The Fear of Being a Mental Mum

I have two children, aged 8 & 7 (there is a 15 month age gap). One of the things that is a constant battle for me is the fear/guilt that I am not a good parent, and that I’m going to ruin my kids lives because of my mental illness.

I’ve mentioned before that there have been a number of occasions in my life when I was diagnosed with depression. When my youngest was born I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. A couple of years after that things started to go bad. This was a rock bottom – locking myself in cupboards, self harm and waking up in hospital stage.

But it wasn’t just a case of depression. In fact, if it was just depression it probably would have been easier for me to handle. At least with my depressed state I am still mentally aware, still able to understand that I am present in this world, I am not delusional. When I have depression I don’t interact with the world as much – however I don’t completely mentally disassociate from it. I wasn’t suicidal at those time – just apathetic about life, lethargic, and unwilling to get out of bed.

Worse were the times that I would enter a highly agitated state where thoughts would be racing a million miles a second and I couldn’t focus on a single thing. There were wild spending sprees, and other signs of impulsiveness and recklessness. During those times I would have extended sleeplessness and become overly talkative and irritable. On those occasions it was when I talked about ending it all, and was harming myself. At it’s worst I would blank out and end up catatonic – awake but just not there.

After those episodes I would “wake up” although I hadn’t actually been asleep. It was like I has lost control of my mind, and then I’d come back to reality – unable to account for things that had happened while I was in that state. It was the manic stages that really worried my partner at the time.

Once I got the correct diagnosis and began treatment and psychotherapy things gradually became more stabilized. It’s been about 4 years and I am a world away from where I was. I function – I can actually work, and mostly look after myself and the kids, and even when their dad left us around 2 years ago – I didn’t fall apart. It’s still not all roses. There are good days, there are bad days and there are really bad days. I haven’t had a full manic episode for around 3 years thankfully.

But I still wonder if I’m fit to be a parent. I think back to their infant and toddler years where I was incapable of looking after myself let alone them. My ex had the responsibility of being a “parent” to me as well as the kids. I wonder if I set them up for a troubled life because at those critical years I just couldn’t give them the love, attention and security they needed. I know they don’t remember it, but they saw me at my worst so early in their lives – and I still feel guilt and self-hatred that I somehow ruined them for the future.

My kids are very affectionate, and open with their love. I am somewhat envious of the fact that they are both so easy with their affection, because I find it very difficult to expression emotion and affection. I do love to get kisses and cuddles from them, spend time and have conversations with them them. But I am the type of person who also requires a lot personal space where I don’t want to be touched or talked to. It sometimes gets to the point where I feel like I am actually suffocating when they want to sit on my lap, cuddle me, or just be with me.

I feel a sharp pang of guilt every time I have to ask my kids to give me some space and not touch me for a bit. They are still too young to understand that human interaction is very taxing on me both mentally and physically. I get scared that they will think I am rejecting them, and that feeling of rejection will lead to major problems for them. It’s not that I don’t love them, because I do with all of my heart. It’s just that I wonder sometimes whether they deserve a better parent that I am. Someone who isn’t as messed up as I am in my head.

Being a single parent is hard enough. Doing it with mental illness is an endless battle. Being responsible for myself is a challenge –  sometimes I think it’s a terrible and sick cosmic joke that I am responsible for two other lives. But at the same time being responsible for people other than myself is grounding. I can’t let myself become reckless and impulsive because I know that I have to protect two vulnerable and innocent children.

If I don’t want to lose them, it’s all on me.

With a Snap of the Band

I have experienced different ways of (not) coping with my illness and the times where my dark thoughts overtake me. As I’ve said before I have locked myself in the cupboard for hours and hours. I’ve spent days in bed not moving. I’ve deliberately injured myself by scratching, hair pulling, hitting, cutting etc. I’ve even taken too many pills when I just wanted to make the pain stop.

Clearly these methods are not ways to cope, but just ways to escape. And I know they are very shitty ways to do it.

My current method of coping sounds a little counter productive (as it is sort of self harm) however it has been exceptionally successful. When I feel like I am losing control, when my thoughts are racing at light speed, and I feel like I am going to crumble I know I have to snap myself out of it.

