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.