How to Have Kids When You’re Crazy

Awhile back, I advocated in favor of having children when you have a mental illness. Even at the time, I felt wishy-washy in doing so. I may talk the talk and chase after the children I’ve birthed, but I don’t exactly walk the walk.

Birthing children and raising them is HARD. Doing so whilst battling Depression or Anxiety or Bipolar is HARDER.

However, unless you’ve got a serious condition, producing a mini-you or two is possible. It’s worth it. It’s fun.

thiago-cerqueira-Wr3HGvx_RSM-unsplash

To anyone sitting on the fence of indecision, having a child is the best thing I ever did. To those reading this at 2 a.m. and feeling ready to return their child to the hospital, I’ll add that I’ve been there, too.

Mental illness or not, you need some helps in place when a kid comes around. Even those who don’t regularly admit to mental issues need helps. Babies don’t sleep. Babies require clean clothes, blankets, burp cloths, diapers, and bedding several times a day. Babies only come with a ‘Check Engine’ light, in the form of incessant crying.

Babies are helpless. They NEED you. And someone who needs you cannot have you checking out, flipping out, or acting out.

Instead, how about you check out a babysitter or friend so you can take a short nap?

How about you flip out a freezer meal or pizza when it’s dinnertime?

How about you act out your 2 a.m. dreams of taking an hour-long bubble bath -after guilting your partner into hour-long tending?

See how it works?

rw-studios-ff2TwuybJ0I-unsplash.jpg

I knew a woman who was expecting triplets. After she birthed them, her family had a brilliant idea: when a friend or relative offered to help, they whipped out a calendar and asked, “Which day and time can you come?” They wrote in who would help, when, and what they would be doing. In a world of round-the-clock feeding, changing, and tending, one woman did not have enough hands to do it alone.

I’ve only produced one child at a time, and one’s enough to ask help for. A neighbor vacuumed my floors for me. Another folded my laundry. A third came and picked up all the crap my kids left on the floor. Heck -I once had a friend come over and hold my son for half an hour, just so I could sleep.

So, consider having a child, but not alone.

In fact, also consider helps specifically for your mental health. I speak of medication and counseling. There are quite a few medications that are safe to take while pregnant or nursing. Ask your doctor.

Now that my children are older, I enjoy the benefits of their company. We play computer and board games together. We plan family campouts. We cook, clean, cry, and live. It’s hard, but not HARD. I’m so glad I had them, and more glad for the helps I’ve had for them throughout the years.

Some days, I even reconsider wanting to return them to the hospital.

edward-cisneros-5EnPNw_9xSc-unsplash.jpg

—–
©2020 Chelsea Owens

Photo Credit:
Jordan Whitt
Thiago Cerqueira
@rw.studios
Edward Cisneros

Postpartum Depression: Why Mental Health Surveys Suck

I had a baby recently. It’s been a while since I popped one out, so all the hospital stuff was new to me and my postpartum short-term memory.

One BIG thing I noticed was the addition of questions regarding mental health. I not only filled out two questionnaires, I also verbally answered a survey the nurse gave. My obstetrician went over concerns at discharge. Then, two weeks later, the pediatrician’s office (read: at the appointment for the baby) included a typed survey in their New Patient paperwork.

Wonderful, I thought. But, also, Not really helpful.

zach-lucero-fwjsBPbRm4g-unsplash.jpg

Why?

For anyone who’s fighting the Mental Illness Fight, you know that a simple, typed questionnaire is not sufficient. Theirs included questions like:

How often do you feel hopeless?

Have you cried uncontrollably in the last week?

Have you ever had thoughts of hurting yourself?

Great questions, yes? They’re almost as good as the responses you can choose from: Not very often, Often, Sometimes, No more than usual.

That final phrase is the one I chose most, and one that keeps flitting through my mind: No more than usual.

jenna-norman-8ybZT29CaoA-unsplash.jpg

No, nurses-doctor-pediatrician, I am not experiencing Postpartum Depression. It’s regular, run-of-the-mill Depression for me. Just hand me the baby, and we’ll (hopefully) make it through. Don’t worry -it’s no more than usual…

What’s the solution, then? Should the clinics not bother? Pretend these things don’t exist?