I do this literally with an elastic band around my wrist. I pull it taut and let it snap against my wrist. I keep snapping it against my wrist as I try to get myself back under control. The sharp sting pulls my attention away from my thoughts, and brings me out of the downward spiral. Sometimes it only takes a couple of snaps, sometimes it takes a lot more. Sometimes I end up with bruising, but that’s only when the darkness has consumed me and I’m drowning in it.

Yes, I’m a little masochistic because I like the pain (I won’t lie, I’m also into a little B&D).

Yes, I know it’s dangerous to potentially give strength to the dark part of me that is convinced I deserve to feel nothing but pain.

But the stinging sensation, and the almighty snapping sound, grounds me and brings me back to reality. If I didn’t snap myself out of it with a physical reminder there is no way that I would be able to pull myself out of the blackhole of my thoughts. It’s especially helpful if I time each snap with a breath. I can control my breathing, and then my anxiety, and I regain control over my mind.

When there isn’t anxiety, only the depression, I write.

I’ve kept private journals since I was 13 years old. In them I write my thoughts and feelings – things that I cannot and will not ever share with the outside world. Getting my thoughts out on paper where I can arrange them into something that makes sense is a huge outlet for me. I generally only write in a journal when I am unhappy, or something is really bothering me.There are very few entries of things that I’d actually WANT to remember.

From time to time I’ve read back through my journals – and it’s very hard. Seeing all the dark places I’ve been to in my mind makes me really sad. But at the same time it’s actually therapeutic to see how much I’ve grown, and how much more rationally I cope with the dark times. There are far fewer entries of wanting to “end it all”. There is still a lot of self-hatred, and emotional self-abuse, and wanting to escape. However, the journal entries are spaced further apart – I don’t get as bad as I used to.

It’s not perfect, but I accepted long ago that it never would be.

Only in my Dreams

I wrote in my last post that I have very terrifying nightmares. And it isn’t just my nightmares that are really vivid. I also have ridiculously realistic dreams – some that bring fleeting moments of bliss (until I come back to reality) and other that are just down right crazy (not crazy good or crazy bad, just crazy).

Way back in 2001 (gosh I was 21: so young and innocent!) I had a dream. Well I’ve had plenty of dreams before, and since, but this one was a truly special one. At least I thought so once upon a time.

One June night, I dreamed of my soul mate. Rather, he was the soul mate of the me in my dreams – I sure don’t know about real life because I never have met this guy.

It is said that we usually dream of people that we know. However, it was as though my mind had completely made him up – he didn’t look like anyone I’d ever seen before (or since). He didn’t even look like a mixture of people I know – he was a complete stranger.

Yet in my dream I knew everything about him without even asking. It was as though I could just feel it.

It was also in a bizarre setting I’d never seen, almost like a futuristic setting of a city that had several levels to it. I think it was some sort of open air mall or something. I was with my best friend when I saw some friends of ours on a lower level playing ping-pong, so we went downstairs to talk them.

The dream shifted slightly and I was sitting at a bar while my friends were still at the ping-pong table. I started to draw, I don’t know where I got the paper or pencils from, but I was drawing. Then dream soul mate came from seemingly nowhere and sat next to me, casually slinging an arm around my shoulder like we were best mates. He inspected the picture I had drawn.

“That’s pretty good.” He said and pull a folded piece of paper from his pocket. He unfolded it held it up to me, asking “What do you think of this?”

I was stunned to discover that he has drawn nearly the exact same picture as I had. I studied it for a minute and conceded that it was very well drawn. He folded his up his picture and tucked it away in his pocket. Moments of silence passed while we just looked at one another, intrigued but not uncomfortable.

“What did you think of THAT?” He finally asked with a gleam in his eyes. The confusion on my face was obvious as I cocked my head, eyebrows slightly raised.

“Think of WHAT?” I started to ask when he leaned forward and silenced me with a long and unhurried kiss. When he pulled back he smiled knowingly and chuckled “Of that.”

The me in my dreams was clearly rendered speechless by this kiss. Baffled by a guy who was a complete stranger (in the dream and in reality) and yet my heart instantly seemed to know him. I woke up gasping for air about three seconds later (alone of course) with the feeling of a kiss still lingering on my lips.

As I lay there replaying the dream I realised that, somewhere in between those moments of silence and the kiss, I had the distinct and unshakable impression he’d somehow told me we were soul mates. I also somehow understood that he’d come to meet me for a date that we’d set up the lifetime before, a date I had apparently forgotten until the moment he kissed me. What struck me as weird was that all of this information was conveyed to me without words – it’s was as though dream me just knew these things the minute he touched me.

