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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.