No, of course not.

When I first went to my obstetrician’s office, I saw a few papers taped to the back of the bathroom door. One encouraged women who felt they were in an abusive relationship to get help, and had tear-off phone numbers. Another paper discussed which contraceptives were most effective. The final flier caught my eye first: a bright, informative piece explaining that Postpartum Depression included things like anxiety or OCD or physical ailments as well, and to talk to your doctor if they cropped up.

At the time I saw that paper, I felt touched. I felt like dropping my urine protein test right away and giving the whole office staff a hug for including that information.

Since birthing and experiencing ‘usual’ symptoms, however, I’ve felt each nurse and doctor needs a short lecture. I’d begin with, “Make eye contact with your patient and ask them ‘yes-or-no’ questions.” Like:

Did you feel hopeless in the last week?

Did you cry?

Did you feel like hurting yourself?

Instead of Often, Usual, Never, etc., try a scale from 0-10. Or, try sitting and LISTENING sincerely to the woman’s responses.

Another helpful tip would be to explain what might happen if the answers are alarming. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t need the staff committing me to a psych ward because they don’t understand. I mean, maybe I just need a hug and a nap.

And medication.

The point is that mental health surveys are a good step in the right direction. With a little tweaking and lot more human interaction, they could even be helpful.

Let’s try it, and help those of us trying to fight mental illness. We might just ‘usual’ly beat it.

kelly-sikkema-Z4GKcFAGck4-unsplash.jpg

—–
©2019 Chelsea Owens

Photo Credit:
Liv Bruce
Zach Lucero
Jenna Norman
Kelly Sikkema

Should You Have Kids If You Have a Mental Illness?

I often wonder if I’ve screwed up my children. Not only do I enact terrible punishments like limited screen time or healthy options before sugar, but I also insist they do homework and get to bed at a reasonable time.

Most of all, though, I worry that I literally screwed them up. You know, genetically.

jenna-norman-292396-unsplash.jpg

I have a veritable soup of family history maladies to pass on to them. Plus; I have my own limitations, bad days, breakdowns, and personal failings they’ve had to witness. They continue to witness. They witnessed just this morning.

The real punch to the gut comes when they exhibit signs of mental illness themselves: anxiety, fixation, depression, and negative self-talk.

As I rub my kid’s back and tell him advice didn’t follow the day before, I wonder, What have I done?? The unhelpful voice in my head adds, This is your fault, You are a terrible mom, and You shouldn’t have had children. Some days, it adds, They would be better off without you.

Back when we were deciding whether to have children yet, I worried about such ‘logical’ conclusions. I didn’t feel like the best genetic specimen.

The thing is: no one is the best genetic specimen.

aditya-romansa-117344-unsplash

True, there are some people with very serious cases and/or horrible genetic diseases. Those people are true heroes, in my mind, for choosing the difficult option to not reproduce.

Besides those, I’m really just about as crazy as the next person. Mostly. In fact, compared to many of my relatives and ancestors (who obviously procreated), I’m stable enough to run a small country. But, as I said, they still had children. I even have a few distant relations who I think shouldn’t have had children and still did. And you know what? Their kids are fine. Mostly.

In trying to play Devil’s Advocate to my own mind; let’s suppose a hypothetical situation: What if I were a perfect parent? To continue that fantasy, my kids would have to be born perfect. Their kids would. And so on. Then, as happens in every sci-fi story line, the rest of the world would hunt us down and assassinate our family out of envy.

No one is perfect, at least by the definition of making no mistakes.

Further, despite what one of my kids thinks, mistakes are essential to life. Mistakes make us human and that’s not a bad thing to be. Frankly, we don’t have another option since we were born like this.

sai-de-silva-41032-unsplash.jpg

To specifically answer those negative thoughts of my mind:

  • This is your fault: Blame doesn’t matter. What can we do moving forward?
  • You are a terrible momI am a good mom because they are alive and we keep trying.
  • You shouldn’t have had children: I’ve had the children and will continue to raise them well.
  • They would be better off without you: Of course they wouldn’t be better off without me. Have you seen how stepmothers in fairy tales are?

