My kids are so amazing, you have no idea.
The One Who Saved Me
My first daughter was born when I was nineteen. I was destitute, had no education, and was constantly trying to kill myself. I hated who I was, I had no self-worth, and I couldn’t feel the love that my family and friends were trying to give to me. I didn’t deserve it, they were wasting their time. I lived in a dirty neighbourhood with a landlord who had tried to kill me on at least two separate occasions, I hadn’t finished high school, and the clearest option for me was death. When my little babe was born my boyfriend moved us to Halifax so he could pursue his career in the Navy, and I credit them both for saving my life. They both gave me a reason to live, things to hope for, and most importantly, they showed me how to accept as well as give unconditional love. My life is worth so much, and teenage pregnancy showed me that.
I was very lucky that I had the support that I did, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. My family loved me and did the best they could to help in any way that they could, everyone was determined that I would be a good mother. Their encouragement showed me that being alive was a worthy cause. I didn’t need to be an astronaut with a degree in brain surgery; just being me was good enough – being a good mom was good enough. If I could go to bed every night knowing that I did my best for my little family, then my life was worth living. I look at her face and see my own hopes and dreams reflected back at me. For as long as I live I will never be able to thank her enough or repay her for what she has given to me, but I will try every day to prove to her that I was worth saving.
When my daughter was eighteen months old we relocated to Vancouver Island, and the weather started to get to me. Seasonal affective disorder is not uncommon here, but when you’re unknowingly fighting other demons, it quickly takes its toll.
The One I Prayed For
After arriving on the island I went back to school, first to finish high school, and then to post-secondary. The rain and the depression that I was already dealing with made leaving the house very hard. People on the west coast are not as friendly as the people in the east, and I wasn’t prepared for people to not want to be friends with me. I was a young military wife, and struggled to find things in common with other people my age. Before my daughter’s fourth birthday, I gave birth to my second daughter. The one thing I was sure about in my life was the love that I felt for my daughter, and I was determined to fill my life with that same feeling. I couldn’t find friends; I was too far away from family, so another baby was what I needed. My oldest was gaining independence rapidly, and I was missing that feeling of being needed completely.
When I became pregnant for the second time I focussed completely on being the best prenatal mother. I took care of myself, read books, kept a journal, and was excited to be pregnant. There was no stigma attached to being pregnant with her, I just got to enjoy myself. I was happily married, we already had one child, my husband was an amazing caregiver, and no one had to worry about us anymore. It was a special feeling; the knowledge that people weren’t expecting me to self-destruct anymore. A lot of things happened for me during that pregnancy. We found out that our oldest daughter was gifted; I finished school, went through my first deployment as a military wife, and started learning about mental illness. I had suspected that there were imbalances within me, but I was still so afraid of the consequences of admitting it out loud. I thought if I learned enough about it, I would realise that I wasn’t suffering from the things that I thought I was. When my second daughter was born I was able to shift my focus from myself back to my kids, and that continued to work for quite a while. It’s easy to hide from yourself when you don’t slow down enough to see what’s going on.
When my middle daughter was two I became very sick while my husband was on a long deployment. I tried my best to take care of myself, but a few weeks after he got home I was devastatingly ill. Being sick changed me in ways I still can’t understand. In some ways I am more relaxed than I used to be, I a more willing to let things go, less likely to become blinded with rage at the slightest inconvenience. In other ways I take things a lot more personally, I am also finally open and accepting about my mental health. When my body shut down, it took along with my power supply, all of the walls and barriers I had used to protect myself and my loved ones. My mental health problems were always just below the surface, but I had constructed elaborate masks to hide behind, and being sick stripped me of all of them. I was left confused and scared. My doctor told me that I would need to see a psychiatrist to determine the extent of the damage that my illness had caused. I didn’t tell my family. I met with the psychiatrist and he told me that he suspected that this wasn’t my first foray into mental illness, and that not only would I need to be medicated, but I would need counselling. I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and insomnia thanks to my near-death experience, as well as a deep-rooted major depressive disorder, and more than likely Bipolar disorder. It would take a few months to determine if I was bipolar, but I was definitely depressed, there was no getting around that.
