I feel guilty. I dislike that they love to run, skip, hop with glee and play while some days my best coping mechanism is to hide under the covers and speak nary a word.
I do not feel guilty for having bipolar disorder. After all, I didn’t ask for it. I certainly did not cause it. I had a genetic predisposition and in my treatment for severe postpartum depression, that gene decided to turn itself on and announce its presence to the world in a most spectacularly manic fashion. Thus, I can’t feel guilty for having a medical condition.
However there is a great deal of guilt associated with my bipolar disorder that I do struggle with. It mostly surrounds being a mother with bipolar disorder. I worry so much with every mood episode, with every burst of rage, every down day, every fit of tears that I am scarring my children. I worry that I am causing them irreparable emotional harm. You see, my children are young. They do not fully comprehend that their mother has a chronic mental illness.
We’ve done NAMI walks as a family and talked about how we are raising money for people like money who struggle with their brains and that their brains make them sick sometimes. They watch me, curiously, take my medicine every day and ask me if they have to take medicine too. We talk about how they do not have to take medicine because Mommy has a chronic illness and that they are perfectly healthy. They have begun to ask me why I have an illness and what part of my body is sick. I try to keep the answers simple, because I feel they are still too young to understand such a complex, abstract illness that they can’t see.
I grapple with the guilt over my moods and the effect my mood has on them. I cry when no one can see when my oldest asks my husband why Mommy is so mean to him. It breaks me with the guilt that he can only see my broken brain and not my full, intact heart. I had a mood episode recently related to a medication change that resulted in such a rage I was out of control screaming repeatedly that I hated everyone. In front of the children. In front of the children. I left the house and cried. How could I do that to them? How could a loving mother let her children think that they were anything but loved?
I feel guilty. I self-flagellate myself repeatedly in my mind with remorse. What will happen if one day these boys believe me that they are not good enough? That they are not loved? That Mommy really does hate everyone, including them? The thought is horrifying.
I feel guilty. I dislike that they love to run, skip, hop with glee and play while some days my best coping mechanism is to hide under the covers and speak nary a word. It makes me nauseous at the possibility that I may be remembered one day as the Mommy who wouldn’t, couldn’t get out of bed. I hate that there are days I have promised incredibly fun family activities and end up breaking my word because I am shaking with anxiety. I want them to have a childhood filled with memories of exploring the country, and telling tales of the trips we took. I do not wish them to talk about having to come visit Mommy in a darkened quiet room offering gentle hugs of support and hello.
What is a guilty Mommy to do? I push myself. I have been wandering out of my comfort zone as of late. I have been volunteering more in their school, trying to be visible and enjoying the enormous smile on their faces when they see me around. I have been initiating more fun activities this fall, even on days I would rather sleep soaking in the giggles that come my way.
Two years ago, we cancelled Halloween at the last minute because I started crying due to a lack of coping skills and was unable to physically stop crying for hours, much to my husband’s bewilderment. This year, we have been pumpkin picking, decorating the entire house, making scarecrows and planning a party. The boys have declared it “the best Halloween ever this year thanks to Mommy!” We are on track to deal with some of the guilt in a productive manner and build some of those memories I long for.