How has mental illness affected me personally: I have bipolar disorder, type 2. I also have an ADHD diagnosis. My son has autism, and my daughter has ADHD. So mental illness is the everyday norm around here. My bipolar isn’t the interesting kind that you see on TV with people going off their meds and then becoming a complete wild child. It’s mostly depression where I sleep and eat a lot mixed in with periods of time where I can get a lot done but don’t always have the best judgement. I’ve never heard voices, or ran around naked, or stolen anything. My first manic episode, and probably most manic thing I’ve ever done, is marry my first husband on a whim. It was a random weekday, he asked, I said sure, two hours later it was done. Impulsivity is a thing I’ve learned to watch for now, but at 21 I had no idea that anything was up. Oddly, I WAS seeing a counselor at this point, and had been for some time, and she never suggested bipolar disorder either, even though when I look back on this time period it seems pretty obvious.
Having a mental illness makes simple things harder for me. I’m easily overwhelmed by tasks that aren’t broken down into small steps. Like housekeeping. I look around and just see the giant mess and don’t know where to start, so I just don’t start because that’s easier (even though I prefer order). Oddly, I manage my children’s issues pretty well, I’m just exhausted by them fairly often. I find that everyday interactions with people are often rather exhausting. But if I’m even a little bit manic the opposite is true. It’s a weird thing, but on a Myers Briggs test I will score as extroverted if I’m a bit manic, and introverted if I’m a bit depressed.
Having a mental illness, and then having my first child be mentally ill as well made me rather reluctant to have a second child. There are eight and a half years between them, and my daughter was honestly quite a surprise. A very good surprise. But pregnancy and bipolar disorder was challenging, because the medications I was on were not safe for the baby, so we had to find something to use to keep things mostly normal. The drug we used wasn’t ideal, I gained way too much weight, but my mood was good without being too good, so overall it was a success. I did not breastfeed, getting back to my meds and avoiding a postpartum crash was just too important.
I can think of many ways my illness has changed my life from what I thought it would be. I studied to be a teacher and a mental health counselor, but I’m not. I’m a stay home mom whose main job these days is chaeuffeur. Sometimes I am frustated by the fact that I have no career, that I am completely dependant on my husband, but most days it’s ok. I’m a big believer in the idea that things work out the way they’re supposed to.
What did I learn from it that might help others: In my first graduate class the professor made a comment about people with mental illnesses being drawn to the counseling profession, and that it wasn’t appropriate for them to work in the field because they weren’t mentally fit. I was angry about this comment, but I didn’t say anything, and I hid my illness from everyone in my department for the next three years. And that was wrong of me. That professor was wrong to make a blanket statement about “people with mental illnesses” and I let her intimidate me into hiding and I shouldn’t have. Don’t hide your illness because you’re afraid of what people will think. It’s just an illness like diabetes or lupus or arthritis. You take your medication and you go to your therapist, same as anyone with any illness, and you learn to live with it just like anyone else. When you hide it you’re saying it’s ok for people to stigmatize mental illness and it is not ok at all. We are as important and valuable as anyone else. Never be ashamed of your disorder, and never apologize for it. It’s part of what makes you, you.
I have a much easier time saying those things than I do actually acting on them, especially when it comes to my kids. I do find myself apologizing for their behaviour more than I should. It is what makes them unique, and I should be happy just to have healthy, happy children, not apologizing for their lack of perfection.
The one thing that has helped me the most along the way is learning to share that I have an illness. I’ve found that when I have opened up about my own illness I have found a community of others who have similar issues and who were also looking for someone who understood. None of us are alone in this