Motherhood While Living with Mental Illness
Today, some 57.8 million Americans over the age of 12 struggle with a mental illness. This means that 22.8% of the population has a mental health disorder. Of those, 14.1 million of us, or 5.5% of the total population, have a severe mental health disorder, which impacts our ability to live our daily lives, to keep up with responsibilities, and to interact with others in the ways we might want. That’s especially critical for mothers, who are responsible for taking care of their kids, and who are put under significant extra stress and responsibility. No matter how much you want and need to take care of your kids, being a mother will put significant extra stress on your mental health disorder. Vice versa, having a mental health disorder will put significant extra stress on your ability to be a mother.
At Compassion Recovery, we understand that your mental health disorder is personal, complicated, and based on factors like your history, your epigenetics, your genetics, and your trauma and life experiences. Mental health disorders are treatable. You may be able to recover from them. More often, you’ll learn how to manage symptoms and move into remission – so you can live your life with minimal interruption from your mental illness.
Make Sure You Have Help
Modern families tend to be very isolated. As a parent, you might feel that you have to be alone with your kids, day in, day out. That’s not only untrue, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. As a parent, it always helps to ensure you have a network of friends, your parents, your family, and other parents to help. Even finding other parents in your neighborhood and switching tasks with them, spending days together, and swapping babysitting duties so the others can have time off will help.
In addition, it’s important to ensure that you can ask for help if you need it. If you don’t have at least two options to call to ask for emergency support with childcare, you’re not going to have reliable childcare. Of course, building this kind of network will mean occasionally taking care of kids for other people, being emergency support for them, and giving back – but when you’re able to do so, that will also help your community and your friends.
Invest in Self-Care Routines
Self-care is an important part of managing any mental health illness. As a parent, those routines can fall to the wayside as you spend all of your time on your kids. Unfortunately, that’s unhealthy for you and for them. If you don’t invest in your coping mechanisms, you’ll end up sliding further into a mental health disorder, which will result in less care for them and for you. This means that “being selfish” and taking time for yourself – whether for exercise, taking a bath, cleaning your space, healthy amounts of sleep, meditation, going to therapy like CBT, etc., is actually investing in care for your children.
Invest in Stress Management
Being a parent is stressful, even without also dealing with a mental health disorder. Taking time to actively work on stress management is an important part of managing your mental health disorder. Here, this ties into self-care routines. However, stress management may involve specifically seeking out stress management classes. It may mean acknowledging that you don’t know what you’re doing and taking childcare classes. It may also mean going to therapy and mindfulness to learn more about managing stress.
Often, stress management is a two-fold approach of learning to manage your environment to reduce stress – e.g., taking care of things that will cause stress before they do – and learning to let go of things you can’t control. For example, you can’t control messes, traffic, and accidents. But you can do planning, set alarms to remind yourself of things, and ask for external help for things you know you’re bad at.
And, if you really hate or are stressed about some things, you can find workarounds. For example, if folding the laundry is a major and stressful thing, you can work to make that less stressful by leaving clothing hanging out to dry – by making sure all of the socks match so you don’t spend time folding them, by swapping chores with a neighbor so you do something for them, and they do something for you.
Know When to Ask for Help
Most of us have trouble noticing when our symptoms are getting worse. That’s often because they slowly escalate over a longer period, so it’s not suddenly you feel worse than before. Instead, mental health symptoms worsen gradually and you may wake up to find that you’re barely managing. However, when you do notice that you’re having trouble, it’s important to ask for that help.
Help might be a few days of break to see if getting a break reduces stress and helps you get back on your feet. It might be going to treatment so you can get professional help with managing symptoms. Or, it might be any of a number of other things. The important thing is that you feel able to reach out when you’re having trouble so that you and your network can figure out what you need to get your life back under control.
Get (Ongoing) Treatment
Many mental health disorders are treatable and will go into remission or won’t return after treatment. Others are more about long-term brain chemistry and will be a permanent part of your life for the rest of your life. In either case, it’s important to feel able to get ongoing treatment whenever you have symptoms. In some cases, that will mean going to outpatient treatment in between child and family care. In other cases, it might mean taking your kids to mental health treatment with you – so they’ll receive care while you get treatment. Finally, it might mean going to ongoing therapy, counseling, or self-help groups after leaving your treatment program, so you continue to receive mental health support, have people who can see your progress and who can help if you start to struggle, and help you to manage your life and problems.
At Compassion Recovery, we understand that mental health disorders are complicated, unique, and often treatable. That’s why we offer fully customized treatment programs intended to help you identify the underlying problems behind your disorder, to learn to cope with your unique mental health problems, and to create management strategies and routines, so you can manage your mental illness around your responsibilities as a parent. Most importantly, we integrate your family into your treatment with childcare options and family therapy, because your children are part of your life and should be part of your recovery.
If you or a loved one needs help with mental health treatment, drug rehab, or alcohol rehab Compassion Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us to ask about our modern and effective treatment programs.