Being a mom is hard, period. As a mom who also deals with all that comes with a bipolar diagnosis, I try my best not to think of my life as harder than any other mom out there. Rationally, I know we all have our own struggles, but I would be lying if I didn’t think how much easier my day might be if I wasn’t also battling my own mind.
There are days when I can barely get out of bed or when I call in the troops, aka the grandparents, to gather the kids for a weekend slumber party so I can disappear into my bedroom for a couple days. While I also have days when my hypomania kicks into overdrive, I barely sleep, the whole house shines, and I convince myself I’ve got this whole thing down all day every day, those days are fewer and farther between the place where I spend most of my time: on the low end of the spectrum in (or in between) depressive episodes.
As a parent, I’ve learned how to push through. I count myself lucky that I can stand toe to toe with my illness and, most days, win. I can make myself get out of bed and get the kids off to school, and I can at the very least remember to order the pizza to feed them dinner when I can’t summon the motivation to cook. I know not every mom who has bipolar disorder or even postpartum depression can do this, and so I do consider myself blessed.
I also have a few things I place high on the priority list to make sure I’m as happy as I can be, especially on the hard days.
Routine and Organization
Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
When I was younger, I was able to exist in clutter and be completely okay with it. Now, with two kids running around their very often screaming baby sister, clutter gives me major anxiety. My husband saw this first hand last night when just the act of clearing the dinner table and sending the kids upstairs to get ready for bed had me bent over a chair, crying and gasping for breath.
My day is comprised of a flexible middle bordering fairly rigid morning and evening routines. The flexible middle allows me time to get things done as I can without overextending myself, and the morning and evening routines keep the kids in order and mommy happy on good days and sane on the rougher ones.
This one is the hardest for me because I, like so very many mommies out there, very often put my own needs last which means they get knocked completely off the priority list when something else inevitably comes up.
Like when my second daughter was born.
I didn’t think she should cry even a second longer than it took to wake me up in the morning, so I fed her before going to the bathroom. Then it would suddenly be time to get my oldest up and ready for preschool, search madly for her shoes 2 minutes before we had to leave, and change the baby’s diaper again before we go.
Before I knew it, hours would go by and I not only hadn’t used the bathroom yet, but I also hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day. It’s no wonder I was constantly stressed and had such trouble with my breastmilk supply.
Now, I make sure I have cleared my bladder and set myself up with a book/tv show, a snack, and a drink before every nursing session. I take showers when my husband has the baby, and I keep the door locked to encourage everyone to leave me alone for 20 minutes. I also enlist the help of family and sitters so I can get my hair done or get a pedicure. These things are restorative, and even one solo outing a week can help rejuvenate my mind.
Support: Call in the Troops!
I have no idea where I would be if I didn’t have all of the support that I do. Between my parents, siblings, friends, and in-laws, there is no shortage in my village. Outside of family, I’m also an active member of an online mom’s group and, because my husband is also bipolar, a support group for spouses of those with bipolar disorder.
One of the best ways to be happier as a bipolar mom (and really a mom in general) is to build your village. Build friendships with other moms like you either in real life or online– I promise, online friends count, too! If you have family locally, don’t be afraid to share your needs with them so they can support you when you need it. Support groups and individual therapy are also invaluable to your mental health, especially because motherhood can be so isolating.
I don’t hesitate to call in the troops when I’m having a bad day, and being humble enough to accept that I can’t always do it all has been a large part of my own happiness.
… to yourself.
I try think of my life in terms of periods of extended time (days or weeks), and I aim for a 100% average overall. If some days all I can be is 50% present, well, then we’re having movies, snuggles, and junk food on the couch. Then, when I’m feeling better, we’ll have an epic trip to the science museum followed by afternoon crafts and evening dance parties in the kitchen. Hopefully, it all balances out.
The trick is remembering to be kind to yourself every day and especially gentle on the not-so-good days. They’re going to happen, especially if you’re a bipolar mom like me. But being a bipolar mom doesn’t make me a bad one. It just means our household works a bit differently than others. Not worse, just different.
I know that my kids are going to remember the effort I put into raising them and the selfless love I gave. That’s what matters most to me, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 10 years of being a parent, it’s that it’s impossible to keep filling up everyone’s cups if your pitcher is empty.