I want to do a series of posts about parenting with mental illness. I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences, other parents will realize they are not alone in the great balancing act of caring for self and caring for children.
The most important thing I want to say to parents struggling with mental illness: You are not alone.
Not even a little bit.
There are lots of us, whether we talk about it or not. We fall everywhere on the spectrum from occasional blues to debilitating illness.
And, yes, there is a stigma about mental illness. A stigma that shouldn’t exist. It shouldn’t exist because people with mental illness did nothing wrong. It shouldn’t exist because people with mental illness should be encouraged to seek help.
The stigma is even worse when it comes to parenting. As someone with mental health struggles, I’ve often thought: Do I have what it takes to parent? If someone knows my diagnosis, will they question my ability to parent?
Do I have what it takes to parent?
Yes. I love my children. I would do anything for them, which includes keeping myself as healthy as I possibly can. It’s not always a straightforward path. For me the decision to medicate was fraught with anxiety about the babies I was carrying or breastfeeding. Anxiety that was just icing on my already very anxious life.
I spent many hours researching the effects of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications on a developing pregnancy. I spent even more hours thinking and meditating on what the right decision was for me and for my babes.
I know I’m not the only one who has devoted many hours and days and weeks to this struggle. And you’re not the only one either.
I’m a mother. I’m an agoraphobic. I suffer from panic disorder. The fear of going certain places, of getting stuck in traffic, of being far away from a bathroom, has impacted my life in many many ways. I’ve gotten depressed about it. I’ve worried that I’ll never be able to take my children to the zoo. I’ve stopped traveling three hours away to visit my in-laws. I’ve sought out therapy. I’ve sought out medication.
None of this, none of these challenges have stopped me from loving my kids and nurturing them. I take it a day at a time, a struggle at a time. If I’m not up to taking my son to the zoo, it becomes something special he can do with his grandparents. If I need to take anti-anxiety medications to get on a plane, that’s okay.
I made the choice to medicate. I made the choice to seek treatment, so that my children don’t grow up with a mother paralyzed by fear. So that my children know that it’s okay to seek help. It’s more than okay. It’s vital.
Acknowledging your struggles is important. Acknowledging your triumphs is even more important. And when I overcome a fear, I celebrate, and my husband celebrates with me.
So, other moms out there. You are not alone. You may not know another mother who is struggling as you are. Except now you know me. I’m there with you.
You are not alone.
Olivia Hinebaugh is a stay-at-home-mom to a three-year-old boy and baby girl. She is an aspiring novelist and steals time whenever both kids are sleeping to clack away at the keys. She tweets about mothering and writing @OliveJuiceLots
She can also be found on Facebook.
Top and Bio photos by Lauren Preti.