Bipolar Parenting- The Fear My Children Would Be Better Off Motherless

by Joni Edelman

In 2005, my oldest sons were five and seven years old. On a summer afternoon I found them in a hurricane of kicks and slaps, a disagreement over legos or hot wheels. I raised my voice, yelling, STOP. Unfazed by my clenched fists, my volume, the anger in my eyes and in my scowl, their fighting continued. My rage reached boiling. I scanned the room. My eyes landed on a wooden chair near the door and brought it down on the hardwood floor in a crash, splinters flying, the flooring scratched. The fighting stopped and their expressions told a story of terror.

I remember those faces — still. It’s been 10 years.

***

In the summer of 1983 my best friend ever in the entire universe came to my house for a sleepover. My house was the best house for sleepovers. We had Twinkies and microwave popcorn, fruit roll-ups and A&W Root Beer — and all the things 9 year old’s dreams are made of. The cabinets were organized alphabetically; Twinkies by the Triscuits, popcorn by the Pasta-roni.

I had a daisy comforter and three decorative pillows, my own TV, and eight Cabbage Patch dolls. My mom would sometimes be gone all night — which only added to the allure.

Me and my best friend forever ate the popcorn, and everything else, and watched whatever was on TV (which wasn’t much). And went to sleep.

When we woke up Saturday morning, the house was quiet, and I had a new stepfather. Steve worked construction and smelled like stale cigarettes and tequila and freshly milled 2X4s. He yelled a lot. I didn’t like him. He had three pesky, filthy children, who I also didn’t like.

Friday night, my mom and Steve went to Vegas. And Saturday morning I had a new family. The next week, in the middle of a school day, my mom picked me up. From school we went to Steve’s house, which was dirty, remotely located, and surrounded by flooded groves of walnut trees and fields of cotton. I didn’t like it either.

I never saw my school — or my desk full of Hello Kitty pencils — again.

This may seem like odd behavior, because it is, but it wasn’t for me. Sudden changes in locale, housing, men, stepsiblings, schools, all typical. I loathed it. I was accustomed to it.

***

Ten years later I was living on my own and helping my sixth stepfather raise my 4-year-old sister. My mom was living in some remote city in Northern California, with the addict who would ostensibly become my seventh stepfather. I was in college, married, pregnant, terrified.

In early adulthood the bipolar disorder that was my genetic destiny was pushed around — shuffled from doctor to doctor, city to city, misdiagnosis to misdiagnosis. Deeply distressed, consumed by sadness, it was just “postpartum depression.” If I had manic energy, it was “drive” or “passion” or “dedication.” Snap decisions, irresponsible, risky, promiscuous, it was just “life learning.” I never finished anything I started, something always got in the way. It was never Bipolar Disorder.

It was always Bipolar Disorder.

I wanted children, a family — stability to heal my wounds. And I knew the truth, I was very sick. I wanted desperately to be anyone but my mother, but, always suppressed, always explained away, I was exactly like my mother. All night sewing marathons, consuming obsession with fitness, organization, church, gardening, decor, 17 kinds of crafts. My magical thinking, my invincibility. The rage. The waves of crippling depression.

I had three children who were pushed aside, when I was sad, or busy, which was a lot of the time. I yelled. I cried. I retreated. I apologized. I did it all again — an infinite loop of dysfunction.

I wanted to be the best mother. The opposite of my mother. I wanted to do it all, and well. But  I wasn’t doing it well. I was doing what I could. But sometimes what you can do isn’t enough.

There was always fear, the fear of the unspoken truth, the elephant in the room — in my life, all around me —  as much as I didn’t want to be my mother, I was. I ignored it, ultimately medicating the long troughs of depression, celebrating the months of boundless energy, denying the dysfunctional behavior;  the out of control spending, the risk taking, the defiance, the promiscuity, the rage.

For 20 years.

