Well… this post has been in the works for awhile and a bit tough for me (Elaine) to write. This will also probably be quite long as I tend to ramble when I get on a roll.
Parenting is difficult. Parenting with a mental illness is just as tough but with the added twist of your brain at every turn telling you you’re being a shit parent and then feeling depressed because you’re a shit parent. That’s just a part of it for me, though. And at least I have Yojana who is super supportive of me and reminds me I am not actually a shit parent.
So a little (or a lot) of background and eventually how it pertains to parenting. 🙂
First, I have Bipolar II Disorder and Major Anxiety. It took almost nine years from the time I sought help to be properly diagnosed.
Looking back, I was depressed through most of high school. It manifested itself as both extreme sadness and anger (and still does). At the time though, I just attributed it to a shitty home life situation and teenage angst. During my senior year, it got really bad but thanks to a few people who really helped me (only one knows, the others are unaware how much they helped me), I was able to make it through. When I went away to college and got myself away from everything, things were better but I still had bouts of depression but nowhere near as bad as in high school. Part of me just figured that’s just how I am. That’s just my natural temperament, some people are really happy and bubbly and I’m just sad and depressed. At some point between high school and college, my mom was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (this will be important later).
It wasn’t until my grandma passed away when I was in grad school that shit really hit the fan. I was extremely close to her and saying I took her death hard is putting it mildly. I was so depressed, there were just days I literally couldn’t even get out of bed. It took me almost six months before I sought help. When I did, I was diagnosed with depression (shocker). I told my doctor at the time that my mom was bipolar. He asked me if I had ever had a manic episode. He described it as being extremely happy with zero inhibitions, going on spending sprees, risky sexual behavior, not sleeping for days but still feeling completely energized. (That’s the “typical” manic behavior). Nope, never experienced that. He put me on an antidepressant. Yeah, that didn’t help. I was back in his office every 2-3 months, saying we need to try something else, this isn’t working. He began by upping the dose, then adding another medicine that helps the first one work better. Nope, still depressed as fuck. Every time, the doctor asked if I had had any manic episodes. Nope. This went on for about a year and a half. It came to a point that I literally couldn’t take it anymore. My brain was like, “you know what would be great? If you died.” and I was like, “Yeah, that would be great. No more pain, no more suffering, sounds good, sign me up”. So yeah, at that point, I knew I needed some major help, so I checked myself into the hospital for fear of harming myself and to get better treatment. I saw a different doctor, who prescribed me a cocktail of medicines if you will (the same cocktail I actually take today), 2 different antidepressants and a mood stabilizer. After 4 days in the hospital, I came out with a fresh diagnosis: yep, you guessed it, Bipolar Disorder. I had had a slightly manic episode in the hospital and with my family’s history, it was easy to diagnose as bipolar. I’m actually quite lucky because once (3/4 of the way of) being properly diagnosed, I was put on a mixture of medicines that actually worked for me. I got so much better and it was fantastic. I still had my bad days (I still do) as there is no cure but it is being managed. From then on it was basically just upping the doses of the different medicines as symptoms would come back/arise. During this whole time, I’ve tried to be an advocate for myself and be in tune with what I’m feeling so that when somethings not working right, I go to the doctor right away and get it fixed. A little over a year after my diagnosis of being bipolar, we (Yojana and I) moved to New York City for law school. I was worried. I didn’t want to see a new doctor. What if he didn’t believe I was bipolar like the first one had? Hahaha…what a joke. The doctor I had in NYC, I liked to call him my pusher. He first questioned why I was on so many meds and after telling him my history, he didn’t really think I was bipolar but said we would revisit it later. I literally just went in and saw him for five minutes every 3 months and he would refill my prescription. If anything in my mood changed, he would just up the dose of the appropriate medicine and send me on my way. I saw him for three years, he never brought up changing my meds; he didn’t seem to care, like I said, a pusher. But New York brought new issues up or at least made them worse. My anxiety was at an all time high… though, at the time, I didn’t realize that’s what it was. Being from a small city of a little over 100,000 and then going to a city of over 10 million was very overwhelming for me and I absolutely hated it. It was just too many damn people.
