The stigma, the isolation…
There are numerous writings chronicling the loneliness and isolation that can accompany new parenthood. It happens. It is a part of dedicating one’s self to another human to ensure their survival. It is the giving of one’s self.
However, there is an isolation and loneliness that we often do not touch on and one that many will not share for fear of judgment, assumption, or even worse. That isolation and loneliness comes from the stigma of living through your mental illness and the challenges that illness places on your new status as parent. You are now balancing your symptoms, medications, doctor appointments, blood draws, relationships, and caring for a truly dependent human being that is trusting in you completely. The cost is high and the isolation can be deafening.
When I state that the cost is high, I am referring to how others perceive a parent who lives with mental illness. I know I may be overly sensitive, but I also know that voices of many of my critics carried far and into my hearing range and the whispers of how many felt that someone with my diagnosis should never be a parent in the first place were stated rather openly. So, if I was to ask for help or reach out of my isolation, how would others perceive that? Truly, when my medication needs adjustment or I need extra time to see a doctor, I am highly hesitant to ever ask for assistance. I will isolate myself and my needs in order to prove all naysayers wrong. In addition, there are very few occasions that I will truly state how I am ever truly feeling, as the risks are too great. I will not risk my son and my status as his mother for assistance.
Of course, what we are talking about, at its core, is stigma. Even at this time, fifty years after the Community Mental Health Centers Act was introduced by the Kennedy Brothers and sixty years since we began widely using antipsychotic medications, many still perceive someone with a mental illness as unfit to parent. And therefore, many will take any chink in that armor as evidence to that flawed thought process of who is a fitting parent.
Here I am, feeling as if I often need to live to a higher standard than I would ever hold anyone else and I find myself isolated and experiencing a loneliness that is unique. It is not that I am without others in my life. It is that I need to hold back to protect my most precious child so stigma cannot touch him and an archaic belief system will not invade our relationship.
So, for now, I will push hard and isolate and loneliness may come. As anyone who has lived with mental illness can attest to, this is standard operating procedure.