I won’t lie, for years I held onto that dream in the hope that it was a foretelling of meeting the one I was meant to be with. I was convinced for a time that our hearts were joined as one and that someday he would step out of my dreams and into my reality. Maybe not in the exact way of my dream – but he’d be that person that I’d dreamed of and we’d connect in much the same way – heart to heart, with just one look, words not necessary.

Of course I know better, now.

Dreams are just electrical impulses that sometimes tell us story while we sleep and our brain and body replenish their cells. I don’t believe in serendipity, or fate, or destiny. This guy was just a figment of my over active imagination. But at least in my dreams I can find true love.

And if nothing else, it gives me great daydream material when I’m lying in bed feeling lost and alone.

The Trouble with Thinking Too Much.

I’ve said before I think a lot.

I am capable of sitting for hours constructing an elaborate story in my mind, replaying a past experience, or planning for a future encounter. I think about things to the point of over thinking them. At times I obsess over a particular train of thought. It’s like my mind comes to a complete standstill and I cannot move forward because my mind just goes over the thought in an endless loop.

At other times, it can be hard to keep hold of a particular thought, my brain jumbles them all up and speeds along like a rapid. I’ll spend so much energy chasing my thoughts as they flit from one subject to another, never getting the chance to process them.

Whether I’m stuck in a loop, or struggling to catch up to my racing thoughts – I have great difficulty in switching off. My mind is never at peace or rest. And this makes it difficult to get to sleep and near impossible to stay asleep for any length of time. As a result I have a massive sleep debt built up, and once every few months I crash from exhaustion.

In the lead up to the crash I reach the worst part of the cycle: the nightmares. If I had bad dreams of the relatively harmless kind – like being caught in public naked, or not being able to answer any questions in an exam, or some other benign humiliation I could stand it.

But I have gut wrenching, graphically explicit, shocking and horror filled nightmares. In my dreams I’ve routinely watched myself impaled with a huge pine post, gutted, decapitated, mutilated and other horror upon horror of scenario. I don’t wake up where normal people wake up – at the implication that something is going to happen.

Not me.

I watch the action as it happens, no censorship, no stylisation – just straight up blood, guts and terror. And then I wake up when it’s all over. When there is no point in waking up because the horror is over.

When I mention this to people I get asked if I watch a lot of gory movies, or TV, or video games or whatever. They think that something I’ve watched triggers the nightmares, which for many it’s a valid conclusion. I don’t typically watch explicitly gory things – mainly because I’m really rather squeamish and would be more likely to throw up or pass out rather than get scared.

Actually I really don’t watch much in the way of television or movies at all. I read a lot of book because I can really go wild with my imagination – books don’t force detail on you in the same way that a film or television show does. You have a lot more creative licence to envision a scene when you read a book. But again I don’t read books that would cause me to visualise something graphically violent because my imagination is just too good and I’ll make myself ill.

No the nightmares seem to be a manifestation of far too much energy being expended in thinking. I think it’s my minds way of forcing a melt down – a way of shocking me to the point where I just cannot think any more and my mind finally gets some respite and can rest.

The cycle is almost clockwork – over time my thoughts pick up in the speed at which they travel, and bring on the agitation, causing me to have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Then a weeks worth of nightmares bringing the sleeplessness to a critical breaking point. Followed by the crash, where I just fall to bits, and need to sleep for 2 or 3 days straight. And then after short period of mental lethargy where my thoughts are slower and clearer it all starts up again.

Where am I right now? Getting closer to the nightmares. i don’t have any clarity of thought at the moment. I’ve had difficulty writing this post because I can’t think straight. Everything I wanted to write flits in and out of my head faster than I can type (which incidentally is reasonably fluent at around 58 wpm).

I can’t really remember what the original intent of this post was – I know it was something about my thoughts working overtime but the specifics of what I wanted to say eludes me. This is a real problem for me I’m constantly trapped in my mind – and me being me it has a visual representation to go with that thought. When I picture my mind – it is a massive library complete with one of the old school cataloguing systems of index cards. The index cards are the markers or place holders for the books – and they keep everything neat, orderly and easy to locate. In my minds library the “books” are actually the specific memories or pieces of information I have stored.

