At this point in my life, my responsibilities center on being a SAHM and maintaining a routine for self-care for my stability due to my psychiatric illness. I do not work outside the home as it has been determined health wise to no longer be an option.
However, do you know what I find to be the biggest roadblock while living my current situation? The messages. The messages that have followed me since childhood are still throwing me off my path. Let me explain.
A consistent message communicated to me by my parents from an early age was that I was lazy. It was often stated that I didn’t have a work ethic or the ability and/or drive to work. I clearly remember my father once stating, “you better hope you don’t have to actually work for a living because you’re lazy.”
Of course, in my stubborn way of thinking, these comments led me to be a person who overworked herself. It was not unusual for me to hold two or three jobs, be involved in several organizations, and overextend myself to prove to someone… anyone… I could do it. I was also sure I could do more and push myself harder if I just tried. I was driven by an intense fear of truly being lazy and in the end, I did myself much more harm than good.
Now, I am unable to work as my disease has progressed. Rationally, I am fully aware of this fact and truly accept it. I am also grateful that I have the opportunity to spend this amazing time with my son. But, those messages… and that fear. It is a tape player on a continual loop that plays the words of my parents at random times in my head. Also, when you have spent your life running to prove something to someone (though, not sure who), it is hard to drop that futile campaign.
The aftermath of this is anxiety and rumination. You feel anxious that the message of laziness may win- and you may actually be lazy. I find myself ruminating on the possibility and hearing my father’s voice. To combat this, I have to talk back in my voice… my adult voice. Sometimes even just telling the message to shut the Hell up. My hope is that by standing up to the messages, I am standing up for myself. I also have to perform reality checks often. I think back to my last months at work and how I was barely able to finish… and how I even had to employ the ADA to keep and finish my job. I know if I met another person in my situation, I would never call them lazy. I would commend them for the self care they were exhibiting by leaving the workforce. So, I fight back and perform reality checks along the way.
But most important, there is a great lesson here. As a parent, myself, I have to learn from my own parent’s actions. Whether it was intended or not, the damaging messages they communicated have carried with me into my late 30s. When I look at my son, I remember that fact. I have a choice… I can impart messages for growth, positivity, and love… or impart messages that will cause him to battle himself along life’s journey. I choose growth, positivity, and love.
I have all the supplies for the big Thanksgiving meal. Today, my boy and I ventured out and rented several DVDs for my little family of three to enjoy over the long weekend. There are decorations- leaves swinging down from the ceiling and festive decorations on the French doors.
But, I feel like I forgot something.
Fifteen years ago this holiday season, I severed my relationship with my parents. It was both the correct and best decision I could have made. Furthermore, now that I have a son, this decision is even more resolute. I wish my parents no ill will or harm, but they are not welcome in my life. Of course, this makes me parentless by choice.
Many ask why when they learn of this aspect of my life. I generally try to be as vague as possible out of respect for them. I will now say that my childhood was abusive in varied ways. I can also say that the dysfunction within my relationship with them was so extreme that they were, in actuality, toxic for me. Even as an adult, I would be pulled back in so easy; feeding into the dysfunction and manipulation. It truly is best for them to have their life, and me to have my life. Parentless by choice is the healthiest choice for me.
But, I cannot deny that you feel a loss through this process. It is not necessarily that you miss that exact parent, but you have to let go of the dream that somehow the parent you deserved was going to emerge. The loss of a dream is difficult. There is a unique grieving process involved. And after you have worked through that grieving process, you can still sometimes feel like you are missing something… or forgot something.
And that is where I am at. I am all prepared to celebrate the day of thanks with my husband, son, sister-in-law, and father-in-law… and that sneaky forgetful feeling nags a bit. But, that is okay, I have my family from scratch. Nothing forgotten.
May we all give thanks this week for the family we have… whether that family is blood, marriage, partnerships, friendships, or any other kinship relation. May we give thanks for those we trust, love, and value.
Some days, I just tire of taking medications. I tire to my core.
Other days, I think I can manage my dosages, maybe skip a dose here or there, or just go raw.
Of course, not taking my cocktail of medications has drastic repercussions. And I have witnessed some of these repercussions in myself and in others.
One person whom I witnessed living with an untreated severe mental illness and who left massive repercussions in her wake was my mother. A woman who lived in paranoia, a manufactured reality, obsessive behaviors, narcissism, and mood swings, my childhood with my mother in her untreated state was Hell. She could not mother and she was abusive. Her behavior was erratic and unpredictable. There was no trust, no connection, and a bond was never established.