***

When I was 40, I met my psychiatrist, a diminutive man, who drinks lattes and eats Sun Chips during my appointments. The man who mixed a complicated cocktail of psychiatric medications, and finally leveled my moods. The man that rose my depression, and stole my mania, and bridged the gap between crippling sadness and dangerous madness. The man who changed it all.

Despite the bridge, my moods still shift from time to time. Lately they’ve been low, I’ve planned my death seven different ways. And so we adjust my dosages. Three months ago they were high, high enough that I didn’t want to sleep. But I continued to swallow the usual pills, and the extra pills he prescribed to force the sleep I hate, to shut me down. We move my meds up and down, in spite of the sometimes crippling side effects. In the name of sanity. In the name of trying to be a safe place for my five children.

Bipolar Parenting, Joni Edelman

I’m still scared. I’m scared that the 10 years I lived in denial hurt my children, irreparably.  I’m scared that they will grow up and write something like this, recounting a childhood of fear and dysfunction. I’m scared that the cocktail that keeps me alive may stop working — that the depths of depression will take hold, and I won’t be able to shake it. And I will die. And leave them motherless.

I’m scared that they might be better off motherless.

I’m scared that one of them will have this cursed gift. I’m scared they will blame me, like I blamed her. I’m scared that someday I’ll be her, and not even know.

Every night I brush my teeth and I swallow five pills and I hope that I can be better, that I am better.

___________________________

IMG_0670 I’m Joni. I’m lucky enough to have 5 amazing kids (19, 16, 15, 4 and 2), one fantastic husband, an awesome sister and a yarn addiction. When I’m not raising up people I’m a freelance writer, RN, and the momma behind mommabare. Love is my religion. I like cake and crafty crap. And yoga. In that order. 
You can follow Joni on Instagram here and on Twitter here.
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Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: When No One Knows

by Kileah McIlvain

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains experiences of depression and anxiety and loss and may be triggering to certain individuals. Please read with care.

postpartum depression postpartum anxiety, monster within.

photo: urban bay photography

I sat there. On the park bench in the middle of Laurelhurst a year ago today. He sat on the other end. I felt like a NOTHING. A Void. A Black hole from which and out of which nothing good could come. I wanted to hurl myself into the quiet duckpond while the local shakespeare players were acting out a scene from Macbeth on the other side of the trees. The feelings of exploding, of darkness, of drowning, of feeling like nothing but a walking corpse never felt more present. What was the point? Why the hell was I put on this earth if God was going to play russian roulette with my life? What the hell was I supposed to do with this gnawing grief of  a past miscarriage and the overwhelming demands of  trying to meet my family’s needs? Why couldn’t I just be kind? Why couldn’t I be strong and be good and just BE who my kids and my husband needed me to be? The questions that had taken root in the dark and walled-up places of my heart began to erupt. The rotten rags that I’d used to stuff up all of the leaks and holes riddling my soul began to surface from these murky depths. I was thrashing around in the gaping maw of my own personal monster. I couldn’t move anymore. I was going to sink. I wanted to sink…and be nothing. It was terrifying.

I. Wanted. To. Die. 

The strange thing is. No one tells you. Either because they don’t know what to say or they don’t even KNOW. It’s easy to smile and nod, and pretend you’ve got it together. Because that’s what you do. It’s invisible, this monster. It chews at your mind and sucks your soul until you feel hulled out…like a painted eggshell that looks great to everyone around you…but you’re hollow and fragile. And no one has a clue. They don’t know that you want to run away. They don’t know that it terrifies you to say anything because you’re sure that if you do, someone will call CPS or SPCC and take your children away. You’re convinced you’re a bad mom. That you aren’t capable of caring for these little humans you gave birth to. The yelling, the blackouts where 15 minutes later you don’t know what was done or what was said. The deeply-ridden shame and anxiety and the panic attacks triggered by the hot water in the shower. I remember the earliest days of my darkness when I laid my son down two weeks after becoming a new mother and cringing because the thought of touching him repulsed me. Because I didn’t want him to touch me. His crying and my exhaustion and me feeling like I couldn’t do anything right (including breastfeeding challenges)…it was overwhelming. And it didn’t stop. With each new life I birthed into this world, my darkness found new depths and more desolate places to dwell. This happened to me. This silent inner monster had blackened everything…and it didn’t go away.

