I cry a lot. I am sad a lot. I am happy a lot. I get crazy highs and crazy lows.
You see, I am one of 5.7 million Americans who struggle with a mental illness known as Bipolar Disorder. I am also a mother.
When I was 19, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I started a strict regimen of medicine and therapy but I never seemed to feel better. So I went back to the doctor and was officially diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was 20.
Everything started to fall into place. Medicine and therapy started working and life began to feel good.
And then at 22 I got pregnant with my daughter. Once I became pregnant my whole plan was at a standstill. I could no longer take my medicine for fear it would affect my baby. I was forced to deal with Bipolar Disorder all on my own while at the same time growing a baby inside of me. I learned a lot about myself and my mental illness.
I was prepared to manage my mental illness without medicine. But what I wasn’t prepared for was managing it while also raising children or for my children to eventually ask me “Are you ok?”
I was not ok.
My days are filled with manic highs and mind-numbing lows. There are days where I am just “fine” and days where I can barely get off the couch. There are days where I feel like I am drowning and being swallowed up by sadness. Of course on these days parenting is the hardest. Thinking and breathing hurts. Doing anything hurts. Parenting is the last thing on my mind. I can hardly take care of myself, so how do I take care of another human being?
On these days I find myself using electronics and TV as a parent. And I sleep. Sometimes for hours. Just hoping that my children don’t burn the house down or get into things they aren’t supposed to. Obviously now that they are older I am not as worried because they can handle themselves but when they were younger in the back of my mind I was always thinking, “What if?” but it didn’t matter in that moment because all I wanted to do was sleep. The worst part about being in an extreme low is the moments that I have missed with my children. Moments that I will never get back.
But let’s not forget the better times. The highs. When I am manic, nothing in my world can go wrong. At least that’s how I feel anyway. I feel so confident in myself and my parenting. I’m on top of the world. I am the cool mom. I am the friend. The fun mom. But is that really practical? Is that good parenting? What happens when life goes back to normal for that short period of time in between episodes? How do I manage the “normal” Steph? What even is the “normal” Steph?
That’s where I struggle. How do I manage myself when I’m being a hot mess mom and also Bipolar? I can’t always be in a high. I also can’t function if I’m always low. So what’s the happy medium? I think it comes when my daughter asks me “Are you OK?” Those three words always seem to help snap me out of whatever episode I am having at the moment. It helps ground me and bring me back to where I should be. It helps me to realize that I am in fact not OK. That jump starts my mind and I can start to make changes to get myself out of the high or the low that I am in. And then I become OK again.
Bipolar disorder is challenging, but so is parenting. Experiencing them together is one of the most difficult things I have ever dealt with. But I am managing. I’m not perfect but I’m trying to be the best I can. And I promise if I learn any new techniques on how to handle Bipolar and parenting I will share them.
Until then I will just continue with the path that I’m on and hope for the best.
Steph Hightree is a hot mess mom who is fueled by stress and too much caffeine. She is a Three Rivers native who talks about the good, the bad, and well, everything else about parenthood.
Any views or opinions expressed in “#MomLife” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.