My therapist asked me to describe something good about mental illness; but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find one aspect of any of the diseases, mental and physical, that I have that have one ounce of goodness about them. Mental illness isn’t for the weak. It isn’t for the lazy. It isn’t for those that are screaming in the night expecting an answer that will comfort and bring warmth. There is no hug that can encompass enough relief as to bring peace. There are no words, drugs, help, therapists, friends, or even time that can make mental health bearable. This is something that I have had to learn not only to recognize but to appreciate. And while I learn to accept the way this disease destroys, I also have to understand there is no one else on this earth who could possibly understand that mental illness is not a good thing in my life. And it is a truth that can not be changed, rearranged or rebuilt. Life with mental illness is not just hard. It is not just difficult for those we love; but it is excruciating for the one who has to live with it. Even with a smile on my face and a laugh in my eyes, I suffer that which no one else will ever see.
I like watching certain shows for medicinal purposes. My husband, bless his heart, sees it as junk or a waste of time. I see it as a way to learn and understand. For instance, I will watch videos of “Karens” at their worst, not because I like the drama or the screaming – quite frankly, it makes me so uncomfortable. I watch those ridiculous videos to learn how to handle myself if I ever get in that situation. How to walk away if I am confronted by a “karen” which has happened in the past. I watch shows about animals, zoos and their staffs, because I desperately need to be reminded that there is kindness and people who think about those that can’t protect themselves. I watch shows about ancient places and people because I need to know others survived and even thrived in much worse situations than I currently find myself; and I love history.
Recently, I have been watching this show called, “Supernanny”. It is an older show, mostly only found on social media platforms but I go and search for the episodes to watch. It is a show, which in its brevity, doesn’t often address much nor give a true picture of one person’s life, but it is a show I watch for one reason. It reminds me, constantly and consistently, that I need to be better with my communication and be better mom, daughter, friend, patient, wife, to whomever it is that I am with. It reminds me that if I let go of communication, and don’t try and use some of the tools that “Supernanny” uses with such success, I could lose more than what my mental illness has already taken. Jo Frost, “supernanny” herself, doesn’t address my personal problems but she reminds me of my role in a life that is mine whether I wish it were or not.
One of the biggest things I have lost in my journey with mental illness is a relationship with my children that others take for granted.
Let me step back and clarify something; I have incredible children. I have children that adapt, that change their plans for me, that “understand” when mom is not at her best and can’t be there. I have children who genuinely are good and wonderful people; compassionate, caring, and so smart. I have children that do not fight or punch or yell. I have children who are so respectful of me. I have children that many would probably wish their children would emulate. But for me, while I see all that my children are and can be, I wonder when it is that I ever allowed them to be just children? Don’t get me wrong, they don’t need to have many chores or jobs, I take care of the house for the most part (and they aren’t that messy). They don’t need to be older but rather I wish sometimes they could be their young selves. I would give so much for them to see fun in something other than their own worlds that they have had to build while I struggle to exist. I would give it all up, everything I own and all the good in my life, if it meant for one moment I didn’t have to know deep in my heart that my children are capable of living a life they have built for themselves. There isn’t a parent out there that doesn’t wish more for their child; I just wish I could give my children for one moment the belief that their mom would gladly give up everything to spend all my time cheering them on loudly from some football stand, or take them to places they have been dreaming of experiencing, or simply give them an experience they didn’t know was out there. I wish I could promise them, and that each and every time, I could keep that promise.
It is hard for me to leave my home. That is a fact of my life. I get panic attacks and so much fear that makes it dangerous for me to drive.
It is hard for me to find things that could engage them for longer than the standard two minute conversation to find out how they are. That is a fact of my life.
It is hard for me to promise that I could take them to a historical site that has no bathrooms, because my absolute fear that I would get there and collapse in panic and then my children would not only have to see, but have to pick me up somehow. That is a fact of my life.
It is hard for me to make plans to give my children something to hold onto because I don’t know if that day I could show up for them. That is a fact of my life.
It is hard for me to find ways to reward them for the incredible children that they are each and every day, because I don’t know how to follow through with plans. That is a fact of my life.
And despite what you might think, or even what some people like to say, just wishing for something better, doesn’t mean that I am doing better. The mental wishing doesn’t make the physical doing or rather the physical not doing, ok. Planning to be better doesn’t make one better. And when it comes to children, our very best has to literally be, our very best. And I am afraid my best went out the window a long time ago.
My children do not whine or complain about the mother I am. My children will be the first to tell you that they have everything they need or want in this life. My children will excuse their own mother and her lack over and over again, without any resentment or any sarcasm. I don’t know if they truly understand what mental illness means, despite having it in their lives for their whole lives, but they accept it in a way that can not be described as either fair or even ok. These incredible kids, with their straight A’s, their cleanliness, their kindness and compassion, their just plain goodness, deserve so much more than that which they were born to. And it is a cruel joke in this world, that a mother like me, with all the problems that I have and all the things I can’t give to my children, would end up with the most incredible kids this world rarely gets to see. It isn’t fair to the parents who would give all to their incredible children if they had the means, that I can’t make a simple promise to my children and keep it.
There is no “Supernanny” in my life that could give me the tools to find ways to connect with my children so that they would understand while there were times that I can’t do things, there are times I could. There is no person that could give me tips on how to survive long enough to give my children the experiences and the time with both their parents, so they don’t have to be so perfect all the time. There is no recipe that would cure me, so that I could finally, just for a little while, show my children all the magic this world has within it. There is no pill that can give my children the knowledge that I could keep my calm in this raging storm, and be the mom I bet they sometimes wish that they had.
And it is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking even when I am swimming up a current as hard as I can to give them memories and life beyond the four walls of this house. It is so demoralizing to know that I can’t promise my children the whole world because the truth is I don’t know when the next time I will drown.
I believe that I try…hard…to give my children a chance to see me not just sick but trying. But that is a hard thing to demonstrate to anyone. My dream these days isn’t about finding peace from mental illness or to find something good in it. My dream these days aren’t about five years down the road. My dream these days have nothing to do with me. My only dream these days is to find a way to give my children something they have never seen: a mom who can scale a wall, swim with strength, and walk with a confidence that would give them all the memories that will show them love. Because after this many years, as my children are getting ready to permanently walk out that door, I am afraid if I can’t find the strength to get through this life, they won’t know all that I would willingly do for them. And I would willingly do for them more than they would ever ask for; more than they have confidence I could do. I would willingly follow any rule, any suggestion, and try any new medicine and give my children the chance to see what a mother’s love truly consists of; not freedom for me, but freedom for them. I dream of granting their wish with a smile on my face and a confidence that is soul deep.
Do I sound desperate? Because that is all I seem to feel these days.