This Bipolar Parenting Gig

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I’ve been quietly contemplative lately – thinking about my son and being a parent. I know everyone says it, but time really has gone by so fast. I can’t believe my baby will be four next year.

Master D was “easy” from the moment he was born. He slotted into our life and our routine with minimal fuss. He ate well, slept well. He never had long spells of crying. He has always been healthy and happy. He has a knack for accepting change and deviations from his routine. He will sleep at anyone’s house, eat anyone’s food, and remains remarkably cavalier during situations that would stress even the best of us out, (I’m looking at you – 24 hour plane journey). I’m not saying he’s an angel child. He certainly has his moments, just like every child does. But for the most part he has just been….easy.

Master D isn’t the difficult part of parenting. It’s me. I’M the difficult part of parenting.

I’m the one who ends up in hospital, who counts pills every night, who deals with mania and depression and everything in between. I’m the one who catches every single frigging cold and virus that goes around because my immune system is too busy fighting itself to actually do it’s job. I’m the kind of unpredictable crack in the family. I’m the trouble.

I’m determined to be a “good” parent (whatever that is). It’s all I want. If  I never finish my PhD, I never clean the house, I never cook, I never travel, I never do anything else. I want to be the best parent I can to my son.  Ultimately, I want us to have a good relationship throughout his life.

What I don’t want is for him to end up sitting in some therapists chair one day talking about how I was never there for him because I was always in and out of hospital, or dealing with my own issues. I don’t want him, as an adult, to have to deal with my episodes. I don’t want him to grow up and think “Why did I get stuck with this crazy mother?”

It’s a current balancing act, and it can be really hard. I hate taking my sleeping pills at night, because I know I won’t wake up if he cries. But if I don’t sleep I can slip into mania. I hate the fact that I spent five months away from him this year. I wasn’t there for HIM when he needed me. But I needed that inpatient care to recover. I hate how doing the best thing for myself is not always the best thing for my son.

I feel, as a parent with a serious mental illness, I need to over perform to be seen as an acceptable parent. I constantly feel guilty over my parenting. I constantly feel the need to prove myself.  Whether the people I encounter actually see me as a “bad” mother because of my diagnosis doesn’t really matter. It’s self stigma. It’s irrelevant.

And I know that as a advocate for mental illness, and as a researcher looking into stigma reduction I shouldn’t self stigmatise. But it’s not because I am personally ashamed of myself. It’s because I know what society thinks of mental illness. And I’m scared that people think that way of me.

I feel like I can never, EVER, ask for help. Sometimes, on the difficult days, I want to ask Hubster to help me with him – to get him dressed, give him a shower (which he often does without asking – he is a fantastic father and husband). But the words get caught in my throat. Because Husbter did that solo for nearly half a year. Hubster is working full time, studying part time and renovating a house. It’s time for me to step up to the plate. I’m Master D’s mother. I need to do it. I need to prove that I can do it.

I have no idea how to tell Master D that I have Bipolar disorder. How do I know when the best age is to start bringing that kind of stuff up is? I mean, he knows I am sick, he knows I was in hospital, he knows I take medicine. But we told him that I had a sore tummy. Because I did, and three year olds understand what a sore tummy is. They don’t understand the intricacies of mental illness. How do I even begin to explain Bipolar to him?

I don’t want to hide my illness from him. I don’t want it to become this big family secret. I don’t want to feed stigma.  I’m not ashamed of having bipolar disorder, and I don’t want him to grow up thinking it is something to be ashamed of. Besides, he needs to know, because there is a possibility he may inherit it.

This bipolar parenting gig is hard. Damn hard. But no one ever said being a parent, bipolar or otherwise, was easy did they?

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