I reached that breaking point a year ago today. I realized that I was unwell. That it wasn’t normal to want to die. That it wasn’t normal to be experiencing panic attacks and blackouts and physical pain because you didn’t want to move or deal or face anyone or anything. That running away from bonding emotionally through touch wasn’t normal.

I’ll tell you what didn’t help.

  • The very cautious ventures into the world of mental health and community before my breaking point had so far amounted to bible verses being shoved down my raw throat (If you just do ABC, God will make it all better!) and people frustrated with my questions because “How could you think this about God? It just isn’t true, and you have to figure that out!”
  • I was told “You’re breastfeeding! There should be tons of lovey warm hormones flowing through you. That isn’t possible!”
  • I was told “Well I got over it, I just had to make up my mind to pull myself up out of this funk.” To which I said “Really? Because I’ve been trying for 5 years and 3 more kids now…and it isn’t working.”
  • I was told “It’s just the baby blues. You just need  YOU-time.” And while that may be the healing ticket someone needs to start getting better…it wasn’t mine. It was only a small number in the equation that was my situation.

What did I do? Well, nothing huge to start with. But talking to someone about it helped. (for me, that was my partner.) No, he wasn’t perfect, but he sat there. And listened. I told him that I was terrified. All the time. I was angry. Angry that God allowed my life to experience what I have. That it wasn’t necessary. That everyone’s life would be better off without me in it. That I wasn’t what anyone needed and I wasn’t healthy for anyone to deal with. I was scared of repeating the harm and emotional and relational damage that was done to me in my own childhood. That started my own journey to health. Reaching out, finding resources, wanting better.

I found a few resources online to point me in the right direction. I was currently breastfeeding my 4th little one and didn’t even know if there were medication options available for me. I didn’t know WHAT I needed, exactly. I just knew that up to that point? Nothing was working. And it needed to change. This had been going on for 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. I didn’t even know what normal meant for me anymore…I only knew THIS. I found a therapist through my state’s mental health resources. I was connected with people that didn’t look down on me like I was some unfit mother…but as a valuable human being who had a condition and in need of help navigating through my depression and anxiety so that I could be healthy again.

Postpartum depression and anxiety isn’t just in your head. It isn’t imagined or something you can just will away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS real.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS a monster.

But it’s a monster you DON’T have to try slaying on your own.

photo: urban bay photography

photo: urban bay photography

Am I there yet? No. But some days I am better.

Sometimes I can look up now and notice that the way the wind moves through the trees is beautiful. I can catch glimpses of hope in my eyes when I look in the mirror. Some days are dark. Really dark. But they are not ALL dark, now. I am not alone. I know now that it’s ok to reach out to the people in my life who are helping me through this. My husband. My therapist. My councilor.  My mind…is better. Medication,therapy, counseling, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, babywearing, herbal supplements, meals…those are a few things that are helping me.  The biggest catalyst for me? Speaking up. Spreading awareness of just what postpartum depression and anxiety feels like and what it can do and resources that are out there to help mothers struggling. Because I am there. WE are there. And things CAN get better. WE are not alone.

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Speak. Don’t stay silent.

Your voice may shake. Your knees may buckle. The monster inside may scream at you. But know you are enough. There IS help. The world IS more beautiful because you are in it. Courage, dear heart. You are enough. And this heart of yours is being forged into a masterpiece. You. Are. LOVED.

Some resources that helped me understand my postpartum depression and anxiety:

Artistic infographics on what it feels like to live with depression and anxiety. Good for people who want to help but don’t know what to do.

A helpful collection of comic strips because a different perspective and sense of humor can help.

A great checklist and resource page that helped me in recognizing PPD and PPA.

 

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