Having kids is hard no matter what. Beating myself up over their problems only adds to my mental strain and depressive triggers. Choosing to be pragmatic and move forward with what I have is a better option than giving up and hoping they’ll still turn out. Even if “moving forward” means that I might have to get checked into a recovery program, that makes a better future (one in which mom’s still around) than trying to maintain an impossible reality.

I saved the best benefit for last: since everyone deals with some sort of mental or physical issue at some point in life, my struggles and authentic life lessons are preparing my children for their own futures. Because of what they start with, what they learn, and what I teach them; they will be loving, honest, supportive, and self-aware.

They will, as every parent dreams, be able to make the world a better place. Someone’s got to live in the future, after all. I may as well try to help mine be better. Mostly.

 

Photo Credits:
Jenna Norman
Aditya Romansa
Sai De Silva

If Only, a poem about motherhood

“If only, if only,” the young mother sighs, “I did all the chores;” there’s hope in her eyes.
She washes and foldses and relocates toys.
She vacuums and bleaches and separates boys.

“If only, if only,” the young mother shouts, “You’d not kill your brother when I’m not about.”
She wrestles and time-outs and wait till Dad’s homes.
She chastens and kisses and picks up her phone.

“If only, if only,” the young mother frets, “I didn’t buy takeout whenever we’re stressed.”
She hustles and buckles and drives to the queue.
She searches and scrounges and pays for the food.

“If only, if only,” the young mother fears, “When I spent the money, the money was there.”
She saves scraps and worries and checks the receipts.
She eats less and coupons and admits defeats.

“If only, if only,” the young mother pleads, “You’d all go to bed so that there’s time for me.”
She chases and washes and brushes their teeth.
She last-drinks and stories and wishes sweet dreams.

She closets and darkens and blocks all her calls.
She’s lonely and hopeless and sees only walls.
“If only, if only,” the young mother cries, waiting for change till the day that she dies.

If you feel trapped like this, send me a message. At the very least, we can swap diaper stories.

daiga-ellaby-699188-unsplash

Daiga Ellaby

PTSD, PPD, and Parenthood

My first mental illness diagnosis was given at age 3, and while I don’t have many memories of being in therapy at that young of an age, I’ve always felt as though it defined me. When you’re told something about yourself your entire life, things from before your earliest memories, it’s sometimes difficult to reconcile it within yourself. From as young as I can recall, I’ve been told about these tragic and devastating events that I can’t remember, but I wasn’t even old enough to recognize how truly terrible the things happening to me were.

My current combination of mental disorders is PTSD, major depressive disorder, avoidant personality disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD, with a dash of bipolar disorder. The collective adds up to be more than overwhelming most days, and sometimes, it’s downright unbearable. Despite all of this, though, I do not take any medications, attend counseling, or pursue any of the conventional treatment styles. After 15 years of being in therapy, once I turned 18, I decided that I wasn’t putting myself through it anymore. I went through more therapists than some people do friends, and still couldn’t find anyone that I could actually trust and connect with.

I thought I had everything under control for a few years, using things I loved to fill the voids of emptiness within myself – mostly with music and writing. It seemed as though it was helping, focusing purely on what I love, trying desperately not to give any thought to the things in life that brought me stress or extra anxieties about the future. I got pretty decent at living in the moment, being present in the now, enjoying the life I had while I had it, and I had stopped obsessing over the future, at least somewhat temporarily.

One day, after finding out that I was unexpectedly pregnant, I found myself crumbling apart again, all the walls around me crashing down one by one, leaving me exposed, vulnerable, and completely terrified of what life would become. Would I be able to manage, mentally and physically speaking, and if so, would my genes ruin the poor kid’s life before they’ve even breathed life? I had always been plagued by mental illness, almost constantly tormented by my own thoughts for as long as I can remember now.

