Without a doubt, motherhood is both the most exciting and terrifying experience that I have ever had. It's something new every single day. To be honest, reading about it when I was pregnant never really helped me, it only scared me more.
When I learned I was pregnant with my son, I was flat-out petrified, scared that I would somehow inadvertently ruin this little person's life. I thought that I had to make certain that I did everything perfectly, or else my son would somehow end up scarred for life from something I did.
Looking back, that also could have been my OCD at play. Take a mental illness and mix it with some pregnancy hormones, and not being on any medication at the time? That's one recipe that was a hell of a treat!
But I digress.
Image: Nishanth Jois via Flickr
All I could think about, even after he was born, was that I would never be able to give him everything he needed in life. It broke my heart to think about that. I ended up becoming severely depressed, and I even attempted suicide, believing that my child would be better off without me. That my husband would find someone else, and my son would have a mom who could truly give him everything he needed and take care of him the way he needed to be.
Luckily, I didn't succeed. At the last second, I got scared and told my mother what I had done. She told my husband, I ended up at the emergency room and was put into the behavioral health ward for the next two weeks, trying to find a combination of medicines that would work for me.
I was eventually released into the care of my husband. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) had become involved. I thought I really had ruined my child's life and that they were there to take him away from me. I was certain that they would find me an unfit mother.
But, they closed the case. Within days of my release, they closed the case on the condition that I attend intensive therapy and that my husband and I take parenting classes in order to learn from other parents our age.
The classes went by and we did learn a lot from them, especially how to handle our own emotions when things felt like they're getting to be too much. But it wasn't the classes that woke me up. It was the therapy. For four and a half weeks, I attended an intensive therapy program, from 9AM until 3PM, every weekday. There were group sessions, therapeutic activities, and individual sessions with our respective caseworkers.
Each day, I would learn a little bit more about myself. But the incredible thing was, I didn't learn it through some deep transcendental meditation or introspection. I learned more about myself through the others in that group. I learned that I wasn't alone in what I was feeling. There were other mothers there that were my age, and they were just as scared as I was. Older parents, too. They had felt the same way I had when their kids were first born.
To be honest, I had always been scared of passing on my OCD to my son. It's not the typical forms of OCD that you hear about, like hoarding or over-excessive cleanliness. I was diagnosed with Purely Obsessional Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The short version of it is that I have these intrusive thoughts, that I have no control over, replaying over and over within my mind.
These days, I have it under control pretty well with medications. But it was some scary stuff back then. If my child ever had any of these problems that I have? Well, I feel like I would never forgive myself, that it would somehow be my fault. What if he found out about my condition, what if he found out about the thoughts? I feel like I might die if that happened.
It took a good four years for me to be where I am today. Am I totally over-the-moon-blissfully-ecstatic happy? No, of course not. But I think that at this point in my life, there is a really good balance of good days, with the exception of the occasional bad day. But I need those bad days in order to reflect on how good it is, and how much better it is getting. Those bad days are important.
As far as parenting goes, I've come to look at it as a learning experience, one that is ongoing and never-ending. Even after our kids have long grown up, we're always going to be learning something new about them. It's an experience that I now cherish.
I look at each day with a new found hope and a renewed sense of joy for another day to see the smile on my son's face. To hear his sweet giggles when I tickle him, to embrace him when he wraps his tiny arms around my waist. I know that one day, he will learn about my mental illness diagnosis, and I'm not so scared of it anymore. In fact, there are things that I want to tell him, things that I want him to know, especially if he were to ever receive a mental illness diagnosis himself.
Feel No Shame
Even in this day and age, this can be incredibly hard for a mental illness patient to accept. In many areas, there is still a large stigma that surrounds mental illness because so many people do not take the time to understand them. When people do not understand, they judge.
But having a mental illness does not make you any less of a person, any less deserving of help, any less deserving of happiness and a good life. You have nothing to be ashamed of. It is just like any physical illness. Do not let the opinions of others drag you down. You know who you are, own that, work that, be that. You're a beautiful human being, with an incredibly loving soul. Don't let your illnesses outweigh the amount of beauty that you hold within your heart.Ask for Help
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It is an incredibly brave thing to do. By asking for help, you are taking the first step in your recovery. Your family and friends love you very much and want to help you get better as soon as possible. Ask them for help, talk to them about how you feel. Don't be ashamed.You're No Different
Close your eyes for a moment and entertain this thought; imagine if you were to be lined up with nine other people who aren't living with a mental illness that you know of. Now, take a look around the room. Do these people look any different from you? Can you know anything of them just by looking at them? Are you able to see their sufferings? Do they look sick to you? No.
You are no different than any of these people. Do not ever let anyone make you feel as though you are any less of a person because you are living with a mental illness. You are amazing, unique, and beautiful in your own way, just like every other person here on this great and grand planet.Even People With Mental Illness Deserve Happiness
Don't ever give in to the notion that you are less of a person because of your illness. We aren't the illnesses we live with, they do not define who we are as a whole. There are so many unique parts of our individual personalities that make us who we are, and while yes, you may live with a mental illness, it's such a small part of who you are in relation to our entire being.
What do you enjoy? Make time for yourself to do it each day. Come to love yourself. Know that you deserve love and happiness. Be proactive in keeping yourself healthy. Give yourself a break when you need it and never push yourself past your breaking point. Smile often and love without limits.Practice Self Care
Always take care of yourself, first and foremost. In your life, you need to be the most important person. Never put yourself on the "back burner," so to speak. If you need five minutes to take a breather, you take it. If you need a personal day to get yourself back together and gather your thoughts, you do it.
Do not ignore your body's signals. Do what makes you happy, enjoy the little things in life. Never deny yourself a chance at happiness. Every day that you wake up and step out of bed, no matter how much you don't want to, you are making great strides in your recovery. No step is too small when it comes to the path you're taking on the road to wellness.
Be yourself, don't ever try to hide who you are from the world. You deserve love, laughter, happiness, and more. Pursue your dreams, chase them with fervor. Never hold onto anger and rage. Practice forgiveness and accept friendships. Treat others how you want to be treated. Give love freely, spread it far and wide. And finally:
Laugh as much as you can, the world is far too solemn a place already.
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