How I explained my mental health condition to my kids

Should I talk to my child about my mental illness?

Many parents who experience living with a mental health condition will often wonder if they should open up and talk to their children about mental illness. I know, because I was one of them. Perhaps you’re one of those parents as well.

I believe it is common for parents to question whether or not they should open up and discuss such a taboo subject to their little ones. They may view it as, “bad” or “wrong”. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. My first thought when deciding to open up about my condition was, “they are not going to view their mother as being a strong woman, they will see this “sickness” as a “weakness.” However, through recovery I learned that having an illness does not make us weak. In fact, managing and expressing our emotions or episodes in a healthy way makes us remarkably strong. I want my children to understand that. I want them to see my resiliency. So I decided to open up about my mental health condition.

Communication is the utmost important thing, and I find it extremely difficult to live with mild to severe symptoms around my kids and NOT tell them why or what is going on. Although, I believe it is not a bad thing to be open about our struggles, it is still very important to understand HOW to explain those struggles and condition to our children. I’ve always said, emotions are never bad or wrong, but how you express those emotions can be determined as good or bad. The same applies here. Our struggles are neither, right or wrong – good or bad, but how our children view our reactions to these struggles can be determined as good or bad.

If you are a parent, then you already know how curious little ones can be. They will continuously ask “Why?” until they feel they have the information they need – but sometimes it still doesn’t stop there. I admire curiosity and encourage my kids to always ask “Why?”, when it is appropriate, of course. With that said, I had to be mentally prepared for a million questions when opening up to my oldest child about my condition. Not only that, but be completely educated on the subject of my condition as well. Below I list an example of several questions my kids asked me when I opened up to them about my mood disorder, this may give some people an idea of what to expect.

The first thing I openly discuss with my children is our emotions. I truly believe that our emotions drive our behavior. It helps to explain these more complex topics to children when an example can be made that will relate to them. For example, there is a popular Disney movie that my kids love called Inside Out. This movie emphasizes our emotions and how our mind works at a level our children can understand. Therefore, I often reference scenes from the movie to help explain my situation a little better. I’m allowing myself to get on their level to help them better understand the minds like ours.

My oldest is nine years old. She also struggles with her emotions like I do. After discussing the importance of emotions and how it drives our behaviors, she brilliantly decided to come up with a code word for the both of us to use when we are struggling. I let her pick the word – “Congruent”. With the understanding that when this code word is said, we would stop what we are doing and take a deep breath. Collect our thoughts and emotions for a moment, then calmly discuss our feelings with one another before things escalate. For me, an example would be – receiving a triggering email from someone. Instead of having a breakdown or start screaming at my computer over it – I take a deep breath, look at my kids and simply explain the following: Mommy just received a rough email regarding something I need to work on and it has upset me a little. I am going to put my headphones in for a moment and take a few minutes to myself to collect my thoughts. This usually results with a response from my daughter, “Okay mommy, we’ve turned the TV down a bit so you can focus. It will be okay. I love you.” (Best.Kid.Ever, right?!)

The second thing I openly discuss with my children is the frequency and inconsistency of my mood swings and what I do to help myself through difficult times. My kids know that I attend therapy and take medications to help regulate my emotions, they may not understand the full extent of these things but they don’t need to at this age, in my opinion. With our code word in place, I explained that using the code word will help me tremendously, thus giving her the understanding that she plays a huge role in helping me feel better. I lightly discuss my coping skills such as putting my headphones in, listening to music, going for a walk, writing, or just having cuddles in bed with them. With this, they can see that I’m handling my intense emotions in a healthy way.

Inclusion is important. I want my kids to feel as though they are apart of something that I know will be helpful for them. After I openly discuss my mood disorder, I ask my kids if they have any questions. I encourage them to open up to me about what they are thinking and how they are feeling on the topic while reassuring them that they are in a safe space with no judgements. After answering any questions they may have for me, I turn the conversation around a bit and ask them what I, “Mommy”, can do for them when they are going through a tough time. This allows me to understand their needs as well. It goes both ways and it’s extremely important to understand that as a parent.

