Mental illness recovery takes a lot of work — especially when you’re a parent.
For the past five years I have struggled, fought, failed, and tried my best in regard to my mental health. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began trying to find the medication(s) that would treat my mental illness. One thing I did right was that I never stopped trying in treatment and I always took my medications as prescribed.
While I battled bipolar disorder, my husband and I did our best to keep things normal and healthy for our three young children.
I would put myself in timeout in my room when I felt overwhelmed. We switched to paper plates to minimize chores. Home-cooked meals were few and far between, but the kids ate three meals a day anyhow. We even managed to keep them involved in activities, although I wondered if other parents had thoughts about where I was or why I wasn’t more involved.
I was busy keeping my head above water, and at times I could barely do that. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. Days when my mind was running a thousand miles a minute and everything was super speed. Days when everything felt like torture and I wasn’t sure how to get from one minute to the next.
But with my husband’s support, the kids continued to thrive. I made myself available to books, cuddles, snuggles, and occasional dates. I shielded them from my worst by isolating myself when it became too much. Dad did plenty of dinners and bedtimes on his own.
Four months on a new medication that’s ACTUALLY WORKING, I feel like a new person. I feel like me. I’m healthy, happy, and stable. My psychiatrist did an actual happy dance and my husband has said how good I’m doing. It wasn’t all the medication, though that is a huge piece.
Here are a few other things that have helped my mental illness recovery:
I have a bedtime now and I stick to it no matter what.
I try to get up around the same time each day, too. Bipolar disorder has been called a circadian rhythm disorder, and stabilizing my sleep has been a goal of mine and my psychiatrist’s.
I exercise now regularly.
I now run three days per week and walk or do something else active the other days. I started out doing the Couch to 5K program and can now run for 25 minutes. I’m still working on longer runs. I can tell the exercise helps with both my anxiety and depression. When I miss a few days in a row, I start to feel worse.
I have a great relationship with my therapist, separate from my psychiatrist, and she helps me process what has happened to me and develop healthy coping and cognitive skills. She’s also my cheerleader and can point out if/when I’m not doing as well. Together, she helped me develop a safety plan if I get actively sick again.
Personal support has been the final vital piece in my recovery.
My husband has been my biggest support and best friend. Family and friends have visited, made meals, babysat, and stood by while I recovered and cheered me on.
Serious mental illness has many faces. Few people can look at me and tell I live with bipolar disorder or can tell what I’ve been through. I look and act “normal.” But it is my reality, my truth, my story. Mental illness recovery is part of that story that only I can write for myself.
And I know I’m not alone. Millions of other mothers and fathers are parenting while dealing with mental illness: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia, to name a few. Recovery is possible. Parents and children can thrive and be happy even while dealing with serious issues and experience mental illness recovery. It just takes commitment to a treatment plan and support.
I won’t give up now on my mental illness recovery. I hope you don’t either.
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