Knowing how much I already struggled to keep it together, I knew ahead of time that with this pregnancy and the fear, anxiety, and stress it entails, that I would most likely suffer from extreme episodes of postpartum depression. Just what I needed, something else for my negativity to harness and turn into something that consumes me so much more than it should have. I worried about the kind of mother I’d be, would I be capable of helping her through hard times when I can’t even help myself?

Despite my reservations, my fears, and my lack of self-confidence, from the moment my daughter was born, I was in love, in awe, and completely overwhelmed by feelings that I’ve never even witnessed, let alone imagined that I would ever get to experience. She’s taught me patience (as much as any mother can have with a 3.5 year old), and she’s given me motivation to learn so much more about myself, and to push myself to try and pursue new things, to seek out any small semblance of joy from any given daily task.

Many people doubted my abilities to raise her, myself included, and one of the most fulfilling things I’ve experienced in life thus far, is feeling satisfied in the fact that I love her more than I thought possible, that I would do anything for her, and that I want nothing more than to protect her from any and all pain, and be her best friend. I’ve far surpassed even my own imagination as to how this whole thing could have gone, and it’s one of only two things I’ve accomplished in my lifetime that have made me feel proud.

It’s never going to be easy, but as they say, hardly anything is ever easy if it is also worthwhile. As for being a parent and trying to learn and grow as you go, nothing in life could ever be more worthwhile. For any other parents out there struggling with mental illness, just know that you can love just as fully as anyone else, and that it doesn’t make you any less worthy of having that love returned back to you tenfold. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt every once in awhile, you might just surprise yourself – I know I did.

Friendship, Reignited

To those of us who’ve spent the majority of our lives struggling with anxiety and depression, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is isolation. For me personally, this wasn’t actually an issue until I became a parent, because as someone with very little family, I always felt as though I needed a barrier of friends around me for protection. Fortunate as I was to have found those people when I was younger, I came to find, after entering adulthood, that friendship wasn’t quite what it seemed before.

What was once a crutch for my fear of loneliness, has now become an a burden of sorts, for I cannot seem to get back to being the kind of person who can actually maintain friendships. I was the type of friend that was always there when you needed them, but was also the one who failed to get invitations to parties and such. I’m the person who will tell you what you need to hear, no matter how badly it’s not wanted, and while I’m conscious of it as a flaw, I still tend to categorize it as a strength.

Recently I reconnected with an old friend, someone who’s been through some of the worst moments of my life with me, someone I’ve known for 16 years. There was a time when we were inseparable, never going days let alone years without talking, but we haven’t seen each other in about a year and a half. We’re both nearing our thirties yet we live completely opposite lives – mine revolving around my husband and daughter, and her still being single and living at home with her family. While it’s difficult to relate to her now in some ways, it’s also refreshing to talk to someone with a little bit of outside perspective, because sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

The moment that I basically gave up on everyone in my life was shortly after my daughter was born, nearly no one I’ve ever called a friend has even met her, and I got tired of always hearing the same old line, “Let’s make plans soon!” or “We’ll have to get together soon!”. Eventually you just stop believing it, seeing it for what it really is, a formality to lessen their guilt over not even remotely being there for me in any way at all. I began pushing everyone away, and I can’t honestly say that I regret it very much. It seemed like the mature thing to do, just accept it was all talk, let everyone off the hook, and focus on my daughter, since no one else was interested in being part of her life.

Back to now though, I’m relieved to have someone I can talk to outside of my husband, because while he’s my best friend, sometimes a woman just needs the ear of another woman to feel heard and understood. And let’s be honest, there’s just some things that men don’t want to talk or hear about, and I try not to overburden him with all of my anxieties and stresses, as he’s carrying enough on his shoulder trying to keep food on our plates and a roof over our heads.

This time around, I’m going to try to force myself to stay in touch with her, because at least she knows the true me and has been there through some of the defining moments of my life, good and bad, and doesn’t need explanation for my feelings and thoughts. We have plans for tomorrow and I have to admit, I’m more excited than I’ve been in years. She’s genuinely thrilled to spend time with my daughter, and what could warm a mother’s heart more than an old friend bonding with your child? Right now, it feels priceless.