Then we moved to the DC area for my job. Ugh, the joys of seeing yet a new doctor. Went through the spiel with this guy, he balked at the idea of me taking so many meds, didn’t believe I was bipolar. Yay me. So he took me off one of my antidepressants. That was a terrible month. Went back, put me back on it. Still didn’t think I was bipolar though. Ugh, doctors, I swear. Started seeing a different doctor after that because the first guy didn’t have any available appointments for like six months… not cool. Went through the spiel with this lady, she again balked at the idea of me taking so many meds and didn’t believe I was bipolar. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? So she took me off my mood stabilizer. The thing about this med is that you have to be weaned off of it, which takes around a month, then you have to be off of it for a couple of weeks to access how you are off of it, and then if you have to get back on it, you have to ramp back up to the dose you were on which takes over a month. After the second/third week of being weaned off of it, I already knew it wasn’t going to be good. I was able to get an appointment for a few weeks later and told her my symptoms; of course, major mood swings. Also had some of my type of manic episodes: I get get super happy, get all giggly and laugh at just about everything, have so much energy…pretty much bouncing off the walls. I usually get a shit ton of stuff done though but my brain is all over the place and I only get a few hours of sleep at night and then am good to go. I guess the good thing about my manic episodes is that I’m not too overly happy and I still have all of my inhibitions. The doc was like, oh, you have Bipolar II. I just looked at her like, “are you fucking kidding me? I’ve been trying to tell you this the whole freaking time and since I didn’t have the typical bipolar symptoms you fucked with my life for 3+ months? Ugh”. Side note: Bipolar II is different than Bipolar I (or the “typical” Bipolar) in that instead of extreme manic episodes, there are hypomanic episodes (i.e. tamed down versions of mania). Like the exact thing I’ve been explaining to them the entire time. God I hate doctors sometimes.
I recently switched insurances and had to see a new doctor yet again. This time when she balked at how many meds I was taking, I was like, “I have Bipolar II” and she was like, “oh, ok” and we moved on. I discussed my anxiety issues and she diagnosed me with Major Anxiety and have now been taking anti anxiety meds and it is amazing. My mental health has never been better. I still have my bad days where I literally can’t get out of bed but overall, it’s so much better.
So now on to the parenting aspect (finally). One of the reasons it took me so long to seek help is the stigma of having a mental illness and the fear of being judged. And even though my mom is bipolar, it was also a hush, hush thing in our house. You just didn’t talk about it. You acted like nothing was wrong. I want to be open with my kids about my struggles. Honestly, the likelihood that at least one of them will have something is pretty high and I don’t want them to ever feel like they can’t talk about it, that they can’t come to me with what they are feeling.
Another reason I wanted to do this post is because I think we all need to be more open about our struggles, about our mental illnesses. We need to make it so that there is no stigma around it or around getting help for it. We need to make it so that our children feeling comfortable enough to share their struggles/feelings so they can get help and don’t need to needlessly suffer. I’m as open as possible with my kids. Even though they are only 2, they know that I take medicine everyday when my special alarm goes off, they know that I take the medicine because I’m “sicky in the head”, and that I go to the doctor for help with my sickness. To them, it’s the same thing as if one of us was “sicky in the tummy” or “sicky in the nose”. It’s not a big deal to them and I want it to stay that way.
The other thing about being more open and honest with ourselves and our families is that we are in a position as parents to be able to get our children help sooner if they need it. My wife and I know the ins and outs of my illnesses, the different symptoms I show. We know what to look out for in our kids and will be able to get them help sooner if the need arises before it gets too bad. And after the torturous journey with the myriad of doctors that I went through, I know how to properly advocate for my kids. I thought I was doing a pretty good job for myself, but I could have been better, maybe then the doctors wouldn’t have fucked with my meds so much, but the past is the past and all I can hope is that I can do better for my kids.
As one last thought, I just wanted to say that if anyone reading this needs someone to talk to, someone who understands what they are going through, I am always here. I will always listen because I know what it’s like to feel like you are not being heard or that no one will understand but I also know what it’s like to have a support system and talk to someone who does understand and it is amazing.