When I told my husband I shook and cried, and was positive that he would leave me. I was defective, officially. Even if we had both suspected that something wasn’t right with me before, no one with a professional opinion had confirmed or denied it. I was safe in not knowing. He has been nothing but supportive of me since my diagnosis, and has committed himself to learning alongside me. I know that it is no picnic to live with me, and I can’t imagine how hard it is for him to never know what he’s coming home to. He is always kind to me, regardless of how I treat him, and someday I hope he realises that he deserves better.
The One Who Brought New Hope
In approximately two weeks I will give birth to my third daughter. Sometimes I feel irresponsible for being pregnant while I’m mentally ill, but then I remember that I have always been ill, and my other kids have turned out just fine. This third baby was to prove to myself that I could do it. I am a good mom, and no matter what the status of my mental health is, I will always be a good mom. Being pregnant as an openly mentally-ill person has been a very interesting journey, and I have learned so much about myself and about the people who I’ve surrounded myself with. My support circle is small but tight-knit, and I am confident that the people who love me will help me if needed. My daughters are very excited to be big sisters, and the thought of creating a new life after almost losing mine has been invigorating. I went into this pregnancy with the knowledge that not every day would be perfect, and that I will struggle to maintain my own health while looking after my family, but it is this kind of loving struggle that sustains me, and reminds me that my life has purpose.
Parenting with Mental Illness
My kids are both aware that mommy has mental illness. I don’t sugar-coat it, and I don’t beat around the bush. I am emotionally defective, and I include them in my feelings so that they know that none of it is caused by them. When I am having a down day, I try to explain it. I ask for extra hugs, I ask for extra quiet time. I am open with them in the hopes that they will know as they get older that they can trust me with their feelings and emotions. If I don’t hide, why should they? We talk about everything all of the time, and I feel like being sick gives me a unique perspective on their lives and feelings. My oldest daughter deals with childhood depression thanks to being gifted, and who better to understand her confusion than me? We read books and articles together, she draws me pictures and tells me when she’s having a low day. My little one is always good for snuggles and hugs, and she loves singing us songs to make us feel better. As they get older and have to deal with the trials and tests of being young women, I will be beside them to remind them that not everyone is here to judge them, and that they are always allowed to trust their feelings. So often when I was younger I was made to think that what I was feeling was wrong or exaggerated – and now as an adult I am determined to never let my daughters’ feel that way. Every concern that they have is something that I will take seriously, because sometimes that’s all people need. To have their thoughts validated can be the difference between them trusting me with their feelings and not.
Not every day is sunshine and roses for us. I spend a lot of time reflecting on things that I could’ve done better, situations that I wished I could change. What I’ve learned the most over the past six years is to not allow myself to be hung up on the things that have already happened. The most important thing that I do every day is forgive myself – accept the things that I can’t change, and promise to try for better the next day. I wake up in the morning committed to doing the best job that I can for my family. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t – but it doesn’t matter, I forgive myself and try again. Children are the best tool for learning forgiveness, because they love you so unconditionally. Instead of dwelling on the notion that they deserve better than me, someone who isn’t broken, I forgive myself and move on, because they forgive me, too.
From me I hope that that they will learn compassion for everyone, to be tolerant and non-judgmental of others. They needn’t be friends with everyone, but everyone has their own battle that they are fighting, and my daughter’s will not contribute to anyone else’s pain. My goal in life is to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness, and giving the world these three beautiful girls to help with the fight is the best gift I could give. A new generation of informed and gentle people who see every human as valuable, regardless of what’s going on on the inside. If they are taught to know that there aren’t varying degrees of illness, that cancer isn’t worse than depression, because it’s something you can physically see, then maybe we will start to experience a real change in the way society views mental illness.