For me personally, I tried to answer their questions to the best of my ability. I think it’s important to not overload their brains with too much information regarding a complex subject. Here are a few questions my children asked me when I opened up to them about my mental health condition:

Questions

My personal responses
Why do you feel sad though? Sometimes I feel sad when I see something that brings up a bad memory. Or when someone says something that hurts my feelings.
Why are you not happy when you’re around us – don’t we cheer you up? You absolutely do cheer me up and make me very happy. Sometimes things on TV or my phone can put me in a bad mood and that doesn’t have anything to do with you. Spending time with you and cuddling up with you is very helpful for me.
What kind of things do you talk about in therapy? I talk about emotions, work, school and set some personal goals for myself. My therapist likes to help me achieve these goals.
Being alone is lonely, can’t we just all play together? Being alone and being lonely are two completely different things. I enjoy being alone. It helps me to collect my thoughts and think clearly. I rarely ever feel lonely. After I collect my thoughts, I would absolutely love to play a game together.
Do we stress you out? Being a parent has its stressful moments but in general, no – you do not stress me out. If anything, you help me in many ways you don’t ever realize.
Do I have a mental illness? I don’t believe so, no. Not everyone has a mental illness.
Should I go to therapy too? I don’t see the need for you to go, however if that’s something you would like to look into then I will fully support that decision.
Daddy gets sad sometimes, should he go to therapy too? Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. If daddy has a great support system (which it sounds like he does) then he may not want or need to go to therapy and that’s perfectly OK.
Is this a secret? Do other people know about this? It’s absolutely not a secret. The people I am closest with do know about my mood swings. I prefer to discuss it with people if it’s necessary but i’m not ashamed of the struggles I face.
Are you getting better? With my friends, family, support systems like therapy, and YOU – I am getting better.
Why do you have to take medicine for it? I don’t have to take medicine for it, but I choose to because it helps make my moods or emotions less intense. Medicine doesn’t make my emotions go away but they are just there to help keep me a little balanced.

Since explaining my mental health condition with my kids, I have noticed an increase in comfortability when discussing their emotions and feelings with me. I’m surprised by their new level of emotional intelligence and how well they are handling this condition I live with. Overall, it definitely brought us closer together as a family.

How are you?

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU ASKED SOMEONE HOW THEY WERE DOING? DID YOU GENUINELY MEAN IT? DID YOU TAKE THE TIME TO LISTEN?

Many may not realize that in the moments of battling a mental illness (or any illness), these three words can make a huge impact on the day of the minds like ours (yes, I had to throw that in there). One year ago I made a commitment to myself to be sure to ask those around me how they are doing, at least one person – every.single.day. Strangers, friends, family members, and coworkers. However, it’s important to not only ask the question but to mean it genuinely. LISTEN. Watch their body language, their facial expressions, their words, their tone. It says it all.

The reactions I receive when asking this question are somewhat surprising to me. In my personal experience, the responses go one of two ways:

The first and most common reaction go something like this: Good, thanks. – Simple and quick.

The other reaction I also find common is: I did this and this today, I’ve been really busy. – Thinking I asked them what they did today or what they are currently doing, not realizing that I just asked how they are feeling.

Nowadays, a lot of conversations are unfortunately in the form of texting, and social media has taken over to show off to the world how crappy or happy we are, therefore, many won’t ask how others are truly feeling, they think they can see and understand it all through technology. OR, we are wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t take the time to ask others how THEY are feeling (I’ve been there!), OR maybe we feel as though expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness or burdensome to others (It’s really not). Either way, the question, “How are you?” is often used in passing, yet not being taken serious enough, in my opinion.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO PICK UP THE PHONE AND ASK SOMEONE HOW THEY ARE DOING.