However when my mind is in the state it is now – the library isn’t orderly and quiet. It looks as if a tornado has ripped through it – things everywhere, nothing is stored where it should be. The index cards have been thrown around the room, and sometimes rewritten so they don’t reference the correct data. The books have blank pages, ripped pages, and have been put back on the wrong shelves; if they are even shelved at all.

My mind is a complete mess, nothing is where it should be, and I can’t find what I am looking for.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I have always felt like I was different from everyone. I know everyone has that feeling from time to time, but for me I feel like I am entirely out-of-place here where I am. I feel like I don’t belong – not in this space, not in this time, I just don’t feel like I fit in at all.

I never really have.

I mean I can assimilate reasonably well, I make a passable attempt at getting along with those around me. But in my heart I feel out-of-place, like I am on a completely different plane of existence. It might sound somewhat elitist or egotistical but I really do feel like I think and feel things so differently to people around me.

I thoroughly filter everything I say, so that I never reveal much of what goes on inside my head. I have so many thoughts and feelings but I only let people see maybe 5% of who I am – and that’s as much as even family and friends would see. I have always done it, ever since I was little.

In fact it’s gotten worse as I have become older – I put more distance between myself and others. It is so exhausting always putting my defences up, but I have been terribly hurt in the past so now I go to extremes to protect my real self.

I think a part of my problem is that I think and feel things so deeply. I have always had a habit of getting stuck inside my thoughts. I have a stellar imagination, and sometimes my thoughts get so loud and I get lost inside my head. I forget to vocalise things – doesn’t matter whether those things please me or bother me. So often someone wants to know what I truly think or feel, but I can’t seem to find the words to say. I know what I think, I know what I feel but I don’t know how to share.

And then there is that part of me that doesn’t want to share. I’m so convinced that I’ll never truly be understood, I just want to keep it all locked away. They are my thoughts and feelings. I don’t want to share them – I don’t want to risk letting them get trampled all over and destroyed. Because if someone destroys what’s in my mind then they destroy me.

When it comes to “who I am” – I value my mind above all else. Ego cogito, ergo sum: I am thinking, therefore I exist. Without my mind, and all of my thoughts, and all of my knowledge, and all of my wisdom – I don’t exist. I cease to be. I know it sounds paranoid and delusional, but I fear that if I share those parts of me, let someone actually see those things – then they will have the power to take them away from me and I will no longer be me.

My mind is my own secret garden – a secret garden I long to share with the one who would understand me entirely. But I’m so afraid he doesn’t really exist, that there is no one who would ever truly get me, and that I am completely and utterly alone. Even though I long for the one who would understand me – I won’t even let anyone close enough to try. Maybe I’m writing my own destiny of loneliness.

Sometimes I would like to just stop. Stop the noise in my head. Stop the constant stream of thought that leads me deeper down the rabbit hole and further into oblivion. But sometimes, just sometimes, I welcome oblivion.

The Origin of Me

In my past I have struggled with the inner workings of my mind. Time and again I was diagnosed with depression – bouncing between psychologists, doctors and counsellors. Each time I was frustrated by them wanting to find the point of origin – the singular event that made me the way I am. No matter how hard I tried to explain they were wrong, there wasn’t a place in time that “changed me”, they were convinced some terrible childhood or adolescent trauma had caused this trouble.

For years I floundered, no treatments were working. When it got really bad I would fall into self harm, and locking myself in the cupboard when I couldn’t cope with life. I took too many of my pills on several occasions and basically gave up on life.

But it wasn’t like that all of the time.

Sometimes I felt so good I didn’t need help, I was invincible, confident, ecstatic to the point of delirium. I’d make plans, huge life changing plans, act on a whim, spend money like I had an endless supply. I was reckless and would suddenly stop my medication because I felt so good I no longer needed it.

And then it would all come crashing down, starting the cycle all over again.

Finally I found a psychiatrist who recognised me for what I am. I live with bipolar disorder, and with a strict regime of medication, and psychotherapy I have better control. I have gotten to the point where I can usually identify triggers and predict when the pendulum of my mood will swing. I can function almost normally now, or at least give the illusion of functioning normally.

I’m still messed up, for many reasons, and not all caused by my mercurial mood. But at least I haven’t locked myself up in a cupboard for some time.