Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
These past few weeks of motherhood have been thus far some of the hardest ever. Shit has happened that no one teaches you about in the parenting books. I’ve studied the whole of the DSM and I still couldn’t have been prepared, as a mother, for the kind of emotional toll that has been taken on me. That’s why I’m realizing how to protect your mental health while taking care of everyone else is so important for parents.
You know there are things you expect, in the back of your head, in the bottom of your heart and right there in the pit of your stomach. Things that you know can happen, like all those terrible side effects they warn you of when you are taking the drugs that will save your life. You take them anyways because living is more important than having the shakes. Well, my friends, this shit was not on the warning label when I got pregnant. Or maybe it was and I chose not to believe it.
I have been struggling with mental illness since the teen years. There is a whole list of disorders and illnesses that I can speak of at length and in-depth. That should have been a red flag to me that maybe I needed to be a little more prepared for what could happen if the girls got triggered. But, I thought, I’ve got this. I found my way out of the darkness. It’ll be fine. And it was until it wasn’t anymore.
In my teen years, my mind was held hostage in a dark abyss. I couldn’t find my way out or at least it felt like I couldn’t but, true to Debi fashion, one step at a time, one moment at a time, I survived. Barely. Even though there were days when it was so painful to be alive that I prayed something or someone would kill me because I couldn’t do it myself and hurt my mom. She was my savior and she had no idea of the dark thoughts that were infiltrating my brain. It’s probably better that way. But I know.
In those days, it hurt to breathe because it felt counterintuitive and I cried more tears than I thought were even possible. But, my childhood was tumultuous to put it nicely. A lot of bad shit happened to me and when you’re a kid, you can only take so much before you break. Or so I thought. I’m more resilient than I ever imagined because I never actually broke, I just bent as far as my child mind and body could.
I promised myself that I would never allow that to be my daughters’ stories. They would live a “normal” life. As if I even know what that looks like. I promised myself they would never be triggered and I thought I could protect them from my same fate. But I was wrong. There are some things we can’t actually stop from happening, no matter how hard we try or how ‘good’ we are at this parenting thing. Maybe this is why I feel like such a fraud when people compliment me. I know the truth. There are simply some things that are beyond our control. That’s a hard and bitter pill for this recovering smother mother to swallow.
How to protect your mental health while taking care of everyone else is a hard, but imperative, balance to find
Today, I took my daughter to her first adolescent group therapy session. Never expected that to be a milestone. She almost cried when I left her. I almost cried when I left her in a room full of strange kids in their own turmoil. Is this a good idea? Is she going to get ideas or learn bad habits? But isn’t this supposed to help her live? All that matters is that she makes it through, by any means possible. She is the most important thing in my life. She and her sister are truly my entire reason why.
A couple of weeks ago, her depressive episode got so bad that I could see her slipping into that same dark abyss that I used to live in. I lived there for years. I honestly thought I’d never escape. I resigned myself to living there alone with my pain until it killed me. For me, it started at 12-years-old with body dysmorphia, then the major depression and suicidal ideations started around freshman year of high school, onto eating disorders beginning around 17 ( bulimia then anorexia with extreme exercising), and ultimately a diagnosis of bipolar 1 when I spent most of my college years and my mid 20’s manic AF. I didn’t have my first panic attack until I was 35-years-old but according to my psychiatrist, anxiety was there first.
As a child, I was prone to terrible stomach aches that landed me in the emergency room on more than one occasion. That’s how little Debi’s anxiety from living with an abusive, alcoholic father first manifested. But I learned quickly, around 7-years-old, how to develop my coping mechanisms. I’m a counter. It worked for years until my husband lost his job when I was 35. #mommysfirstpanicattack Yep, if I’m anxious and talking to people (pushing through my anxiety) I’m probably counting every word you are saying and all the letters in the words. I know I’m an extrovert but I also have my limits. I didn’t even realize I counted or what it meant until about a year into my therapy. Did I mention now ADHD is on the table? Aye aye aye. Like seriously, what the actual fuck?
Anyways, most if not all of these things are in control ( save for a little mania that gets triggered when I’m under duress…you know like when you’re dealing with the guilt and pressure of passing along your fucked up brain chemistry to your children). You have not had mom guilt of this level if you haven’t genetically fucked your kids up. It is a special kind of hell because it is in fact my fault. I’ve been crying about this a lot lately.
Right now, I’m trying to keep my shit together while putting out a seemingly unlimited amount of mental health trash fires over here daily. It’s a lot. I’m overwhelmed. I’m triggered and I’m trying my best to do what’s best for everyone, especially my girls. I thought I was holding it together. I mean I know that on the inside, I’m falling apart but I thought on the outside, I was taking care of business. I think I am for the most part but I’m neglecting myself. I know this because the other days while I was sobbing about my daughter’s mental health crisis, I could hear my pressured speech and feel my pressured thoughts machine-gunning out of my head and my husband gave me a hug and said, “But Debi, you haven’t looked happy for a while.” And he’s not wrong. I’m too overwhelmed and exhausted and scared to be happy because what right do I have when my children are in pain?
That’s how I know that I need to step back, take inventory and do whatever I need to do to get my own mental health in order. Because skipping myself isn’t doing any favors for my children or my husband. In fact, I’m adding to the pile of neverending trash fires currently going on. Look, I’m not complaining. This is me processing. I write, that’s how I survive. If you’ve ever wondered why my feeds are not perfectly curated, it’s not because I don’t know that it’s what people want its because I refuse to live a lie. My battle with eating disorders made me a liar for about 8 solid years. You have to lie to hide the fact that you are slowly killing yourself from the people who love you. If not, they will stop you from your slow suicide. And I preferred to exile myself from everyone than to let them know how truly vulnerable and pathetic I was. I spent so many years striving for perfection and I’m still a fucking relentless overachiever. It’s just who I am. If I stop moving I die. But now, with years of therapy and doing the work to not only understand my disease but myself, I will never silently suffer again and I don’t want that for my daughters either. I never want them to feel that alone and afraid to live. So how do I protect my mental health while taking care of everyone else? I have to be vigilant that I take care of myself first or I won’t be able to take care of anyone else. I know from a mom’s perspective, it sounds very selfish but it’s not. It is giving myself permission to heal so that I can help the people I love the most heal and get the help they need with my full support.