The reason why I say this is because, as someone who lives with a mental health condition and has faced many difficult times, including the feeling of being completely alone – I really just needed someone to ask me to how I was doing in a deep way that made me feel as though they genuinely cared. This past week I have experienced a lot of emotional and physical pain. I believe some people could tell. I have voiced my feelings to a few, but not one person has genuinely asked me how I was doing…until today. My sister. Gahh – I love her sweet heart. She must have sensed something all the way from Texas because out of the blue I received a message asking me if I’m okay. It immediately put a smile on my face. (Thank you, sis!)

A couple weeks ago about 300 people were laid off from our company due to closed facilities. It was a difficult time for everyone was affected by it. One of the gentlemen that were given an end date with the company sat near me and although we were not close I still wanted to ensure he was okay. I went into his office and asked him how he was doing. His response went something like this, Oh you know – trying to get my tasks done today, I’m swamped.

I responded with, “Okay, let me ask again. HOW ARE YOU? Are you doing okay?”

The look on his face was a look of shock as though he had never heard the question before. He sat back in his chair and said, “I’m stressed out. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have options, but I need to think about which option I will take. It’s sad. Thank you so much for asking.” I sensed appreciation in his tone after our heartfelt conversation.

You see, when someone you know is in a hospital bed bleeding or with other signs of a visible injury or illness, people will run to their bedside in panic or worry asking with sincerity if they are okay. What about our invisible illnesses?

Last year, my mentee was admitted to the psychiatric hospital for self-harm. She was 15 years old. I had spent many days with her, picking her up from school, having her over for sleepovers and movie nights, and enjoyed weekends exploring and going to the movies. She was such a bright young girl, and I loved bonding with her. I received a phone call from her mother one evening stating that she was “contemplating” on taking her daughter to the hospital. I immediately advised that she admit her or I would. She needed help and was apparently suffering. I asked her mom for the information of which hospital she was admitted to, and her mom responded in shock, “Why?”. I said, “because I am going to visit her. I can meet you there if you’d like?”

The point of my short story is that her mother never showed up to visit. From my understanding, she never even called her. Her daughter was in the hospital for 5 days. When I appeared at the hospital to visit her, this young girl was completely shocked and cried as she grabbed onto me. I asked her why she was crying and she told me, she had never had a visitor before (it wasn’t her first attempt). In fact, most of her roommates hadn’t either. We sat in her room, and I listened to her talk for a couple hours. I gave her the best advice I could about coping skills and reassured her that she wasn’t alone. I learned so much that day, especially the importance of empathy.
Did you know about 8.3 million people have had suicidal thoughts in the past year? It is important to reach out and ask others how they are doing. You could save a life with one simple question and take the time to listen, and when you do, remember this:

THEIR FEELINGS ARE THEIR FEELINGS. THEY MATTER. THEY ARE VALID AND ACCURATE TO THEM. DO NOT DISMISS, DISAGREE OR TELL THEM THEY SHOULDN’T FEEL THE WAY THEY DO.

This is so important to understand. This goes for all circumstances, not just hurting people with a mental illness. For everyone.

I’ll end it with this – How are YOU doing? Respond below or email me if you need someone to talk to. Help is always out there.

-Minds Like Ours, Kayla Fae

Knowledge is Power

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The more research and reading I did on my mental health condition, the better I understood how it all works. Awareness is key! I have a better control over my emotions than ever before thanks to DBT, research and recovery. I’ll admit, once I was diagnosed four years ago and started reading, it was scary to see how complex the disorder was but I was determined to not let fear get in the way of my recovery. I can’t tell you how many times I put this book down in tears wanting to give up. It wasn’t easy but four years later, I can confidently say I no longer meet the criteria in the DSM for Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD is recoverable. Recovery is possible and help is out there. Stay strong and keep pushing forward!

