When it comes to parenting my kids, I say all the same things that most mothers say. Everyone has Bad Mommy Days. I’m only human. I have to take care of myself in order to take care of my children. Even when things aren’t going so well, I need to remember that I’m a good mother.
But who am I kidding, really? Like most mothers, I expect myself to be perfect at all times, and I take the concept of guilt to a whole new level. Even more so than the Catholics do.
I pile one thing after another onto my plate, and somehow I manage to keep all the balls in the air most of the time. In the event of me dropping a ball, it’s always one that pertains to my own physical or mental health. In other words, I make it a priority to take care of everyone else, but I just kind of accept that it’s OK for me to neglect myself in the process.
This does not make me special by any means. Most mothers do this, and we all know that we’re not supposed to. We all know that the world won’t end if we take a bit of time to ourselves instead of putting on that load of laundry so that Little Johnny can wear his favourite shirt to school tomorrow. But we head right on down to the washing machine anyway.
Let’s face it, this whole equation is grossly unbalanced. I mean, here I am, a mom of a kid with autism and a kid who’s just a little – you know, spirited. I work full-time, freelance on the side, help the husband with his business and take care of household finances. That’s before I even get to the laundry.
It gets really tricky when it comes to my mental health. This is a subject that I am generally not comfortable talking about, but I feel that it’s important. Many, many mothers – myself included – have to deal with the reality of coping with mental illness while being the best parents they can possibly be. And it’s hard, because as scared and vulnerable and anxious as we may feel, it is our instinct to be strong for our kids.
This week is particularly tough, and here’s why. At this week’s therapy session, me and my therapist started the process of delving into a part of my life that was, to say the least, traumatic. I was describing a specific event – not glossing over the story, but describing everything in detail, and reliving the whole mess all over again.
A process like this comes with a certain amount of psychological fallout. My nerves have been in tatters and my emotions are raw. I am not sleeping, because all of a sudden my mind is being forced to try and process stuff that I’ve been keeping buried for the last twenty years.
And I am a mom. I have kids to take care of, autism meltdowns to deal with, boo-boos to kiss better, hugs and affection to bestow.
Being a mom and dealing with mental illness are not really activities that complement one another. And when I have to choose between taking care of my kids and dealing with my issues, guess who wins every single time?
While I’m putting on a brave face for my kids, though, my feelings are still there. I am still feeling the stress, the trauma, the anxiety, and depending on the day, the depression. I am still staying awake until late at night because I’m afraid to go to sleep and face the nightmares.
But I do what I have to do for my kids, because no matter what weirdness is going on inside my own head, parenting will always be the most important thing I ever do.
I know that I am not alone. I know that there are other moms out there who live with mental illness. I would love to hear from those moms, to find out if – and how – they keep things balanced.
(Photo credit: darcyadelaide. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)