Are you a parent with a mental illness? Then you will totally appreciate today’s guest blog post from Sakinah, the writer at themuslimhippie, a blog which discusses the intersection of race, culture and mental illness. I’m so excited because she has agreed to write a series of posts about her experiences with mental illness. This is her second for Slay Girl Society. You can view the first blog post “Being A Muslim Parent With Mental Illness” here. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Being the child of a parent with mental illness
“We’ll come take care of you, Mommy. You shouldn’t be alone when you’re feeling like this.” My teenage daughter telling me she’d look after me when I was going through a recent depressive slump.
My children have lived with the effects of my mental illness for the last 15 years. Currently they split their time between their father and myself, which causes them to worry about me when they’re not in my presence. Early on, when they lived in Senegal, they didn’t have to see the effects of my illness first-hand. They lived in a protective environment, far away from anything bipolar or anxiety related. Now that they’re back, they’ve had an opportunity to witness what I go through on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s scary for them and sometimes, it makes them sad for me. I try not to put them in the position of being caretakers, but inevitably it happens on occasion. Even still, I try to shield them from the worst parts of my illness so that they don’t live in fear or anger at my condition. It’s a balancing act, and I’m not always successful at keeping my symptoms at bay, however we are managing in a way that works for us.
What They Know/What They Have Seen
“You cut the top of your ear? Let me see. Oh no! We’ll call Daddy.”
This was during a manic episode where I was shaving my head. I went too fast, deeply cutting into the top of my ear. I was hospitalized for this episode.
My children know the basics of different mental health conditions. They know what bipolar disorder is as well as anxiety disorder. They also understand the nuances of OCD. About 2 years ago, I sat them down and told them that I live with a mental illness which is why I have to go to the hospital sometimes. I gave them a brief overview of my issues and what happens when I get sick. They were sad to know that I have an illness of any kind, of course. And they were hurt to know the stigma I face and how people have treated me. I think that broke my heart the most; seeing the look of sadness and fear in their eyes.
How They Cope
“I hate when people say to just breathe when someone is having a panic attack. It’s like, if you could breathe, you wouldn’t be having an attack!”
My daughter expressing her displeasure with the things people say to those with mental health issues.
My kids cope with my illness by talking about it openly with me. They tell me how they feel about mental illness in general, how they think those with mental illness should be treated and so forth. The more we talk, the more comfortable they become with everything that’s happened to me. I close the discussion when I feel things are getting too heavy or when they need a break from this disease. At those times, we talk about light subjects and go about the business of day to day parent-child interactions.
What We Talk About
“What you wrote is really funny but true. I feel like that too. Anxiety is so common, people just don’t realize it.”
My kids enjoying my post detailing what anxiety is like for me.
When it comes to mental health issues, we talk about whatever they need in order to understand my diagnoses. I answer their questions and try to present information that is not to clinical and yet age appropriate. But what is appropriate for this situation? I wish we didn’t have to talk about any of this at all.
It was never my wish for my children to know any of my struggles. But because of how my illness manifested over the years, I couldn’t hide certain things from them. So I decided to tackle mental health head on with them and be straightforward. As a parent, the last thing you want is for your kids to know your challenges. But when it’s unavoidable as in the case of disability, I believe you have to put your best foot forward and make the most of your situation. At least that’s what I’ve tried to do. And Allah knows best.