I remember the confusion when she would report back lies about my behavior to my father (he also was untreated, but that is another story for another time). She was so certain in her reporting of falsehoods that doomed me to punishments. Now, I see it was part of her skewed mental chemistry left to its own devices. Also, she wouldn’t provide for me the basics, such as clothing, so my grandmother would buy me clothes for school or dresses for me to wear to church. I will never know her reasons, but she would either give away the clothing or take them to consignment stores for money. I was not allowed to keep to the clothing. Nothing was permanent- anything could be taken away. Add in her issues with Munchausen by Proxy, and my childhood became a shell. I counted down the years until I was eighteen.
Now, I am here nearing forty and I am a mother. A mother of an eighteen month old boy. An innocent little being who relies on me, trusts me, and is fully bonded with me. So, while I tire intensely from my medication cocktail; I push forward, not just for me, but for him as well. While I sometimes think I could alter my medications to gain a little more energy or handle things “better”; I don’t, for myself, and for him as well. I can be a true mother living with my illnesses, but I have to learn from the lessons I have witnessed.
So, for him I take care of me.
It has been one month since I transitioned from college professor to stay-at-home mother. This decision was the best decision I could absolutely make for my son and I’s well-being.
I have always been one who drives myself hard. I vividly remember the summer before my sophomore year of high school and attending the Kansas State Student Council Conference. The speaker was discussing motivation. He stated we should always strive for “harder, faster, higher, stronger.” I took that in to my core. I actually took it in to my detriment.
What many don’t know is that for me to finally admit to myself that my psychiatric illness has progressed to a point I can no longer balance my academic career with parenthood is a monumental achievement for me. To finally put the mantras of doing just a little more aside, is an achievement my psychiatric health providers thought they would never see.
There is also another aspect to this astounding achievement. I finally began to quiet the childhood messages I had been harboring for thirty years. Throughout my childhood, I was told how I was lazy or wouldn’t be able to work for a living due to my laziness. The repeated messages drove me to destruction. I would often work two or more jobs, teach overloaded semesters, or even drive ninety miles one way to work at a particular university just to prove to the universe that I was not lazy.
But, I finally said no to this self-sabotage. My illnesses were rapidly progressing, my cognitive decline was gaining momentum, and the most precious soul in front of me was growing faster every day. My doctor stated she respected me, but that my work ethic was my detriment and was hastening my demise. And truly, at the end of the day, I had to ask who I was trying to prove my worth to… myself or the messages?
So, I stepped out in faith.
I now spend my days with my amazing child. I am also able to set up a routine for myself, which is so important for anyone with a schizophrenic disorder. There is not a lot of money rolling in; but, there never really was when I was teaching. Sometimes, the rewards of faith carry value that cannot be counted by dollar bills.
When one decides to become a parent, fear is a common emotion. Even before this decision is made, some fear invades our thoughts more often than not at the consideration. But, what is on the other side of fear?
As someone living with mental illness, and also as someone who survived an abusive childhood, the concept of parenthood often carried a significant fear factor for me. Fear of passing on faulty genes. Fear of repeating damaging familial patterns. Fear of basically damning another innocent person to my same troubled existence. Fear encapsulated me. There was no other side.
But, let’s look at the genetics question. First, I am not the Creator; nor do I possess a crystal ball. I cannot foretell the future. My theoretical offspring could never have mental illness grip their life. Furthermore, did I, personally, feel that anyone who carried any genetics for any disease give up reproduction?
No. Never. Not at all.
Plenty of individuals with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, asthma, and countless other issues have reproduced. If they lived on the other side of fear, why wasn’t I willing, as well? It was because of fear.
But, on the other side of that fear is a parent with a husband who has seen it all in mental health care. We could both see the warning signs, if they appear. We could advocate, support, and provide care. And most importantly, on the other side of that fear is love.
Then there was the aspect of my fear that was concerned with repeating damaging familial patterns. A very legitimate fear as we tend to repeat what we have learned along the way. But, I had to consider something powerful about my journey. At the age of twenty-three, I pro-actively entered therapy. In addition, along that therapy journey, that ultimately lasted thirteen years, I severed my ties with my parents and created my own life. I had addressed my familial patterns- except for the pattern of fear. I still needed to view the other side of fear.
I had to push past the fear to the other side. I had to find the faith in myself that had been sequestered since day one. I had done the hard, arduous work; and now it was time to allow myself to live.
And I did live… and found on the other side of fear is joy. There is a joy in the form of a beautiful boy who is my all and that I would protect with my all. I pushed past the fear and arrived on the other side.
I am Momma- standing on the other side of fear.
Wife, mother, activist, writer, blogger, and queen living her life at the DSM diagnostic code 295.7 (Schizoaffective Disorder).
A Writer Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder (Bipolar, Peripartum Onset)
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