This post has been sitting in my “drafts” folder since my son’s third week of life. I have almost posted it and chickened out more times than I can count. I usually try to be amusing, or inspiring, or at least not a total freak show when I post. But sometimes, there are things about ourselves that are scarier than we’d like. Sometimes, as people and as parents, we struggle more than we’d ever want to admit. All my life I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to hide my personal battle, afraid of what people would think, how fast they’d run to get away from me. Would my friends still hang out with me? Still trust me around their kids? Would the random people who compliment me on my beautiful son and upbeat outlook still compliment me if they knew what hid behind my smile more often than not? I’m a big believer in facing my fears, however, so here goes. Deep breath, and… I am a Mother, and I suffer from a mental illness. Usually, this is where I would insert some lame joke about enjoying every minute of it. But the truth is, I don’t. It is a daily battle for me to function on a basic level. I was officially diagnosed at 18, but I really can’t remember a time when I haven’t been a few degrees off from “normal”. I’ve had my “symptoms” to contend with since I was about two or three. And yes, I can remember that far back. There’s a long list lying around in my medical file somewhere with a lot of big scary words that don’t really matter. Because here’s my reality. There are days when I can not carry on a conversation. I just can’t get what people are saying to make sense, like they’re speaking a language that I almost understand. I’ll struggle to remember simple words, I’ll lose my train of thought and I’ll just … shut down. There are periods where I am absolutely CONVINCED that my friends and family all hate me and wish I would disappear – so I do. I vanish. I don’t answer calls, I cancel plans, I hide. I’ll break down and sob, quietly, of course, so I don’t bother anyone, convinced I am trapped in an unbearable life with no way out and not a single, solitary soul to help me or love me or talk to me. After all – who could love such a horrible, messed up, flawed, reject of a human being? Or I’ll go postal on my husband, rage and accuse him of some misdeed or other. There are days that I struggle to walk out of my front door. Sometimes I don’t make it. I end up holed up in the house, the blinds shut tight, wearing a ratty sweatshirt, struggling to just make it through the day. Other days, I’ll talk a mile a minute. I can’t stop. Can’t relax, can’t hardly sit down and eat. I’ve spent crazy amounts of money we didn’t have on things we didn’t need. On a really bad day, if I manage to get my hands on a credit card – well, kiss that sucker goodbye, cause it’s going to be maxed out in a matter of hours. I’ve gone days without sleep, then crashed and done nothing but sleep for a week. I have taken so many medications I’ve forgotten the names of half of them. None of them worked, and I’m not just saying that because “most mentally ill people hate taking their medications”. For me and my brain chemistry, so far, they REALLY. DON’T. WORK. I got tired of using my body as a test tube, so now I get lectured about being irresponsible by my therapists and random people. I am not in ANY way saying you should come off of your medications if you are mentally ill. PLEASE don’t. I am currently in the process of trying to find a treatment plan that treats my “illness” but still allows me to be an alert and able Mama, because I am so sensitive to medications that most of them knock me flat on my rear for a week. The constant “here, try this, maybe it will work” approach to medicating me feels like it’s going to go on forever. I’m tired of feeling broken. I used to be really open about my diagnosis – you know, “it’s just a disease, it doesn’t define me”, but that started to change as soon as I found out I was pregnant. Since I’ve had my son – I just can’t talk about it. I’m terrified people will think I was irresponsible for getting pregnant (Leo wasn’t “planned”, but I am so happy and grateful he decided to be a part of our lives) I worry constantly about what I’m doing as a Mama. Am I being “good” enough? When I’m having a bad day I’m terrified that someone will see fit to try to take my baby. Or that something, somehow, no matter how hard I fight to shield him, will slip through and scare Leo or damage him in some way. FireDaddy has a tendency to worry about us if he’s at the Fire Department and I’m having a bad day, so I try to be really careful not to say things that might freak him out. It’s hard to keep a handle on everything – my emotions, my physical health, my marriage, my son, my well-meaning, insane extended family, the bills, my job, the house… The 24 hrs by myself with my very high energy little man can be beyond draining. FireDaddy has a really tough, exhausting job – so I worry about making things hard for him here at home too, and that makes me reluctant to ask for help when I need it, until it’s past too late and I’m a frustrated, angry, snapping turtle, verbally attacking anyone foolish enough to get in my way. Which makes me feel worse, and like a sorrier POS – which makes me angrier… it’s a fun little cycle. I’m doing my best, but I always feel like it’s not good enough – for my son, my husband, my parents… And it’s hard too, because of the misconceptions about the mentally ill that are out there. I am NOT a sociopath or a psychopath. I don’t do what I do to “get my way”, manipulate people or hurt people. I have never wanted to stab, shoot or hit anyone with a car, I don’t have any violent tendencies whatsoever. Unless you count the time I threw a piece of an onion at my husband’s head… but that wasn’t a “crazy moment” as we call them around here – that was just me. I think. That’s the worst part. Trying to tell what parts of what I do or think are ME, and what parts are my illness. Did I MEAN to yell that I need help around the house, is that a valid concern, or am I having an “episode”? Did I intentionally max out that credit card, or was THAT an “episode”? It’s exhausting, and not just for me. My parents, my husband and my friends struggle to tell the disease apart from “me” too. There are many times when I can tell they can’t. Which causes some huge issues, as you can imagine. All of this sounds so grim as I write it, but there’s another side to my story. I am loved. Very, very much. I have a husband who, while he may not always understand what’s going on with me, and may, occasionally, get a case of “victimitis” – is still here. Making me laugh, listening to me rant, and letting me cry on his shoulder. I have an amazing son who melts my heart on a daily basis. I am able to care for him, and I’m able to give him so many things that I didn’t have as a child. He’s helping me heal in a million different ways. I have come so far from the early days of my struggle with this disease. I have so much more control. When I lose that control, I have a safety net. I have friends – friends who know the “real me” and still stick around. I have made peace with much of the baggage that may have contributed to my “breakdown”. There are more and more sunny days. If I perhaps look at them with a bit of suspicion from time to time, well, that’s life. Nothing’s perfect. I’m learning that, too. Slowly, I’m learning that I don’t have to be perfect either. So maybe I never had the ability to do certain things other people take completely for granted. Maybe I don’t have that fancy creative career I always dreamed about. Maybe my husband doesn’t get to come home to me channeling June Cleaver like I always thought he would. That doesn’t mean I’m a “failure”. My house is decently clean. My son is happy, healthy and gets an incredible amount of love and attention and my husband gets fed some pretty darn good meals, if I say so myself. I am not SuperMom, Wonder Woman, or my mother (If you knew her, you’d understand why she’s mentioned) – and I never will be, but I’m beginning to realize that I don’t have to be. All I really “have” to do is hang on to my family and the good things about myself, and fight like hell to keep the crazy at bay.