Mothering with Mental Illness

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I have been a mother for five years now, and I would like to think I am doing a good job. My three children are happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. It hasn’t been easy, however. I struggle. I have lived with Bipolar Disorder my entire life.

There have been weeks when I question what I was thinking having three kids in four years as I chased two in diapers at the same time and battled postpartum depression with my third.

My Journey

In my early 20s I struggled severely with my Bipolar Depression. I have been through the rigors of the mental health care system.  Dialectical Behavioral Therapy has been life-altering for me and my quality of life. I wasn’t sure I would be a good mom. I have struggled greatly with my health; nonetheless, it has, in effect, prepared me for the challenge of motherhood.

DBT

I think my saving grace has been learning Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and embracing the concept of the Dialectical. The idea of a Dialectical is having two opposing ideas at the same time and both being true and valid because it is possible to both love and hate being a mother at the same time. DBT teaches us to dispense with the all or nothing and gravitate towards the shades of life in between two extremes.

It is radically accepting what is hard and difficult without being paralyzed by it and moving through it because we are strong enough to keep going but, at the same time, giving voice to the struggle.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy teaches Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotional Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. These are skills that as a wife and mother I use on a daily basis. Mental illness is an extra hurdle; nonetheless, it gives us an edge as mothers because we are familiar with internal changing dynamics of emotions and how to ride out a strong wave of emotion.

I find that the more I model for my children how to get through tough emotions, they are beginning to understand their own feelings and how to self-regulate. A priority of my parenting is teaching them how to name their feelings and how to manage their big emotions. I am encouraged at their progress. It is my hope that they will never struggle as severely as I have with my emotions. I want them to know that they are not at the mercy of their strong feelings, and that no matter how dark the moment gets, there is always hope of a changing feeling.

There are resources in the community.  If you are mothering with mental illness, reach out. Because there are programs for mothers, you don’t have to do it alone. You do not have to love every minute of motherhood to be a good mother. 

Here are some resources if you are interested in learning more about DBT:

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