#MomLife: Mental illness is not contagious

Do you have social media? Do you see all of the perfectly posed pictures of children, houses, and families? Did you know that most of the time those pictures aren’t true to life? Does that surprise you? Well, I’m about to get real with you. I mean really, when am I not real with you? Most of those pictures are a fabrication of what is really going on. Parenting is hard folks. It’s not all sunshine and flowers, and perfectly posed pictures.

Let’s talk about mental health this week. This subject is considered taboo and it’s something that we need to normalize. I’m willing to bet that almost every parent has experienced some sort of mental illness at some point. This could be mild, like occasional depression or anxiety, or more severe, like bipolar disorder. I’ve been blessed with the triple whammy. Depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. This affects my parenting in both a negative and positive way. 

I feel like since I have experience with mental illness, I was able to handle my daughter’s depression and anxiety diagnosis a little better than some. I knew what she was going through, so I could help her with coping strategies, and when that didn’t help we went with counseling and medication. But I’m also hindered in my ability to always be present. As much as I work hard and try to keep my mental illness at bay, it always seems to creep up at the most inconvenient times. Although, when is it really convenient to be depressed or anxious? When that happens, I am not able to be the best version of myself. I am a shell of the person I normally am, and it’s a struggle to be present and available for my children. 

Parenting when you are not living with mental illness is really tough. Parenting with a mental illness can sometimes feel impossible. You are worried all the time, am I doing a good job? Will I pass my mental illness onto my children? How likely are they to learn my behaviors and start displaying them as their own? Although mental illness is not contagious, it has been known to have a genetic link. But just because it has that link doesn’t automatically mean your children will also go down that road.

I often wonder how my mental illness impacts them. When I am going through a bipolar episode I sometimes become angry for no reason at all and lash out at the first person I see. How does that affect my children? Will they become used to yelling in the home all the time? Will they start yelling and lashing out whenever they are stressed or anxious? The answer is yes, there are times when my children mirror what I do, and they might get angry or depressed. Even though it’s not as severe as I am, I still notice some of the things they do, and it makes me sad that I have taught them that this is how to deal with emotions and feelings. 

As a mother, daughter, sister, wife, employee, person, I need to remember that self-care is important. If we aren’t practicing good self-care then we risk the chance of becoming burnt out, and when that happens you can cease to function with day to day activities. Self-care doesn’t always mean taking a vacation away from your kids to recharge. Something as simple as taking a shower with no children banging on the door can be self-care. Going shopping alone or with your best friend. Putting the kids to bed 30 minutes early so you can watch a television show. Or just having a quiet cup of coffee and reading a book before the kids wake up in the morning. 

I recently attended a Wellness Day with one of my employers, and the main focus was on rest, rejuvenation, and resilience. They asked us to invest in ourselves and by doing so we will become better humans who can take our power back. That phrase “take your power back” can apply to mental health as well. We need to take the steps needed to take our power back and kick mental health in the face. It takes work. It’s not going to be easy. But what is easy about life? Parenting sure isn’t easy. We need to work better at educating the people around us of our struggles. 

Awareness is key but acceptance makes change. If people aren’t aware that you are struggling then they won’t be able to help you. Mental illness is here guys. It’s not going anywhere. We need to talk about it, maybe we should shout it from the rooftops. I’ll start. 

Hello! My name is Steph and I struggle daily with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. I am not broken and neither are you. If we all come together as a collective group and stop feeling ashamed of our mental illness then the world will start to accept it, and maybe it will become less taboo.

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.


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