Parenting is hard work.
Adding mental illness to the equation just amplifies it.
Thankfully we have a fantastic role model for any young moms who find themselves parenting with a mental illness.
Brooke Coleman has struggled with this for years and is now going to share her story and 10 tips with you..
Mental illness has been a part of my everyday life for much of my adolescent years. It started when I was fifteen. I had been admitted to a hospital and treated for depression and anxiety. A few months after being released, I was admitted once again.
The hospital was a place of safety for me. As much as I had resented it in the beginning, it is ultimately where I learned safe and effective ways to cope with my mental illness in everyday situations.
Four years later, after all the counseling was done and I was off all of my medications, I found myself pregnant. My mental illness wasn’t gone, but I had learned new ways to cope that made it easier to deal with. For the most part, I had a happy and safe pregnancy. Until I was nine months.
At nine months pregnant my emotions were like a roller-coaster. I was crying excessively and would lay awake for hours thinking of every possible way that I would fail as a parent. It was hell. It got so bad that one night at four in the morning I had one of most severe panic attacks. I couldn’t even begin to calm down. I soon found myself back in the same place that used to make me feel safe. The hospital.
But it didn’t have the same effect.
There were doctors telling me to take medications that I didn’t feel were safe for my
daughter. There were psychologists asking me if my boyfriend had abused me – which was absolutely not true. And finally, there was CAS (known as CPS in America). This is probably what I feared most of all. The last thing I wanted was the threat of having my child taken away from me.
Having a child – especially your first child – is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. Isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty damn amazing, but my emotions were still way out of whack and now I had Children’s Aid Society hovering over my shoulder. Yet I still managed to find ways to cope, to find help and to work with my social worker.
This is how I was able to regain control of my life and my mental illness throughout the struggles and never ending work of parenthood in a step-by-step guide.
Step One: Create a Plan of Action.
Your mental illness won’t magically disappear when you want it to – as amazing as that would be – so you are going to need to plan ahead. Create a Crisis Plan. If you are admitted to the hospital or become suddenly unable to care for your children decide where you children will go. Who can take care of them, pick them up from school, etc.
Write a list of everything you do to care for your child, as if you were writing instructions for a babysitter. Their allergies, copies of their health card, school information, bed time routines, etc. This will help you keep a level head in times of emergency.
Step Two: Be Active.
With many mental illnesses, not leaving the house and secluding yourself can seem like the easiest option. It can even feel impossible to leave the house. But your children need activity. If you are not able to meet these needs, why not enroll them in classes, sports or arts? It is a great way to get them out into the world and even learn a thing or two!
Step Three: Seek Help.
This can be scary. Of course, if you seek help and admit the way you are feeling, you run the risk of having third parties involved in your parenting life (a.k.a CPS, CAS). But it is important to remember that these third parties are not the enemy. They are not horrible people nor are they a horrible organization. As you do, they have your children as top priorities over anything else. Ensuring their safety is their only job and if your mental illness and your life does not endanger your children, the risk of these third parties having a huge impact on your life is very low. In fact, these organizations can actually help you connect with resources that you wouldn’t have found elsewhere.
Step Four: Seek More Help!
In my city, there is an organization that can actually come into your house and help take care of your children for up to three hours a week. You stay home the entire time and are free to do anything you need to – as long as you don’t leave the house. You can nap, get laundry done, work from home, etc. It is absolutely amazing what resources are actually out there once you ask for the help you need.
Step Five: Aren’t Ready to Seek Professional Help?
Like I said before, this can be an intimidating step. Whatever your circumstance is, if you are afraid to seek help, there are still other options! You can reach out to friends and family. But it doesn’t end there! Call an anonymous hotline, talk to a therapist anonymously over email – I believe Kid’s Help Line has a resource that allows you to email back and forth with a therapist without cost and with confidentiality. Check out the web for other helpful resources!
Step Six: Create a Vision of the Future.
It is easy to get caught up in the idea of a bleak future. I often believed that my illness would never go away and that I would be broke and unfortunate my entire life. Do a little research, find things you like and find ways to get what you want! – If you have trouble with this step or need more information check out the amazing articles on this site that go so much more into detail!
Step Seven: Take Care of Yourself.
When you’re feeling down and depressed, taking care of yourself often comes last. But never underestimate how amazing a shower, a hot bath or a facial can feel! Take an extra ten minutes out of your day everyday to relax and focus on yourself. Find what makes you feel better. For me, it’s makeup. But this really can be anything. Do this everyday and I promise, you will feel so much better about yourself and about the situation you are in.
Step Eight: Worst Case Scenario.
When I started seeing one of my counselors while I was pregnant this is something she asked me. What is the worst thing I could imagine happening? Make it a chart. On the first side write everything you fear. Be specific. For me, it was having an unhealthy child.
Next, write down what the possibility of your fear actually happening is. If you determine that it is possible, move on to the next step. Next, write down things you would do if this actually happened. If your worst fear came true, how would you manage the situation?
Who could help you? How can you prepare for this? Practice this over and over until it becomes something you can do in your head every time you begin to feel anxious or out of control. It will help you cope and regain the control you need. Often when you face your fears, they become less daunting.
Step Nine: Set Goals.
This is something my counselors had told me to do since my first meeting years ago. I dreaded this so much. Yet, when I actually sat down and came up with a realistic goal each and every day I began to feel more accomplished and was able to get out of bed each morning. It can be as simple as writing a resume. Or getting that last load of laundry done. It should be simple. If you can’t do it in a day, don’t make it your goal.
Unless you consecutively set out to work on this goal every day until it’s done, it’s probably not realistic enough. If you have a big goal, dissect it. Break it up into partial, daily goals and work on it slowly. It will not only make it easier, but it will get done.
Step Ten: Fake It Until You Make It.
This is something that my dance instructor told me when I was very young. I didn’t quite see how it applied in that situation, but I was able to apply it later on in life. If you can’t feel happy, fake happy. Go out and socialize. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are beautiful, smart and that you are more than your illness. If you surround yourself in your illness and your misery, you will never escape it. Create an environment where you and your children can thrive. Happiness won’t be found in a dim, depressing room.
Parenting with mental illness can present so many challenges in every part of your life.
But it is not the end. Never settle for anything less than you would want for you children and don’t surround yourself with your disease.
It is important to recognize that this is in fact an illness and it is not your fault.
Do not blame yourself. Help yourself.