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Borderline Types

Understanding

During the initial years after my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, I thought that all other Borderlines were like me: introverted, shy, low self-esteem, hot tempered, angry, hollow, etc. For the most part, I assumed that the “constellation” of Borderline Personality, as described by the DSM-IV and my first clinician, was the same for all afflicted with this condition. In reality, it is just the opposite. Though you may fall into the BPD diagnosis constellation, there are many different ways in which your BPD affects you, your life, and those around you.

Before I go any further, let me preface the following list of BPD variations by stating that I am not a mental health professional, nor qualified in any way to offer a BPD diagnosis. My thoughts are my own opinion gleaned from casual research on the internet and any commentary and feedback I get from blog readers.

That said, here are 5 different types of Borderline Personality manifestations:

  • Low Functioning Borderline – The “Low Functioning” borderline is what most people think of when they are first introduced to the condition. Low functioning BPDs are a living train wreck. They have intense difficulties taking care of their basic needs, are constantly experiencing mood swings. They also have an extremely hard time managing any sort of relationship with another human being. Low Functioning BPDs are often hospitalized more than other BPD types, for the very reason that they can’t live productively without constant coaching and supervision. These patients are challenging for all but the most experienced psychiatrists. Unless otherwise treated, low functioning borderlines lead self destructive lives and attempt to manipulate those around them with desperate acts, including self harm (cutting, etc.).
  • High Functioning Borderline – The High Functioning Borderline Personality shares many core aspects of the low functioning borderline personality, except for the fact that they can manage their lives, appear to be productive, and generally keep their relationships civil (even diplomatic in nature). High Functioning borderlines can appear to be normal, driven people one moment; then moody, inconsolable, and manipulative the next. Somehow, there is a mechanism within the minds of High Functioning Borderlines that allows them to lead somewhat “competent” lives, despite the fact that they are in a constant battle with BPD. High functioning BPDs are no better than low functioning: it’s basically the same face wearing a different mask.
  • Extroverted Borderline – Anyone familiar with the Meyer-Briggs personality tests will understand the psychological differences between extroversion and introversion. When these characteristics are mixed with BPD, there are two different results. The Extroverted Borderline typically pushes all their feelings, fears, manipulation, rage, and moodiness outward to the people around them. In essence, if you are around an extroverted BPD, you feel like you’re living through their emotions while coping with your own at the same time. Further, extroverted BPDs will attempt self abusive acts in plain view of others in order to avoid abandonment or to express their rage. For example, an Extroverted BPD might cut themselves and then immediately share it with family and friends around them, hoping to gain sympathy or attention. In most cases, these types of behaviors frighten non-Borderlines, and they wonder whether or not the Extroverted BPD should be committed to a psych ward.
  • Introverted Borderline – Contrary to popular belief, “introverted” doesn’t necessarily describe someone who is a recluse (agoraphobic). Instead, introversion is characterized by experiencing life in a self-reflective, private, and at times distant manner. To others, introverts may appear shy or lacking in people skills. This might be true, however, introverts make up for their lack of social skills with rich inner lives, thoughts, and deep thinking. As a result, the introverted Borderline primarily focuses all their BPD emotions and reactions inward. Instead of having a rage episode in public, they might retreat to their rooms and cry for hours on end, perhaps even cutting themselves for their own amusement or as stress relief. Introverted Borderlines live in an odd world: on one hand, they spend most of their time in personal thought and reflection, looking to fill themselves with a viable sense of self; but on the other, they are conflicted by emptiness and the bottomless emotional pit that BPD produces. Introverted BPDs might be harder to “spot” unless you happen to know one personally, in which case you might notice occasional depressive symptoms and evidence of self harm.
  • Transparent Borderline – The Transparent Borderline is a bit of a mix between a high functioning borderline and either extroverted or introverted tendencies. In plain terms, Transparent Borderlines live double lives: on the surface, “in public”, they appear one way, but in private, amongst immediate family and friends, they appear completely different. As a result, they may or may not be high functioning due to this conflicted state of mind. Transparent Borderlines spend most of their emotional energy trying to balance the personality demands of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the both of which experience strong BPD emotions like anyone else with the disorder. Like Introverted Borderlines, Transparent Borderlines are harder to spot, and often only confess their true disposition after a harrowing rage, major break up, or other severely traumatic event that brings all their BPD feelings to the fore.

