Then I waited for the barrage of comments telling me that mental illness is not something we “indulge” in, that it’s something we live with and don’t have any choice about. And yes, it’s true. We don’t choose it, it chooses us. But we can choose how we manage it in our lives.
I make a choice every time I feel like screaming at my kids because I feel angry and anxious, but I don’t.
I make a choice every time I want to hide and cry in bed because the world is too heavy, but instead I continue to peel the potatoes and make dinner ready.
I make a choice every time I want to stay in bed after dropping the kids off at school, but instead I go to work, or work on a client’s website.
I make a choice every time I want to collapse on the kitchen floor in a crying mess, but instead I pack the dishwasher. Again.
I remember the “good ol’ days” when I was still married, when I could choose to not give the kids their bath, or sit with them at dinner, or make their dinner, because their father would take over and I could go to bed and rest, or cry, or sleep.
I remember being able to go to yoga three times a week, even when we were separated, because he would come over and look after the boys.
I remember being able to manage my depression and anxiety because I had great health professionals looking after me.
On my own, giving in to the mental illness is indeed a luxury. It happens, but it happens rarely, even though my mental health is not managed very well right now. I don’t have the right health professionals around me and right now I can’t even afford them. I’m lucky to have a great support network around me and I know that if I needed a day off, someone would take the boys for a day and maybe even a night. But I don’t take that choice.
I am their mother, before I am a sick person. I get through each day purely through sheer stubbornness.
If it requires wine, or valium, or chocolate, so be it, but I get through each day. No, I am not an alcoholic and I do not abuse my meds.
Every day feels like a battle. At the end of each, even if we’ve spent it at home, doing nothing much, I am exhausted, simply because, once again, I’ve kept my shit together.
I don’t acknowledge that enough.
I have these visions of the sort of mother I should be, forgetting that I’m already fighting a battle, without even trying to be “supermum”.
The other week I had a moment when I knew I should be in hospital. When I knew my thinking was totally skewed and I needed serious help.
But the nearest psych hospital is in Melbourne, I no longer have health insurance, and I don’t want to spend a day in a public hospital psych ward.
A month in a private psych hospital sounds like heaven. To be looked after for a change, rather than being the one who does the looking after, is my idea of a fairy tale.
So I pulled my shit together. I told myself to “get over it” and I carried on. My face was stained with tears, I had a massive headache from all the crying, but the only choice was to carry on. To run the bath. To read the book. To give the good night kiss and cuddle. To have an early night.
And it passed. It always passes. This is what I know now. When things are bad, I know they can only get better.
So, if you’re a parent with mental illness, give yourself a pat on the back for every day you keep your shit together. For every day you’re not under the doona crying. And every day that your kids don’t need to look after YOU. You’re doing a great job.