“You can never build a bridge (to understanding) until you get rid of all of the walls.”
Chapman & Campbell, The Five Love Languages of Children
We often get angry because we (the mentally ill) just don’t understand what the hell is going on with us. It’s confusing. It’s scary. It’s produces fear. Fear produces anger. Now think about how this feels to you. Now imagine you are a child or teen feeling this. The one person that is supposed to show you love and stability is yelling or crying or disappearing for days at a time and you have no idea what you are doing to make them do this.
I can only imagine how confusing it was and can be to a little girl whose mommy is one minute showing love and compassion to fifteen minutes later a mom shouting or crying for no good reason to them.
Luckily if you have a mental illness and have not acted in a way to show love and security to your children it is not too late. The most positive thing you can do is forgive yourself for your past failures. That is the past and you can only live in this very moment. Children are resilient and forgiving beings. They are God’s most precious gift to us and filled with pure love and joy. As a mentally ill parent you can easily take that from them if you don’t have a plan in place for when the illness starts to emerge. A few months into understanding what was happening to me I sat down and explained what was happening.
- Let go of the mommy guilt. You are hopefully already battling the illness and this takes a lot of energy and bravery. You don’t need the demands of being a “perfect pinterest mom” on top of that. That is ego and I have learned one thing from this illness – ego is my nemesis. Like I said – Kids need one thing LOVE!! Focus on that. The house can stay messy. You can order take out. Stop obsessing over your figure. Focus on two things: your healing and loving your family and friends. Tell your kids you love them. Learn their love language and make time to show it each week. Fill their love tank.
- Explain to them in kid language that mommy (or daddy) has an illness and it sometimes makes him/her act confusing. Explain it’s even confusing to your own self but you have doctors trying to help. My children know it as “fireworks” are going off in mommy’s head. This is something concrete to them that they can understand. My oldest has even drawn a picture of this. This is the most important thing you can do now. Life will wait. Your kids do know how to wait for you to make sense.
- Form a support network.” If you have no support network now, build it, and you will be amazed at how many will respond. Your children will become more resilient, productive and creative if the circumstances are right. A life that is too easy is not good for the soul.” (Lynda Hunter, “Wings to Soar” Single Parent Family). I have told my daughter’s teachers and counselors at their school. When we have bad mornings it is my job to let them know so they can help her process what it going on. The last thing you want is your child internally processing the morning events over a six hour period. Think about how you feel if you have an argument with your husband. You usually want it resolved and understood pretty quickly. Join a support group, find a great therapist, have your partner make sure you always take your meds, share your illness with your closest friends. Accept you can not fight this battle on your own.
- Make a schedule. I have found this is huge in my kids having stability in their lives. We have a calendar and they know when events are coming up. They know to get dressed first in the morning (this used to cause panic attacks for me) trying not to be late. They know Family Meeting & Dinner is on Tuesday. Date night is on Wednesday and so forth. This had been huge is letting go of the guilt of them not knowing what was next. Eventhough I no longer work full time we have chose to keep my youngest in preschool so she can always have that daily structure when I can’t give it.
- Come up with safe words and safe places. When I have a manic rage or panic attack I go to a safe place and let it unfold. It happened in front of my daughter once and I can still see the fear in her eyes. My husband knows what to do when this happens. People around me on a daily basis know where to get me, what meds to get me and what to say to me when this is happening. I aways think of Shelby in Steel Magnolias when she goes into diabetic shock int he beauty parlor. That’s how it looks and adults in my life always swoop in to help.
One in four women live with a mental illness. This can range from depression to schizophrenia to anxiety. The whole spectrum. If you know someone struggling with mental illness step up and help them. They will appreciate it more than you will ever know. Sometimes we know we need help and support but the stigma of mental illness in addition to our inability to have clarity at times makes it hard to reach out.
Here are some great resources to help you talk with your daughter or son about your mental illness.
Bipolar Information for Kids | Talking to Kids About Mental Illness | When Mommy Has A Mental Illness