I have opened my blog to a series of guest posts by parents with a mental illness. First in the series is Dorothy, who shares with us her story of single parenting while coping with a mental illness.
I’ve known about my depression since I was 30. That’s when I started medication and therapy.
I got married at 33 and had my first son at 34. I knew I was predisposed to PND, although I didn’t know what PND looked like and what it would mean for my son
No matter how well prepared you think you are for parenthood, you are not. Not really. The lack of sleep, the constant crying, difficulties with feeding and lack of emotional support could send anyone into a downward spiral, let alone someone who was already battling depression.
Luckily, I was under the care of a psychiatrist and had access to the private health system. Four weeks in a psychiatric hospital gave me strength to live through my subsequent separation from my husband. We eventually got back together, but I returned to hospital for a further 8 weeks when my son was 18 months old.
I don’t remember much from my son’s first year because of my mental health. It is all very dim, yet painful. I cried when he turned one. I do know that I didn’t give him what he needed in that first year. He needed to be close to me and I didn’t know about attachment parenting and didn’t give it to him. My expectations of myself as a mother were completely different to my reality. The warm fuzzies didn’t last beyond the first two weeks. After that all I remember are crying and exhaustion.
By the time I was ready to try for number 2, I was also ready to do it without medication. Amazingly, I survived the pregnancy and breastfeeding without meds or hospitalisation. I had great support through my local council and found a support group for mums with PND. It was always such a relief to meet with them and not have to put on a face, to just let my depression and anxiety hang out. I always left uplifted.
My mental health underwent another crisis during my marriage break up. I was hospitalised two more times, as I tried to comprehend what was happening in my life. Being a single mum was never in my life plan. I despaired over what this would do to my children – I never wanted this for them.
Life has changed dramatically since then. The plan has gone out the window and we do what we can to get through each day. I have created a life for us that I can cope with and manage on my own. We moved towns and my children’s toxic father in not in our lives.
I’ve recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which was a relief, as it explained so much about my patterns of thinking and behaviour. These days I’m able to separate myself from the disease and not beat myself up for certain ways of thinking. I’m even able to discard them, because I know where they come from. All these years of therapy are finally helping me cope.
After years of guilt about what my mental illness is doing to my children, I now give myself a break. My children are healthy, well fed, safe, dressed, mentally stable and polite (most of the time). Sometimes, I need to crawl into bed until I can cope with life again. This may be an hour or several, once every month or so. They know mummy is having a sleep and they’re OK with that. They know I need time alone through the day and at bed time and they’re OK with that, too.
Our life is simple. We don’t do more than we can handle. Extra curricular activities are kept to a minimum, so are play dates and social events. Not necessarily by design, I just don’t go out of my way to keep my children constantly busy and social. I know that being out every night of the week would soon lead me and them to exhaustion and melt downs. They love each other’s company and I am forever thankful that I decided to have more than one child.
When they ask for a play date, they get one. When they ask to do something after school, they do it. When they ask for my time and attention, they get it. We go on holidays, day trips and outings. At times I have to take myself out of my comfort zone for them, but I do it. I know their childhood is short and I want to make the best of it for them.
Since having children, I’ve lost my love of cooking. I dread making meals and sitting through them with the boys. The drama and carry on do my head in. Unfortunately, children have to be fed, but again, I keep things simple. I tend to do big batch cooking and always have frozen meals ready for the nights when I really can’t be bothered. Other nights we will have simple meals like hot dogs, store bought lasagne or even toasted sandwiches. Tinned spaghetti is a big hit in our house and Macca’s is part of our weekly “menu plan”.
I’m not sure what it is that keeps me going through each day, but I wish I could bottle it, because I know some people struggle to get out of bed each morning. For me, there is a sense of obligation to care for my children, as well as the hope that, some day, things will be better. I use rational thinking to get me through those moments of “I can’t be bothered” or “I can’t cope”, as I think through the consequences of doing, or not doing something.
For example, when I can’t face another school morning, I think about how the day would unfold if I stayed in bed. I realise that the boys would be home with me all day, spending all their time on the xbox or the computer. Usually, the guilt associated with those consequences gives me the kick I need to get out of bed and face another day. Very occasionally, I give all of us a mental health day and refuse to feel guilty about it.
I live my life with a permanent permission to do the things I enjoy, instead of the things I must do. Again, rational thinking makes me keep the house in a reasonable shape, fulfil my work commitments and even exercise. I’ve also been known to sit on the couch during the day watching DVDs, instead of cooking dinner or vacuuming, or decluttering my office and garage. Some things just don’t get done. For now.
Since my marriage break up, I’ve lived for my children. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be here – yes, things have been (and still sometimes get) that low. I want to make a good life for them, within my capabilities. So even though I can no longer give my children the childhood I planned for them, I can give them one we make together.
Dorothy has been blogging for over five years, initially at Singular Insanity and now at A Blog of Her Own. She blogs to keep herself sane, more or less, writing about resilience, mental health and travel. A sole parent of two boys, Dorothy is also a freelance copywriter, thinker and problem solver. Since beginning blogging she has launched two businesses and left Melbourne to live in Ballarat.