My mom is a passionate elementary school teacher and the kindest person I know. I've watched her pour her soul into her work every day from five AM to eleven PM. Not only has she whole-heartedly supported every single one of her students for the past twenty eight years, she has continuously supported my sister and me, and stood behind me every step of the way on my journey with mental illness. I phoned her up this week and asked her a few questions about motherhood and her experience dealing with my bipolar.
I know you always wanted to be a mom. Why do you think that is?
My youngest sister was born when I was thirteen, so I already knew how much I liked being with young children.
Were you scared when you first became a mom?
I would say that I was scared the very first day, when I brought you home from the hospital. Suddenly I realized, oh my goodness, you’re so tiny, so fragile. What if I drop you? What if I do something wrong? That only lasted for a short time, and I was never really worried after that. I had spent so much time looking after babies, especially your aunt, I felt like I knew what to do. No, I wasn’t very afraid.
Was being a mom everything that you thought it would be?
It was everything that I thought it would be, but the only thing I didn’t realize is you never stop being a mom, even when your kids leave home. You’re still a parent, and you still worry about them, and it’s a job that never really ends. And that’s okay.
What is it like to be the parent of a child with mental illness?
It’s challenging. You worry about whether they’ll ever be happy, or successful, or be able to support themselves. The one thing you want as a parent is… you want your child to be happy. When you can’t fix everything, it gets very hard. I also feel cheated by the system, because it’s hasn’t been easy to get the support that you need. Especially when it comes to having suicidal thoughts, I’ve felt very scared and helpless. I’ve spent whole nights phoning help lines and getting no where. When they told us you had to wait a year to get into that treatment program, I was thinking… we don’t have a year to wait! This needs to happen now!
Yeah, it’s been very frustrating.
Remember when we spent seven hours in the ER because it was the only way to even get an appointment with a psychiatrist? It seemed ridiculous. But we did it. We didn’t give up. I’m a very optimistic person, and I never give up.
How did you feel when you first heard the bipolar diagnosis?
First of all, I didn’t accept it. The first doctor who diagnosed you was a GP, and I didn’t think she had enough information. I must admit, I didn’t really know what bipolar was. Also, when you were going through most of this, you weren’t living at home, so I didn't necessarily see all the ups and down. But when you went to the psychiatrist at the hospital, and she also diagnosed you as bipolar, I did some research and I started piecing together that these symptoms were similar to the way my grandmother behaved when she was alive. And it started making sense.
Do you have any advice for the family members of people with mental illness?
Always be supportive, and listen. Try to assist them as much as possible in getting counselling and help from medical professionals. I wish there was some kind of support network for the families, but honestly, I haven’t found one yet. I would love to talk to other parents who have been dealing with this longer. They could tell me if things are going to get better.