Living with Mental Illness

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Throughout most of my life, I can recall many instances of extreme ambition, creativity, and motivation. During these spells of elation, I am Wonder Woman. I can work a fifteen hour day, take time to play with the kids, and still clean the dishes at the end of the night. I can graduate college, while working full time, while seven months pregnant. No problem, dude. I engage whole heartedly with friends and family, attend social events, and talk on the phone for hours and hours. I astound and amaze my coworkers with productivity, I plan and organize things to a T, and I often make huge financial goals and spreadsheets – right before spending all of my money, imbibing copious amounts of alcohol, engaging in risky behaviors and sexual fantasies, then falling into a depression.

Wait, what? Yes, you read that right.

Bipolar mental illness

You see, I suffer from Bipolar II, a lesser known form of Bipolar Disorder. In Bipolar II, the symptoms of mania often go unnoticed. In fact, with Bipolar II, medical professionals refer to this mania as hypomania, a more minute form of the typical God-Syndrome type mania that is seen in Bipolar I. Because hypomania can appear to be normal, go-getter behavior, so many of us miss the signs. And if you’ve lived with these cycles of extreme highs and extreme lows for all of your life, you may, like me, prefer the hypomania to the depression.

When I checked myself into Parkwood’s Partial Hospitalization Program, I never dreamed that I would reach this diagnosis. And to be honest, I was resistant against taking the prescribed mood stabilizers. After all, if it weren’t for my spells of hypomania, I may have never accomplished all that I have accomplished. Even my house wouldn’t be cared for to the degree I would prefer.

But for anyone with any level of Bipolar disorder, mania, while appealing, is dangerous. When manic, people can make irrational decisions that can have lasting impacts on their lives and the lives of those around them. Which in turn, can lead to a deeper sense of guilt, despair, and hopelessness with the inevitable crash into depression.

As a parent, this can be even scarier.

mom mental illness

This summer, I spent roughly $20,000 that I did not have. I ran up all of our credit cards, then used up the savings. I even borrowed from my 401(K). I have no explanation for this behavior, except that I lacked the self-control not to do this. This was in addition to an impulsive buy of a new home and $12,000 worth of furniture.

Then, when the depression hit, I found myself feeling guilty and worthless, unworthy of being a wife or a mother. I had stolen from our future, from the future of my children, and I had nothing of worth to show for it except a home that I hated and a few new pieces of furniture.

I wanted to leave. I felt trapped in my own home, in a marriage filled with love that I did not deserve, in being a mom of two amazing little boys.

I still feel this way sometimes when I cycle downwards: that I made the wrong life choices, that my illness will make my family eternally unhappy, and that they will be happier and better off without the unpredictable cycles and behavior of their mother.

Knowing that you have a mental illness can be oppressive, for some. But for me, this is revolutionary, almost freeing in a way. Knowing what is wrong and understanding my behaviors is a stepping stone to leading a healthy and happy life. No, it isn’t the end-all-be-all.

I worry for the future of my children, that this hereditary disorder may be affecting their brain development even now as I type this article, and my three year old and one year old rest on the couch watching Super Simple Songs. There will come a day that I will have to tell them about this illness, and I worry for that, too.

It is safe to assume that I will spend the rest of my life on any number of medicinal cocktails, designed to make my brain function normally and cycle less frequently or to less extremes. And I will likely always attend therapy to get specific Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and continue learning and applying coping skills.

If you think that you may suffer from a mental illness, or even mental stress, I urge you to seek counsel and find the help that you need. My list for leading a happy and healthy life that is fulfilling for me and my family may not be exactly the same as yours. My illness may not be what you find that yours is. And your doctors may change your diagnosis with time, because this mental health business is tricky and complicated and hard to understand. But I would like to share what I have learned thus far, in case it can help you.

Immediate Actions

If you are considering suicide, please reach out for help immediately. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go, right now, to Parkwood Behavioral Center in Olive Branch for an assessment or Lakeside Behavioral Health System in Cordova for an assessment.

  1. Find a therapist.– If you have mental stress (let’s be real, most moms do) you should seek a therapist. Mental stress does not necessarily require medication. It is something that most everyone will go through in their lives. But therapy is beneficial for everyone. Your therapist can also help you determine if you should seek the medicinal aid that can be offered by a psychiatrist, and they can refer you to one, often at the same location.
  2. Tell someone you trust.– This is so important. Find someone you trust or a group you trust, and tell them about your mental stress or illness.
  3. Ask for help.– In your mental health journey, you will prepare a toolkit with the help of your therapist. This toolkit includes things like self-care, coping and caring for others, and building a support team. The last one is what this is all about. You need to have reliable people that you can call on for help when your mental stress or illness becomes unbearable and begins to affect your day to day to life.

Ongoing Actions

  1. Keep a journal.– Keep a journal, or use an app, such as Daylio, that will help you track your emotions. This will be a great tool in recognizing patterns in your behavior and identifying triggers to your emotions.
  2. Take time for yourself and your hobbies.– Moms, you know this is hard for us. Everything revolves around our babies. We work for our babies. We play for our babies. We clean and cook, bathe our children, wash the dishes, sweep and mop, grocery shop. The list goes on and on. You must block out time for yourself. You may need more time than other moms. With my illness, I need a day or two away, as frequently as twice a month at times. I also need daily solitude of at least half an hour, if not longer. Determine what you need to feel fulfilled and sustained and commit to it.
  3. Ask for help.– Yes, this is a repeat from your immediate actions. You have to continue to ask for help from your support team. For me, my team includes my spouse and my mother. I also have backup support friends who come through for me when my family cannot.

I hope that if you deal with any sort of mental illness or stress, that you know that you are not alone, Mama. The days are long, but the years are short and this too shall pass, though maybe not exactly in the way you had thought or planned. Keep strong. Keep going.

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 1-800-273-TALK (8255)  TTY 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

The Trevor Project. 1-866-488-7386 or text “TREVOR” to 1-202-304-1200 (available M-F from 3PM to 10PM Eastern Time

Crisis Text Line. Text START to 741741

Not OK App. A free “digital panic button” created by teens to reach out to trusted contacts.

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1, or text 838255, or TTY 1-800-799-4889

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

National Hopeline Network: 800-442-HOPE (4673)

Dial 911 if you need immediate help.