If I were to characterize myself, I would have fallen in the “Transparent” category, with “High Functioning and Introverted” tendencies. To qualify that statement further, I would have describe myself as self reliant and capable of meeting all my basic necessities, but deeply conflicted with misguided BPD emotional energy. Friends might have describe me as “hard working but sometimes shy”, when in reality the hard work was just a cover for my inner persona that is constantly at war with itself. Co-workers had no idea I struggled with this disorder.

All things considered, I really don’t think any one type of BPD is better than another. The bottom line is that each type of person is troubled by BPD, and this wreaks havoc on their lives based on the “rest” of the personality traits that comprise them. No matter what category you fall into, I would suggest educating yourself, getting treatment, and taking medication if necessary. Life is hard enough without having the BPD demon inside you.

“I Jumped Off the Golden Gate Bridge”

I found this amazing story about a man, named Kevin Hines, that shared his story with mental illness and a suicide attempt. He was one of few survivors to have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and lived to tell his story.

I love how he made a point to say he felt like a burden. I don’t think that people who don’t have a mental illness understand that piece of it. Recovery is possible and this man is living proof.

Parenting and Mental Illness

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One of the most difficult challenges I face is being a single mother in recovery from BPD, aka emotionally sensitive. I often struggle with managing my emotions and leading by good example to my two little ones, ages 8 and 6, not to mention helping manage their own emotions too. I used to have mental break downs over the thought of my kids getting the same emotional struggles that I do. Prior to recovery, I prayed and hoped my kids didn’t end up like me but over the course of my recovery I see my strength, my resiliency, my positivity, and my optimistic perspective and then I realized that my kids will see all of that. They see the calmness in me, the mindfulness, the mom who focuses on self-care and the person that doesn’t give up.
My kids have pushed me to better myself; they are the reason I get out of bed and fight this battle everyday. We go on adventures together, hop in the car and drive somewhere, sit outside enjoying nature. We talk about our emotions together, knowing full well that emotions are not bad and we can talk about how we feel, calmly. I truly believe that our children’s behavior is driven by their emotions. So the best way to help our children to behave is to teach them how to manage their feelings. With that being said, anyone that knows my kids knows they don’t have temper tantrums or break downs. Sure, they get upset, mad, sad, cry but their emotions aren’t out of control and they are learning how to manage those feelings in a healthy way, like I do and that alone inspires me to keep going. Being a single parent is difficult. Being a single parent facing a mental health condition is a far greater challenge. If you struggle with this and want someone to talk to, DM me.
I’m going to be adding a huge portion to my blog on parenting with a mental illness for all those single parents out there that struggle like I do. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how I help teach my children how to manage their feelings.
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Depression

What people with Depression want you to know. So true! Love this video.

“I don’t want to feel ashamed for my depression.”

“I want to talk to you about my depression like you talk to me about your flu.”

“Be the best version of YOU” -Journey App

JOURNEY APP 

 

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Hello my fellow bloggers!! I just discovered a new social network that went live yesterday and had to share with you! The application is called, Journey. I’m so incredibly excited. I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to have an app similar to Facebook but allows people that are fighting physical, mental and other challenges to connect, share and support one another. I mean, how amazing is that!? As an advocate, I’m always looking for ways to connect, raise awareness and expand the awesome mental health community. I’m already addicted to it.

I believe it is only available for iPhones right now, the android version is in the works. So please, go download this amazing new app and lets share our journey together!! My profile and username is shown below. 🙂

 

You can find the link to the app on their Instagram account below.

Instagram: @Journeyappstore

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