I happen to be a woman who became a mother later in life. A woman with a severe mental illness. A woman who is now, to add to the challenge, a widow. And whose son has Autism.
Although at times I have been terrible at it, motherhood has been the making of me. I spent my ‘prime’ years as a frequent inpatient at the local psychiatric hospitals, mania, depression, psychosis, suicidal ideation making life painful and seemingly impossible. All the medication in the world, and sixteen rounds of ECT didn’t fix me. It took an incredible man called John to do that. Soon after, I conceived my son. Many were horrified, most were incredulous. I could barely care for myself, let alone another tiny, dependent human life. But become a mother I did, and it was my job to prove the world wrong.
Caring for this beautiful bundle of babyhood had a therapeutic effect on me. My moods stabilised, I was calmer and more settled. I didn’t feel suicidal and my manias were minor in comparison to my pre-baby self.
Tragedy struck when my husband passed away, when my son was three years old. I was unable to cope with the loss and the traumatic circumstances, and ended up back in the psychiatric unit for a while.
There was one other occasion where hospitalisation was required, but that was due to a bout of severe mania with psychosis, and due to neglecting my lithium.
Motherhood has been the making of me, in many ways. My life is not easy. My son has Autism, which brings its challenges, and I am here coping all alone, my husband now hopefully watching down on us from his spirit realms!
Medication is my mainstay, I am rigid about taking the correct dose every night. The effects of not taking my medication are mania and psychosis. I minimise stress down to the least possible. In this house we have our routines, mostly due to my son’s Autism.
I made the huge decision to bring forth new life, and I have a great responsibility to remain well enough to care for my son and make sure all his needs are met. After spending many years at the centre of the psychiatric system, fighting against the regime, I am now calmly and willingly surrendering to a quiet, ordered, calmer life.
I have taken myself out of center stage and my son is there at the heart of everything we do. He knows I have a mental illness, and copes well with my fluctuating moods. He has separation anxiety and delayed emotional development as a result of his father’s death and my hospitalisations when he was young. But I have lots of support, my CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse), psychologists from the education authority, his school and my family.
Being a parent with a mental illness can make you vulnerable to judgement and prejudice. I have even had dealings with social services after my last hospitalisation. That was traumatic but strengthened even more my resolve to be a stable parent.
My advice to parents who have a mental illness are this:
- Take your meds!
- Destress your life as much as possible
- try and keep a routine to your day
- Use all the support networks you can
- Keep good relationships with school
- keep a close check on how you are feeling. If you feel a slight shift in mood, or the slightest symptoms, take action as soon as possible.
- Set aside time to have fun with your child. Laughter makes for happy parenting and kids.
- Try not to become isolated. Keep contact with friends and family.
- If you are feeling unwell, talk to someone. Friends, family, or even a telephone support hotline.
- Be kind to yourself! You are doing the best job you can!