Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Motherhood and mental health - (being a bipolar mother)

I wrote this a while ago when writing wasn’t so hard. I decided not to post it because well it seemed a strange subject not sure how it would be taken. Anyway with some small edits I have decided to take it out of draft folder.

Having spent over 2 years writing this blog and reading lots of other mental health blogs there is a subject that is talked about very little. Motherhood and Mental health. That is the idea of having children if you are a ‘Mental’ and also how having children and being ‘Mental’ works.

You see I guess when you read someone’s blog, or hear about someone who is quite unwell. It is easy to see that person, as someone perhaps sitting alone in a room typing away, or as if often the case, a diagnosis or a set of symptoms. But it goes wider than that. We all have family, friends and in my case and others we have children.

When you have a mental illness. The choice of whether to have children or not is a hard one. For many it will mean coming off medication, and therefore risking relapse. Your chances of getting postnatal depression and particularly postnatal psychosis is hugely increased. In short it can be quite dangerous to YOU. And then there is the idea of genetics, you could pass on your illness to an unsuspecting offspring. The poisoned chalice so to speak.

I guess I will point out for those who are reading and don’t know I have a 3 year old son. I never actively made the decision to bring a child into all this. I had no mental health problems at all until the end of pregnancy when I was 25. I developed Bipolar disorder after his birth, in fact I am told it was this which triggered my moods. I love my son unconditionally but would I have chosen this for him or me. At the moment I would say NO.

Last year when I had a brief period of stability and perhaps not too insightful, I went to see a Psychiatrist who specialises in treating pregnant women. I was considering a second child. He told me that if I was to get pregnant the chances of me becoming seriously unwell and needing hospital was 70-100% and I would have to go into hospital as precaution for first few weeks. I have therefore decided that is too high a risk, I won’t have more children. I feel sad about this. I feel like I have robbed my son of all the things you get from having siblings, and then there is my husband who I know wanted more. But how can I realistically look after two other lives in the throes of a psychotic episode. And the thought of having to spend the first two weeks of that baby’s life in psychiatric ward is unthinkable.
Ok, now I have addressed the idea of choosing to have children when mentally ill. I will continue on what I wanted to write about. What it is like having a mental illness, for me bipolar disorder and being a mother.

Being a mother, is undoubtedly a hard job for most. Well being a ‘good’ mother is anyway. It involves putting someone else needs above your own at ALL times. This is extremely difficult if you are a mum who also happens to suffer from extreme mood swings. Roughly, once a month a health visitor comes to check I am still putting his needs first. I somehow always have managed to, and have had no statutory intervention, but it has been hard.

There are times when I am elated. When I have all the energy a three year old could ever hope for. When I will dance, play fight, chase, kick balls. Jump about- without stop. This is all m y son has ever known but after a while he gets tired and looks at me and I know, he knows something’s up. One of his first sentences was ‘calm down mummy’. That isn’t right is it?

In a lot of ways it feels like a double life. Just two months ago I was brought to hospital by the police after I was picked up by the river with a mixture of suicidality and invincibility. I was invited to the wards but not deemed detainable, I left at 5am. By 6am I was feeding my son coco-pops and by 8am I was at nursery, forced into small talk with the staff. It is surreal. They don’t know about my problems, not many people in my life know about my mental illness, and so I am forced into this dual-identity. It is getting harder and harder to maintain.

Worse still are my depressions. When you are depressed, everything is a struggle. Getting up, changing clothes, making a meal and even washing yourself. These are all things I have severely neglected in the not so distant pass ( which you would see now if this were a video conference). Now imagine you have to do all these tasks for another tiny person. They can’t do it for themselves and it is just you and them in the house for the majority of the day. I have lost count of the times I have cried silent tears into his morning cereal as he chirped happily in his highchair. Or I’ve had to prop up my limbs and taken hours to pull little arms into small tops etc.

Would it shock you to find that when you have read in detail about my plans to kill myself, my hospital admissions, my assessments, my dramas.. they are in the context of this family life. As I write about how I just want to be dead, a little boy is pulling on my clothes asking for juice or a story ..a constant reminder that life goes on in spite of illness, sometimes it feels to spite me.

It feels terribly selfish to want out of it all, but I have , in fact more than ever at the moment. It is hard being a mother because it gives you reason to live. A reason I don’t welcome or want. I want to be able to escape my own terrible pain, to do what is best for me. But no matter how many hours I spend justifying this it in my head, I can never conclude this would be in his best interests. I wouldn’t want to be without him now he is here. But I will admit there are times I wish it was just me, I had no connections to this world, no one to remember, no one to mourn. I know for sure I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him and my responsibilities to him. But other times the scales in my mind tip and I feel my pain and the damage I am causing him overrides this responsibility.

