Today’s guest blog post from The Muslim Hippie focuses on a difficult period in her life. For other blog posts from the same author, click here to read her article on being a Muslim parent with a mental illness and here to read about parenting with a mental disability.
I’ve often written about the fact that my children went to live in Senegal when I had my first mental health breakdown in 2008. It was a psychotic depression to be exact. My husband at the time and I decided it would be best to send our 3 children to his family because I was so sick, and because of his busy work schedule. We just didn’t want the kids to suffer because of what we were going through. It wasn’t an easy decision but it had to be done. I’ll never forget the day they left. My children were 4, 6, and 8 at the time of their departure. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. They didn’t know exactly what was happening; I just told them they were taking a trip with their father. They were too little to understand that they were starting a new life in a different country and I didn’t know how to tell them. All they knew was that this was an adventure and they were excited. I hugged them tightly, trying to squeeze back tears and ran up the hill to my house so they wouldn’t see me cry. I couldn’t even look back and wave goodbye. I was devastated. I dashed into the house and flung myself onto my couch, sobbing. How could I have let my kids go?! I missed them already. I didn’t think I could take this. I cried for what felt like hours, and a friend of mine who had been there at the send-off followed me into the house and held me while I cried. She cleaned me up and offered to take me to get something to eat. I agreed only because I couldn’t stand to be in the house without the kids. I had to get out of there.
Those first days and months were like a fog. I went through the motions of my life as if I was in mourning. I had trouble going into parts of the house that reminded me of my kids. And I definitely couldn’t go into their rooms. My mental health in the beginning was on pause. I was only focused on getting through the time without them. I didn’t notice my symptoms at first. That was a mistake. I wasn’t taking my medicine or eating properly. And my sleep patterns were all over the place. Sometimes I’d stay up all night and sometimes I’d sleep too much. I was waffling between depression and mania. At this time I self-medicated a lot to get through the pain of losing the kids. Without going into detail, I used a few different substances to cope with my deep emotional pain. I also engaged in self-harm. My arms still bear the scars from those years of self-abuse. I would do anything and everything to myself just not to feel pain. It was awful. My days consisted of going to work for 12-15 hours then coming home and getting on social media, while numbing my pain for several hours to a full day. Then I’d wake up a day later in a fog, barely able to make it to work for the following shift. It was a terrible existence. I lived that way for a couple years before I finally decided enough was enough. Then my mom got really sick and needed me to take care of her full time and I couldn’t wallow in self-pity and engage in those types of behaviors anymore without really harming myself or worse. I decided I didn’t want to live like that. So I went to my doctor for help with my bipolar symptoms and got serious about treatment; in addition to realizing I was truly disabled by my condition and applying for necessary services that would be beneficial for assistance. It really changed my life for the better.
My children came back from Senegal in 2012 just in time to see my mother before she passed away from breast cancer. We were all able to spend time with her and care for her in a way that we wanted to and that made us all happy. By that time I was much better and no longer engaging in the self-harm behaviors I was once so deeply entrenched in while my children were away. Getting control of my bipolar issues and my emotional instability helped get my life back on track and helped me take care of my family. I’m so grateful for all the services I received that made me see things more positively and helped me want to treat myself better. Having my kids travel overseas ended up being an extremely positive experience for all of us. They will be traveling back there this summer to visit their relatives and we’re all looking forward to the trip. Now that I’m healthy, I welcome the opportunity for them to broaden their linguistic capabilities through travel and expand their knowledge of geography first-hand. Travel is great for kids and I know they are blessed to be able to do so. I can’t wait to share pictures from their next trip!