every-second-of-your-life-to-this-kid way, but parenting takes a certain level of self-sacrifice that is hard to understand before you have children.
For instance, you will occasionally forget to eat all day because the baby is sick and needs all the comfort you can give them. When was the last time you showered? Likely three days ago. You give up a lot of basic needs as a parent. Every action you take has to consider your child.
You’ve worked overtime this week and your friend asked you to go out, but you’ve hardly seen your kid. Do you go out for your mental health (being stuck at home or work all the time is mentally draining) or do you go home and snuggle with your toddler? Hell, even accepting the overtime has to be considered! Is your partner off work today? Do they need to go into work right after you get off? Can you find a babysitter? Can you even afford a babysitter?
And when you are parenting with mental illness, it becomes a whole different ballgame.
I have anxiety. Depending on the day, it’s either not the worst or enough to send me into a full on black out panic attack. Regardless, not a single day goes by that I am not feeling it in some fashion. It is always there- right under my skin, nestled in my chest waiting to make itself known. And all those things I just talked about self-sacrifice and parenting? I still have to do those things. Combine it with my recently diagnosed depression and life can be… pretty hard.
There are times when the only person my daughter wants to be around is me. It doesn’t matter if I’m currently dealing with severe anxiety- she wants mom to comfort her. So even though I desperately do NOT want to be touched, I need to work through it to be there for my kiddo.
I have to set aside my problems and work with her because she is depending on me to make things okay. At this time in her life, mom is cool and she wants her mom. At the same time, if I don’t take care of myself I won’t be in any kind of shape to take care of her. There are weeks where I didn’t take the time to cope, and she suffered for it because I couldn’t get myself out of bed on my days off. She’s five- she still doesn’t understand why her mom’s brain is crap, she just knows mom doesn’t want to play with her.
Here’s a fact that is true no matter your mental state-
You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your child.
Parenting with mental illness is hard. There are going to be days that take everything out of you. Days that leave you feeling restless and fatigued. Days where you just want to be ALONE.
You should absolutely have days to yourself. I’m not saying disappear every weekend, but find time to spend on yourself. Even if that time is just lying in bed listening to Netflix play in the background. Or putting off dishes until 8 at night. That time is valuable! Time spent alone helps you reset and unwind. That time gives you more energy to spend on your child.
Unfortunately, we often run into the issue not having the means to spend a day alone. So what the hell do you do then?
My preferred form of coping is plopping myself down in the shower and just hanging out until I feel better. It isn’t a pretty bath with bath bombs and candles and ivy hanging from the window. My shower time is usually just me either crying or reviewing things I need to do later. However, it is MY time. I am alone and I can take that time to recoup however I need to.
Self care is often presented to us in the form of expensive all natural skin care products, bath bombs, and quality bath robes. Which are all fine and perfectly valid, but not entirely realistic to the needs of someone coping with something like anxiety or depression.
Find your time while where you can. Have your partner watch the kiddo while you go do a Starbucks run alone. You’ll often find that the time alone is just enough to settle you down a bit. It won’t solve anything, but I find that if I can just get a second to remind myself that I am ok- I can at least pretend to be functioning alright.
The truth is this. You will often have to ignore your needs for the good of your kid.
We don’t want to say this. We want to be encouraging and pretty and have everything wrapped up real nice. But that isn’t always honest. My mental health was ignored for years. I could be near a panic attack, desperately wishing I wasn’t being touched… but still rocking Averi to sleep as a baby because she needed me. I refused to spend money on my health because she needed money spent on her first. That was just how it was.
When I encourage you to set aside time for self-care, I am encouraging you to do what makes you feel better. I’m encouraging to remind yourself that you’re not less of a parent because of your depression. I’m reminding you to do what I often fail to do- care about yourself.
The baby can cry for a few minutes while you make coffee.
Your kid can be bored for an hour while you bake something to get rid of nervous energy.
Parenting with mental illness is twice the job.
And you won’t receive any awards for it. Believe me, I know. More so, you won’t always be a ‘good’ parent. It’s frustrating and hard to accept, but the truth is that most of us have our let downs as parents. It’s part of the job.
A big thing you can do for yourself is be honest with your kid. Find the right words, the right metaphors to explain your problems to your child. Kids pick up on our moods. They know when something isn’t right and instead of potentially letting them think it is their fault (that has happened with me and Averi) be open about it.
I’ve asked Averi if she has ever felt really really nervous. When was it? Can she describe it to me? Well, for a long time Mommy has felt like that all day every day. My brain and my body are a little off, and sometimes that means I need a second to remember I don’t need to be nervous like that.
Is it entirely accurate? No.
But it was enough that she understood and could empathize with me.
And your kid will probably be able to empathize with you.
Until next time!
BTS: I got my shoes VERY wet, Michael was workin’ the camera, and Averi was stoked AF for the water fountains.