In short, being bipolar and a mother is not a natural match. I know without a doubt that my moods have a detrimental impact on him. He is terribly clingy to me after a long spell in hospital and has a natural affinity to want to make things right already. Always asking ‘why are you sad?’ to which I wish I had an answer. I know that if I managed to live until he is a bit older, there will come the time when he will realise as he is starting to, that I am not like all the other children’s mummies, when his adoration of me will turn to shame and resentment. I don’t think I could handle that.

That is my account, I don’t claim it is the same for all mothers with mental health problems or with bipolar, but I expect my concerns and fears are similar. It is brutally honest, because I wouldn’t write it otherwise. Please don’t message me telling me how awful I am- because I say how I feel, not what I should say. We are people not just a series of posts and dots and lines. Take care all. X


Anonymous said...

{{{hugs}}} Thanks for sharing - I can see how motherhood can be made so much more difficult by mental health, but I think you're incredibly courageous and that is a credit to him. You think he will be ashamed of you, but I disagree, since there is nothing to be ashamed of (and I have friends with both mental illness and older children - you'd be surprised how resilient, intuitive and supportive they can be).

I wish I had a way of making things easier for you. I relate to the wishing there were no ties to this world - how much easier it would be... but I am glad that you are still around (as I'm sure your son is too).

Take care,

La-reve said...

Aw. thanks differently. means a lot to have your support. x

Bippidee said...

I agree with Differently - I have always been incredibly impressed by the fact that you manage to juggle motherhood with your mental health. I thought this was really interesting to read. I obviously don't have children, but I can relate so much to wishing you had no ties - that is something I constantly wish. And that is a lovely picture! xxx

Lucida said...

I could have written this in the not so distant past. Mental illness can be so self-absorbing that putting another's needs before our own takes more strength than we believe we have, but we find it somewhere despite the odds. I know this struggle. I know all those agonising conflicts.
I used to fear that my daughter would grow up to resent me & think I was weak and incompetent but nothing could be further from the truth. Of course having a mental illness can be an enormous challenge for either parents and there will be times when you need support (but then who doesn't. ill or not?) yet I would argue that it can also make you more loving, more empathetic and more imaginative than so many people who take their parenthood for granted.
I'm glad you posted this. I've always meant to write similar but for some reason shyed away from it.
Take care. xx

Mandy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seaneen said...

You're not awful. You are an inspiration.

Ruby Tuesday said...

I think this is an amazing post. I struggle with the idea of having children and it's on my mind a lot. You're not awful at all and it's lovely to see a picture of you and your son. Beautiful! x

Anonymous said...

I think this post is fantastic and I'm really glad you took it out of the drafts folder.

I also don't have children, but relate to a lot of this. I have thought about it and I won't be having any. I was never overly keen on the idea, but I think my mental health has tipped the balance definitely against the idea.

I take Lamotrigine and I am always being warned that under no circumstances should I get pregnant whilst taking it. I am not sure how I would feel about coming off it.

That double life you are leading must be so hard and I admire you so much for doing it. It is hard on all concerned, but you are doing your best and I am sure you are doing a fantastic job.

He will be far better off with you than without and try to remember that - a broken mummy is better than no mummy at all. I don't think you should worry about him resenting you - kids are very forgiving and if he's known no different I think he will just be accepting of your situation.

I don't know if you read "Political Parent's" blog (Zoe)? http://politicalparent.blogspot.com - she has kids and has written about them on occasion.

The picture of you and your son is beautiful. I hope you get to take many more beautiful pics as he grows up.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. You're right-- it's not a topic that is discussed very often. Thank you for sharing.

And that picture of you and your son is adorable.

Wishing you well,

mememe said...

I am humbled reading your post and so moved. You write honestly and from your heart. Am full of admiration.

Pandora said...

Brilliant post - thanks for sharing.

For a long time I have not wanted children. I have to
admit that I don't particularly like them, but even so I think in large part my decision is based upon a desire not to pass my illnesses on, or to have them detrimentally affected by them.

My partner is registered blind, so our phantom child would be set up for a bit of a fall!

People who are good parents with mental illnesses are amazing people, and I include you in that, La-reve. Even if there is a time during which your son resents you, there will be a time when he realises just how much you have sacrificed for him, and he will be full of thanks and admiration.

Big hugs <3 xxx

David said...

Only just got round to seeing this this evening. Super post. Made me cry! It's remembering all the good times you can give as well as trying to avoid the bad.

Children are pretty damn tough, and mine love me when I'm up, and they have learned (to my horror) to be kind when I'm down.

I always find that having to be strong for them can pull me out of hell temporarily. Well, 95% of the time.

But when the worst strikes, then it is a horror when all consideration for the rest of their lives vanishes.

I keep reminding myself daily how fucked-up I'd make them if I killed myself, and that rational mantra has helped me get through some bad patches even when I've felt so bad that *I haven't cared* about fucking anyone up.

They are a source of strength far more than they are a source of strain, for me.

Thank you for writing so candidly.

Take care, Dx

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