My first episode of severe depression happened two days after I gave birth to my oldest son. It rendered me incapable of taking care of him, not even to change his diaper.
The episode lasted for a few short weeks that felt like a hundred years. I desperately wanted to do everything my son needed, but the depression made me feel too unworthy to even be near him.
My husband’s family took turns coming to look after him.
While I was grateful for them, it hurt me to see everyone taking care of my baby except his mother.
When I went back to my doctor for my six-week checkup, I told him about the depressive symptoms. He gave me a knowing smile and wrote me a prescription for an antidepressant.
He diagnosed me with postpartum depression and told me I’d feel better in a few weeks.
It turned out to be true, and before too long I was taking care of my son full-time by myself. I cuddled him constantly, trying to make up for the time we were apart.
When I was better, I loved everything about motherhood and was grateful to have the depression behind me.
I stopped taking my medication a couple of years later because my husband and I wanted another child.
It didn’t seem like I needed it anymore, and I didn’t want the new baby to be born with drugs in their little body. I got pregnant soon after, and at the same time I had a severe depressive episode that knocked me off my feet.
I went to a psychiatrist who was furious with me for stopping the medication. He said the drug was safe for pregnant women and started me back on it with a warning:
“You can’t ever stop your medication again, or you’ll likely try to kill yourself.”
When my younger son was born, I didn’t go through the postpartum depression again, likely because of my antidepressant.
My psychiatrist later did a thorough evaluation and gave me a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, type 2, which basically means the mania is not as extreme yet the depression is more severe.
He said I would likely deal with symptoms of depression, hypomania, and anxiety for the rest of my life even with medication.
It sounded like a life sentence of misery, but one I had to accept.
Despite my diagnosis, the best part of my life was raising my little boys. I’d play with them on the floor for hours, encouraging them to sit, stand, and walk depending on their ages. Simple things like playing with them brought me so much happiness.
Still, there were times when I needed extra help and support from my husband while going through an episode of anxiety or depression.
My husband was happy in our 16-year marriage until he wasn’t. He met somebody else at work and wouldn’t give up the relationship.
I filed for divorce a short time later, and my dreams of a happy family were shattered.
My anxiety and depression went through the roof trying to take care of the boys by myself. When things were bad, even the simplest tasks seemed impossible.
The boys were ages nine and five by then, so they weren’t completely dependent anymore but still needed a lot of care.
I hid my crying and panic attacks from my kids so I didn’t scare them.
I started to drink more heavily at night. It numbed part of the pain I was feeling about the divorce and the loneliness that came with it.
I felt like discarded garbage and wondered if anyone would ever want me again with my mental health problems.
My self-esteem plummeted, and I began to believe the negative thoughts that raced around in my head every day. I spent less time with the boys and stayed in my room crying or shaking from fear.
My doctor changed my medication, but it didn’t even touch the symptoms I was having.
The day my ex-husband presented me with papers to sign over custody, I’d just gotten out of a psychiatric hospital.
My bipolar had worsened to the breaking point, and I was desperate for some kind of help. They changed my medication yet again and sent me home after a few days.
The boys stayed with their dad during that time, and my ex wanted to make it permanent to keep their lives stable.
The truth was that I knew I wasn’t doing well and definitely wasn’t stable.
My ex had a huge family who all lived close to each other, and the same wasn’t true for me.
My children would have the chance to have a much more stable and consistent upbringing with lots of family and a nice place to live if they moved in with him.
It seemed unfair to refuse to sign the papers when I couldn’t provide those things.
There were tears in my eyes as I signed, but I saved the sobbing until after my husband had left. I didn’t want him to see how broken I truly felt.
Losing my kids blasted a hole through my heart that has truly never healed.
It’s humiliating and sad to know you aren’t the best parent for your children.
I gave birth to them and tended to their needs as much as my bipolar would let me, but I had to admit my best wasn’t good enough. I knew the kids were better off, and I knew they were in the best hands possible, but I desperately wanted them back and cried every day they were gone.
A mother without her children is a lost soul, stretching out her arms with no one to run into them.
I constantly thought about all the school events I was missing and the funny things the boys always said. Meanwhile, my depression and anxiety got worse, and I drank even more heavily so I wouldn’t have to think about my hopeless situation.
There were also times I couldn’t afford my medication, which caused my depression to skyrocket.
Once I stopped drinking alcohol completely, my moods began to level out.
I began seeing a therapist who told me that my most important goal was stability.
That meant taking my medications no matter what, continuing with weekly therapy, and doing the self-care that I usually hated myself too much to do.
I realized that whenever I saw my kids, they deserved a whole parent and not one barely hanging on.
When I’d have visitation with my children, I often felt so anxious about it that it was hard to relax in front of them. I’m sure they sensed it, too. Because I felt I had let them down, the guilt was almost too much to bear.
Sometimes they asked to come home and live with me, and it broke my heart to say no.
I knew I’d never have a real relationship with my kids until I let down my guard and worked on my self-esteem.
The last thing I wanted was for them to feel like they were parenting me.
I’d gone through that with my own mother for years growing up, and I never wanted to put that kind of burden on my sons.
It wasn’t until I did some work on myself that I became really close to the boys again.
Being honest with them about my illness as they got older only worked in our favor. I let them ask all the questions they wanted.
My ex let them visit me whenever they wanted. Sometimes they were allowed to sleep over, but I spent a lot of time feeling guilty and overcompensating for the time we missed together.
It took me a while to relax and come to realize that I made the right decision. The boys had opportunities they never would have had with me.
I believe that parents with mental illness are just like any other parents.
We’re only able to be helpful to our kids if we have taken care of ourselves first. Every parent makes mistakes, and often they feel badly about themselves when they falter. However, each mistake is a lesson to learn from and correct the next time.
Yes, I believe I am a good mother.
It took me a while to realize that, but my love for my children could fill up the universe.
I’ve also learned that people who worry about being good parents are usually the best parents. I did what was best for my boys, even if it didn’t include me.
My sons are adults now, and I have the sobriety and stability to put them first.
The love between us is a miracle in my life, and that’s really all I ever wanted when I became a mother. They are lucky to have been raised by their father who gave them so much more than I could provide.
Even so, I don’t think the boys and I have ever been closer. Even as grownups, they still want to come for sleepovers at my house. The fact that they choose to come fills my spirit with awe and gratitude.
We never stopped loving each other no matter what and chat almost every day.
I’ve earned their trust again. It’s good that they don’t have to worry about their mother anymore.
Losing them was the most painful thing in my life, but when I see what wonderful men they have become, I feel nothing but grateful.