Confessions of a 'Mental Mom'

For moms with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, parenthood requires extra self-care

Dull morning light filters through the east-facing picture window as I walk into the living room clutching a carton of eggs. My son slams a piece of wooden train track onto the floor yelling, “It won’t fit!” Frustrated, he quickly gets up and turns to his sister. “No! You can’t play here!” she hollers. She has a look of horror on her face as he approaches her toy horses. “Yes, I can!” he says.

I lunge toward him. With one hand, I block his forward movement as he nearly topples her entire equine scene. Disaster is averted, but I have very little time before the next little brother catastrophe strikes. I open the carton of eggs and tempt him with mass destruction of a different kind. “Want to crack some eggs? I’m making muffins,” I ask, hoping he accepts my invitation. He follows me like a little puppy into the kitchen then climbs up to the counter. Wafts of spice drift up from my chai tea re-heating on the stove (again). This time I am determined to drink it. We can barely hear each other over the erratic clunking and whirling of the washing machine’s spin cycle.

I place the open carton of eggs in front of him like a treasure. His eyes open wide as he reaches for one. Oval and overflowing from his palm, it’s huge — like an ostrich egg would be in my own hand. He tries slamming it on the edge of the bowl. A small fissure appears on the surface of the shell and he puts his fingers inside of it to finish the job, making a mess of a million shells all over the counter. His quiet fascination with the clear goo and yellow blob are so innocent that I don’t raise my voice or mention the words you, made, or mess. I can witness his process for about two seconds before his big sister comes running into the room declaring that she is bored (again).

“You could do a puzzle or play with play dough,” I suggest. “No way,” she responds. “Well then I need the dishwasher emptied,” I remind her. “Not that Mama! I want to watch a movie.” “No movies right now. Come help us make muffins. Will you mash up those old bananas?”

I know the potential for total disaster. Having both of them at the counter will be all elbows, cinnamon and gluten-free flour flying to the ceiling. It doesn’t take much. He snatches something. She squawks. They both start pushing. He loses balance and falls to the floor. I am instantly infuriated — all patience is gone. As I try to comfort him on the floor, I tell her, “Go wait for me on the couch or your play date is cancelled this afternoon.”

She can’t hear me through the wailing and screaming. The three of us are in a pile on the floor. I yell at her until she is crouched among the pillows hugging her knees and moaning. I muster the strength to soothe my son’s tears and speak calmly with my daughter. From the couch I look at the gray sky. We’ve been up since 5:30 a.m. The light hasn’t changed since the sun rose at 7:30. I wonder if it’s 9 or 11. My anger seems as fixed as the cloud layer, always hanging above.

I return to the kitchen as they rush past me, giggling on their way to put on costumes. Ignoring the bits of shell scattered all over the counter, I aim for the collection of brown shards resting in the bottom of the bowl. I poke one of my fingers through the clear membrane and try to retrieve one. While my children have bounced back into a rhythm of play and laughter, the day looms ahead with the need for more patience than I have. Finding even a shard of joy feels slippery and slick, like the shells I try to grasp under my fingertips.

On days like this, when I feel like dog doo and I can’t bounce back, I often wonder how I will get through the day. When I compare myself to other moms that make homemade meals, limit screen time and don’t yell, I cut myself off from what I need. The weight of my guilt, anger, and sadness increase as I beat myself up for threating and yelling at my daughter.

All moms, but especially those of us that struggle with mental difference (isn’t that so much nicer than mental disorder?), need a combination of rest, nourishment and fun. Whether it’s plopping the kids in front of another movie or all of us taking a nap, I have to create the support I need when all I feel is isolation.

When I was a new mom, I wish I knew that the pressures and expectations inherent to parenting could make my mood disorders more apparent. As I struggled to find my way through the lack of sleep and affects from hormonal fluctuations after birth and breastfeeding, I felt like I was complaining when I expressed how intense it was. To the hordes of mothers out there who are managing depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorders with young children alongside, I wholly admire you.

What do you do to get through the day? 

  1. Do you feel like a "mental mom"? This fascinating podcast offers support and information for moms who struggle with mental differences.
  1. Stigmama is another amazing resource for women of all ages who experience emotional difficulties while mothering.
  1. Hashtag your Instagram photos #parentmapselfies @parentmap so we can see your creative images of parenting! 

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